Emotions spill over at Enda's State apology

Alan O'Keeffe

A COUNTRY'S shame has turned to pride for the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.

The emotional delivery by Taoiseach Enda Kenny of an official State apology was warmly welcomed by the women and their families.

Amid the celebration and the hugs, many of the campaigners paused to remember the 1,150 women died in the institutions.

Julie McClure, who worked for three years in a laundry at a 'training centre' in Stanhope Street, said today she was "excited" that the women of her institution were included in the official apology.

At last, their own testimonies have been officially believed, she said.

Survivors, along with children and grandchildren and other relatives, had held a dignified vigil outside the Dail as they waited for the apology.

Angela Downey of Dun Laoghaire was among the women at the Dail last night. She had wept for her mother who had been confined in the laundries for 20 years after she was raped at 16.

Angela, the child of that rape, was put in an industrial home. She was 16 when she first met her mother, but her grandmother did not say who the stranger was.

"She never spoke. She just cried and cried. I will never forget her hands, they were all swollen and her hair was cut short, with a clip," said Angela.


Patricia McDonnell, whose sister-in-law 'Mary' spent 20 years in a Magdalene Laundry in Dun Laoghaire, also joined the vigil on her behalf.

'Mary', from a comfortable family in Galway, was keeping house for her two brothers after her parents died.

But the local priest convinced them she was 'in moral danger' and had her incarcerated in the laundries, where she remained for two decades until her family threatened legal action if she was not released.

Mrs McDonnell said: "She was kidnapped."

Maureen Sullivan (60), another survivor, said the apology by the Taoiseach allowed her to begin a new chapter in her life.

"In fairness, he went above and beyond what we wanted. For the first time in my life I can say that I am proud to be Irish. I haven't thought that since I left Ireland 45 years ago."

Claire McGettrick, a spokeswoman for Justice for the Magdalenes, criticised the Government for failing to provide a copy of the McAleese report to the women themselves.

The standing ovation by Ministers and TDs of all parties for the women's representatives in the public gallery of the Dail symbolised the nation paying belated homage to those who had suffered, hidden away and ignored by society.