Áras An Uachtaráin

'I'm still angry': Survivors to discuss how Magdalene Laundries should be remembered

“I was taken in by the nuns at 15 – I hadn’t even kissed a boy”: Elizabeth Coppin told RTÉ about her experience in a Cork Laundry.

Magdalene Laundry stock Niall Carson via PA Images Niall Carson via PA Images

Updated at 2.45pm

A NUMBER OF Magdalene Laundry survivors arrived in Heuston Station this afternoon ahead of a gathering at Áras an Uachtaráin to meet President Michael D Higgins.

Around two or three dozen women and some family members arrived from Cork this morning and will attend an event at the Áras later this afternoon. Other women arrived at Dublin Airport yesterday and at Citywest this afternoon.

The women, most of whom wish to remain anonymous, are gathering in Dublin for the next two days as part of a consultation to discuss how women’s experiences of Magdalene Laundries should be remembered. Around 220 women are expected to attend the event at the Áras today; many of those women are aged in their 80s.

Magdalene Laundries were institutions run by the Catholic Church which took in so-called ‘fallen women’ and gave them manual labour to do. Many survivors said they were cruelly and brutally treated during their time there, with reports of women being beaten, put into solitary confinement, their hair cut, threatened, and verbally abused.

Josie Keane from Cork, who was at The Good Shepherds Magdalene Laundry in Limerick from the age of 15, told reporters gathered at Heuston that “it felt brilliant” to be at an event like this and to be able to meet other women.

She said that she was still angry about what had happened to her. She and her twin sister had been sent to two separate Laundries, and didn’t meet again until they were 21. Her sister died three years ago.

I’m sad that she’s not here and I feel bad about that now.

She said she did think people should know about the stories of women who were in the Laundries.

“Yes I think they should to be honest. I was 15 when I went in there and I was torn apart like. I’m always thinking that I’m back there again.”

She said her life after the Laundries was “miserable really, very untrustworthy and everything and still to this day like”.

It wasn’t my fault that I was put in there, but I do feel angry.

Flowers for Magdalenes remembrance The third annual Flowers for Magdalenes remembrance event in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke to Morning Ireland about the long battle for redress that many for the women had to go through, saying that anyone who suffered the “horrific Magdalene Laundries” should have an opportunity to apply for redress sooner rather than later.

He said that over 700 women had applied for a redress scheme, but added that a hundred women had been excluded “because of a narrow interpretation” of the scheme, such as those who had worked in the Laundries but lived in institutions next door.

He said that there were also disputes “over the length of their stay at the Laundries, and women who lacked capacity because of the seniority of age”.

Flanagan said that it was “essential that everybody involved in Magdalene Laundries applies to the scheme”.

It’s important that we move forward, and today’s events represent a very important part of that.

Elizabeth Coppin, who was born in a mother-and-baby home and was subsequently sent to three different Magdalene Laundries, told Morning Ireland that she didn’t hesitate to attend the event.

Today is overwhelming, I’ve so many mixed emotions. I can’t believe I’m sitting here and I’m going to meet the President.

She said it was great “to actually feel that we can voice our opinions” and thanked the Justice for Magdalenes Research group and Dublin Honours Magdalenes for their work.

Elizabeth’s story

Elizabeth’s mother gave birth to her at the age of 19 in 1949.

She was housed in the industrial school, and would see her mother “once every two or three years for about an hour, which was always supervised”.

When asked why she was put in Laundry after the school, Elizabeth said that her interpretation was that when a woman who worked in a Laundry died, the nuns would “get onto the Education Department and they would ring around” to find a replacement.

I was taken in by two nuns from the industrial school. I was only 15 – I hadn’t even kissed a boy.

Describing her first impression of the Peacock Lane Laundry in Cork, she said:

It’s just total shock first, it was surreal what was happening. At nighttime we were all locked into this cell, they were like prison cells. Once you went in there at night the bolt was closed shut from the outside.
If you wanted to go to the toilet there were was a pot… In the morning you had to go and slop out – I feel sick now thinking about it.

She said that when she was 16, her and another girl tried to run away.

I ran away from that place – we jumped out from the first floor windows. There were bars on most windows, but the ones facing for the public to see had no bars and we jumped out the windows.

They went to the Bon Secours hospital, but were taken back to The Good Shepherd’s Laundry in Cork where they changed her name to Enda. “I discovered after that that it was a boy’s name.”

There, they shaved my hair and said ‘Now you will never run away’.

She said that after five months there, she was told “she wasn’t settling in properly” and would be sent to another Laundry in Waterford. “They were excellent at trafficking,” she said.

Asked about the effect living in the Laundries had on her, Elizabeth said:

It stays with you for life. You’re overprotective of your children, I’m especially overprotective of my daughter.
We didn’t even get a chance to be educated. I was 12 years old when I finished my education.

She said she now has a “love-hate relationship” with the Irish State and Catholic Church.

“When I came back to Ireland, I came back with mixed emotions – excitement and anticipation. Sometimes it seems what happened to me is like a dream, it’s surreal and to think it was a so-called Free State, so-called good-for-all Catholicism – but they were evil deeds they did.”

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