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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 13 December, 2018
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Hundreds of Magdalene Laundry survivors gather in Dublin for two-day event

The women, many of them aged in their 80s, are gathering to discuss their experiences in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundry institutions.

The sixth annual Flowers for Magdalene event, a ceremony of remembrance for the women of the Magdalene Laundries, in Glasnevin Cemetery (2017).
The sixth annual Flowers for Magdalene event, a ceremony of remembrance for the women of the Magdalene Laundries, in Glasnevin Cemetery (2017).
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE REMAINING SURVIVORS of the Magdalene Laundry have begun arriving in Dublin today for a two-day consultation on how the experiences of women who were housed in those institutions should be remembered.

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.

Businesswoman Norah Casey, who’s the ambassador of the Dublin Honours Magdalene group, which is the voluntary organisation behind the event today, told Morning Ireland that most of the women attending are in their 80s and were infirm.

I haven’t come across one woman yet who has said ‘My life was grand since’. They’ve all had really bad lives, they’re coming in today from across Britain, somebody from the States, Australia, Switzerland.

For them this is just phenomenal. It’s not a happy occasion, it’s not a celebration, how could it be with those stories… but for all those terrible memories they have it’s nice to add a memory that’s something positive.”

It’s estimated that around 430 women will attend the event, with some women travelling from abroad for events at the Mansion House, Áras an Uachtarán, and Citywest.

Casey said that the Department of Justice sent out the initial letters to women about the conference. She said that when they received phone calls from women interested in attending the event, each call could take up to an hour. Some of the women hadn’t told their families what had happened to them.

There have been many discussions around how to remember Magdalene Laundries – particularly what to do with the old buildings that still stand (like the one on Sean McDermott Street).

Suggestions on what those buildings should be used for have ranged from selling the building on, to creating a commemorative garden, to “burning the building to the ground”.

On Saturday it was announced that reparation would finally be paid to survivors by the Department of Justice (the State provided funding to the Catholic Church to house women in Magdalene Laundries).

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