Locked up and denied our identity – Magdalene survivors speak out

Magdalene Laundry Survivors

Hundreds of women who were locked up and denied their own sense of identity when they were youngsters at the horrific Magdalene Laundries came together in Ireland from all over the world at a gathering, where they met President Michael D Higgins.

The Magdalene Laundries were institutions or asylums in Ireland that girls and young women were sent to, often when they were too old for school.

A voluntary group called the Dublin Honours Magdalenes has organised a two day gathering that will remember the women who were at the Magdaline – and see many of them reunite.

Magdalene Laundry Survivors

Survivors will come to the event from the UK, the US, Australia and Ireland. They will meet President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin for a special reception, before going to Dublin’s Mansion House for a gala dinner.

The dinner will include entertainment from Irish stars such as Christy Moore, Philomena Begley and Dana.

During the gathering, some of the women told their stories about the terrible ways in which themselves and many other young girls were treated at the laundries.

Breda Duffy escaped from a Limerick institution in a laundry van when she was 21-years-old.

She is now 72 and has spent most of her life in London, where she married and had a family. She is one of 200 women who are arriving in Ireland for the event which will commemorate the survivors of the Magdalene Laundry.

Breda told the Irish Independent: “One way I’d look at this, is Ireland is recognising what happened to us. 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.”

Four years ago, Breda was reunited with 80-year-old Martha Osmonde, who she regards as a sister.

They had gone to Waterford industrial school together – before being locked away at the Magdalene Laundry.

Breda said: “I met up with Martha only four years ago after a London Irish event. 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.”

When Martha was 17, another teenage girl told the nuns that Martha had been talking to her boyfriend. The nuns responded by throwing Martha into the laundry in Limerick.

Martha said: “We’d rise at 6am to work and I had to operate this huge industrial washing machine. 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.”

Mary Wooton, from Southampton, UK, will also be attending the gathering. The 69-year-old was sent to a laundry in Wexford as her mother was incapable of looking after her.

Mary said: “I remember going into a courthouse as a child and when I left, I didn’t return home with my aunt. 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.”

Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling