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Magdalene survivor tells of beatings and rape


Catherine Corless

Catherine Corless

Catherine Corless

A survivor of the Magdalene laundries who bore a daughter after being raped by a priest said she still bears the emotional and physical scars of the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of sadistic nuns more than 70 years ago.

Mary Merritt, whose name was stripped along with her hair and clothes when she entered the High Park Magdalene laundry at the age of 16 in 1947, broke down several times as she recounted the horrors she endured to RTÉ broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan on her radio show yesterday.

She was among three Magdalene laundry survivors whose stories of resilience and strength despite the horrific abuse they endured was featured as part of a special Mother's Day episode yesterday.

Historian Catherine Corless also spoke of her ongoing battle to reveal the shocking truth over 796 babies buried in a septic tank at the Mother and Babies home in Tuam, Co Galway. She voiced her disgust at five options presented by a consultant over the future of the site, one of which includes simply putting a memorial plaque over the burial site.

Ms Merritt, now aged 87, was born in a Dublin workhouse and never met her mother. She was sent to a Sisters of Mercy orphanage in Ballinasloe at the age of two for 14 years where she was whipped by a nun across the hips and back for no reason.

"To this day at the age of 87, I still have the marks on my hips and back," she said.

But that was nothing compared to the horrors awaiting her when she turned 16 and was sent to the High Park Magdalene laundry for stealing apples. Aside from working as a virtual slave, she was left blind in her right eye from the toxic material in the laundries and was later raped by a priest after trying to run away. The priest brought her back to the laundry where she was stripped of all dignity - even her name - before learning she was pregnant with the priest's child.

After giving birth to her daughter at the age of 23, she was sent to St Patrick's Mother and Baby Home in Dublin for a year where she was granted just half an hour a day to see her daughter. "You didn't get time to love your child or feed your child or do anything with your child."

She was then sent back to the Magdalene laundry at High Park where she endured the ultimate indignity of having her daughter adopted out without her permission while she worked as a virtual slave for another three years.

"We worked and we were slaved. They talk about slaves in the world today but Ireland was worse for their slavery," she said.

She eventually managed to track down her daughter Carmel 40 years after she was born.

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