Monday 25 September 2017

Sisters discover their birth mother died after life in Magdalene Laundry and other institutions on RTE's Liveline

Irish sisters Samantha and Etta discovered their mum passed away in a Magdelene Laundry on Live Line
Irish sisters Samantha and Etta discovered their mum passed away in a Magdelene Laundry on Live Line
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The daughter of a Magdalene Laundry victim, who first learned that her mother had died while listening to Joe Duffy's Liveline, has spoken of the heartbreak surrounding her mother's death.

Samantha Long and her twin sister Etta were adopted when they were infants, and began searching for their mother,Margaret Bullen, in 1993 when they were twenty one.

After a two year search, their social worker made contact.

The sisters expected their mother to be happily married, with other children; a woman who had moved on with her life.

Magdalene Laundry victim Margaret Bulle
Magdalene Laundry victim Margaret Bulle

But instead, they discovered that their mother had been living in State institutions since she was two years old and was then residing in the Gloucester Street Magdalene Laundry.

They met her for coffee in the Gresham Hotel, and began to forge a relationship but she was severely institutionalised, and, as the sisters began building their own lives and dealt with the death of their adoptive mother, contact became less frequent.

Several years later on a quiet ‘duvet day’, Samantha tuned into Liveline to find out that her mother had died.

One of Margaret’s friends in the laundry had phoned in to express her anger that Margaret had been buried in a communal grave.

Irish sisters Samantha and Etta discovered their mum passed away in a Magdelene Laundry on Live Line
Irish sisters Samantha and Etta discovered their mum passed away in a Magdelene Laundry on Live Line

"I was seven months pregnant at the time," Samantha said. "When they said her name I fell to my knees."

Margaret had died in August, but her daughters didn’t hear about her death until October.

The nuns said they had alerted the gardai of Margaret’s death, and asked them to inform the family. But neither sister was told.

"It was upsetting that we weren’t at her funeral, or that we didn’t have any of her personal belongings – we would have liked to have her rosary beads."

Margaret’s death certificate records her cause of death as Goodpasture Syndrome, a disease caused by inhalation of chemicals over many years resulting in kidney and liver failure.

"The phrase Magdalene survivor used to irk me," Samantha said. "She had no resolution. She was a victim. She died of slave-related injuries."

Samantha added that there was "no such thing as closure for us . She lived her entire life in institutions. My sister and I were born inside one such holy institution".

"But by telling her story perhaps we can move forward."

Margaret’s story unfolded on the airwaves and led to an international campaign (Justice for Magdalenes) culminating in the McAleese report and an apology from the government about the treatment of women in the Magdalene Laundry system.

Samantha’s story features in Liveline Callback which airs on Thursday at 8:30pm on RTÉ One.

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