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Irish Women Enslaved for Decades, Government Finally Admits Involvement

Posted by on Feb. 10, 2013 at 2:53 AM
  • 14 Replies

Irish Women Enslaved for Decades, Government Finally Admits Involvement

The Irish government has admitted that, for more than seven decades, it was in collusion with laundries operated by religious congregations which kept generations of women and girls (as young as 12) in virtual enslavement. While some of the women were unwed mothers, the majority were placed there due to mental illness or physical disability, homelessness or petty offenses.

The Magdalene laundries took their name from Mary Magdalene, the biblical figure who (at the time the workhouses were founded in the mid-1800s) was thought to have been a prostitute. They were run by religious congregations and the Irish government has long claimed that the laundries were privately owned and controlled by nuns.  But according to a just-released 1,000-page government report, the Irish state was responsible for sending over a quarter of at least 10,000 young women to the laundries.

In addition, the state gave the laundries lucrative contracts which were out of compliance with its own Fair Wage Clause. Those who escaped from the laundries were pursued and returned by the Gardai, the police.

Irish Government Fails To Issue an Apology to Survivors

While the Irish government has admitted its complicity in sending women to the Magdalene laundries, Prime Minister Enda Kenny failed to issue a formal apology. While saying that he was “sorry that this release of pressure and understanding for so many of those women was not done before this, because they were branded as fallen women,” he said that the state could not respond until a full parliamentary debate has been held.

Survivors of the workhouses and their supporters from groups including Justice for Magdalenes have immediately called foul on the Irish government which had actually received the report two weeks ago. Steven O’Riordan of the lobbying group Magdalenes Survivors Together said that Kenny’s response was “halfhearted at best” and that he was “annoyed because it sounded like a throwaway gesture.”

Just hearing about the Magdalene laundries, which operated from 1922 until as late as 1996, suggests that Kenny and the Irish government have yet to grasp the suffering of so many innocent women and of their families. Once taken to the workhouses — 60-year-old survivor Maureen Sullivan recalls that she was taken to one directly from school in a laundry van — all the women were given different names by the nuns, on the pretext that such would protect their privacy.

In reality, “Maggies” (as the girls and women in the laundries were called) were shorn of all rights. They were forced to work day in and day out doing laundry (including that of major hotel groups and the Irish armed forces) and denied any contact with the outside world and certainly with their families.

As Sullivan tells the Guardian, she was physically and verbally abused for “infractions” of nothing more than not walking fast enough around the laundry:

“There was physical abuse where they would dig you in the side with a thick cross off the rosary beads, where you got a thump on the side of the head and where there would be constant putting you down, shouting, verbal abuse. You got the cross in the side of the ribs if you slowed down on your way around the laundry.

“[The nuns] ate very well while we were on dripping, tea, bread. I remember another torture – one when we were all hungry – we could smell the likes of roast beef and cooked chicken wafting from where the nuns were eating. That was like another insult.”

Sullivan received no education while imprisoned in a Magdalene laundry and, after leaving, was homeless for a period.  In the 1970s, she sought counseling about what had happened to her and, as she says, “then it all came back, all the abuse and exploitation I had suffered in those places.”

Elderly survivors of the Magdalene laundries are threatening to go on a hunger strike if the Irish government does not offer financial redress. I shiver at the thought of women who have already suffered enough for several lifetimes having to subject themselves to such. Kenny and the Irish government need to apologize and compensate these women in full for a cruel and inhumane punishment that not a single one of them deserved.

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by on Feb. 10, 2013 at 2:53 AM
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Replies (1-10):
by Satan on Feb. 10, 2013 at 2:57 AM

Those crazy RC's!

by Platinum Member on Feb. 10, 2013 at 3:10 AM
1 mom liked this

There was a movie about this that took place in the 1960s. Horrible. Just horrible. 

Even raped women were sent there. 

by on Feb. 10, 2013 at 8:19 AM

Until 1996?! Wow... Issuing an apology seems so minimal, I wonder why the government refuses to issus one. 

I hope the survivors do not go on a hunger strike.

by Gold Member on Feb. 10, 2013 at 8:27 AM
1 mom liked this
This is what happens when religion infiltrates government and why no instance of it can be tolerated. When you think FFR Foundation is going overboard over courthouse nativity scenes and highway crosses, remember this.
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by Silver Member on Feb. 10, 2013 at 10:15 AM

That is just horrible. I hope that woman and others like her get the justice they deserve. Noone deserves that kind of treatment.

by Bazinga! on Feb. 10, 2013 at 10:27 AM

 Awful. :(

by on Feb. 10, 2013 at 10:48 AM

 This is just crazy! didn't their family's wonder what happened to them? This is just so bizzare!

by Ruby Member on Feb. 10, 2013 at 11:58 AM
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I heard about this on the radio a couple of days ago. The government really doesn't think they did anything wrong because they were getting fallen women and girls who would be a fallen woman one day, of of the streets and in the hands of god loving nuns to instill a decent work ethic in them. I must be pmsing because all I can think is men are bastards and religious women are worse than men
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by Ruby Member on Feb. 10, 2013 at 1:52 PM

My name is Maureen Sullivan and I’m a survivor from the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry in New Ross, Co. Wexford. At the age of 12 I was taken from my school in Co. Carlow and placed in the Magdalene Laundry at  News Ross against my will. I was told that this place was going to further my education but that never happened. By day I would work in this laundry but by night I would sleep in St Aidan’s Industrial School. It was long, hard tedious work and because I was small they made a timber box so I could feed the sheets into the caldron.  I remember being hidden in a tunnel when the school inspectors came. I can only assume that this was due to the fact that I should not have been working in the laundry.  The nuns have destroyed my life and they never allowed me to develop as a young girl. I was only a young girl of 12 years of age. All I want is Justice. 

by Ruby Member on Feb. 10, 2013 at 1:53 PM

My name is Kathleen Legg and I’m a survivor of St Mary’s Training Centre, Stanhope Street, Dublin and the Irish Sisters of Charity ran it. I was born on the 7th of October 1935 and I’m one of the oldest survivors campaigning for an official apology. At the age of 14 I remember my mother carrying me on my back through the fields of Lisvernane to Dublin. I was told like all the other girls that I was going to further my education. This was sadly not the case. I had my name changed and I was called no 27. At 6 O’ Clock the bell would go. You answered to the bell, as you did not know the time. We didn’t even have a book. It was all prayer and silence. I worked everyday in the laundry. There was no Training and it was not a Training Centre. The nuns intimidated me so much that I lost all self-belief in who I was. I have struggled for years. They robbed me of my life and years later I found out that they robbed me of the life I could have given to others. However, due to the heavy lifting I did at that institution I was impeded from having my own children. All I want is an apology and acknowledgement of what happened to others and me.   

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