Tuesday 19 June 2018

'Our identities were taken, we were locked up. Our hair was cut short, our names were taken' - survivors of the Magdalene Laundry

Survivors from the UK, USA, Australia, and Ireland, will meet President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin today for a special reception

Survivors of the former Magdalene Laundries Breda Duffy and Martha Osmonde, both from UK, after they arrived at Dublin Airport. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Survivors of the former Magdalene Laundries Breda Duffy and Martha Osmonde, both from UK, after they arrived at Dublin Airport. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Laura Lynott

One Magdalene Laundry survivor said Ireland "must never forget us", as she returned to her country of birth for a commemorative event uniting more than 200 women.

Breda Duffy (72) has spent most of her adult life in London, where she married and had a family, after she escaped a Magdalene institution in Limerick aged 21, in a laundry van.

Only four years ago, she was reunited with a woman she counts as her "sister", Martha Osmonde (80).

Both women had been locked away together in the Limerick laundry after years in a Waterford industrial school together. And each woman supported the other yesterday as they arrived into Dublin Airport ahead of the Dublin Honours Magdalenes event.

"One way I'd look at this, is Ireland is recognising what happened to us," Breda told the Irish Independent. "What happened in the Magdalene Laundries should go down in history, it should never be forgotten, it should never have happened, it can never happen again.

"The young people should know what harm was done to women in Ireland. Our identities were taken, we were locked up. Our hair was cut short, our names were taken."

Survivors of the former Magdalene Laundries Elizabeth Coppin, from Cambridgeshire and Mary Walsh and Mary McNally, from London, arrive at Dublin Airport. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Survivors of the former Magdalene Laundries Elizabeth Coppin, from Cambridgeshire and Mary Walsh and Mary McNally, from London, arrive at Dublin Airport. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Today and tomorrow, the women will be remembered with a two-day gathering, organised by voluntary group Dublin Honours Magdalenes.

Breda shared her story ahead of the event, explaining she'd been abandoned as an infant by her mother. She inevitably ended up in an industrial school, a ward of the State,

"I met up with Martha only four years ago after a London Irish event," Breda said. "We'd been in the same industrial school too. She was a big girl when I was little and she looked after me. We didn't have family, so we are like sisters - we are family."

At the age of 17, Martha, now a mother-of-three, said another teenage girl told nuns that she'd been talking to her boyfriend. This accusation led her to being thrown into the laundry in Limerick.

"We'd rise at 6am to work and I had to operate this huge industrial washing machine," she said. "We'd work right through until 5 or 6pm.

"My sister and I never had a father and we suffered for my mother's sin," she added, weeping.

Mary Wooton, nee Walsh (69), flew from Southampton, yesterday. Mary was sent to a laundry in Wexford, she said, after her mother "wasn't capable of looking after me."

"I remember going into a courthouse as a child and when I left, I didn't return home with my aunt," said Mary, starting to cry. "What I'm very upset about, really, really angry, about is when I should have been in secondary school, getting an education, I was working in the laundry, everyday."

Survivors from the UK, USA, Australia, and Ireland, will meet President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin today for a special reception, before going to Dublin's Mansion House for a gala dinner and entertainment, including a performance from Christy Moore, Philomena Begley and Dana. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michéal MacDonnchadh, will also attend.

Dragons' Den star and ambassador for Dublin Honours Magdalenes Norah Casey said: "It's been a challenge to get them all to Ireland.

"Some didn't have passports, no email or computers, some had no landlines, or mobile phones."

Irish Independent

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