Friday, October 2, 2009


Having listened over the past few days to Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1 dealing with the dreadful conditions those “fallen” women endured under these nuns, I am almost in tears.

You see, I was one of those babies. When I hear how my mother, may she rest in peace, and others were treated, I feel very angry with the type of society I was born and reared in.

Today this Government perpetuates this misery on these women by forcing them to seek documentation to prove they were slaves in these laundries. Changing the terminology from “employees” to “workers” makes very little difference.

One lady did admit she received remuneration in the form of a packet of mint drops and a holy picture. Does this absolve Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe and the Government of all financial and moral responsibilities?

Today, this Government can hand out billions to bail out banks and their developer friends. They pay out millions to individuals in handshakes and ministerial expenses, yet when it comes to these poor unfortunate women, who were made work for nothing in terrible conditions for decades, they turn their backs on them.

Is there any justice in this society of ours?

Incidentally, I met my mother for the first time when I was 35 years of age . . . although it was no thanks to the nuns of the Sacred Heart Convent in Bessborough, Blackrock, Co Cork.
Yours etc,

Letters to the Editor, Irish Times.


20 Responses to “Redress for Magdalen laundry inmates”

  1. culchiewoman says:

    Hi William. I have e-mailed you privately in answer to your question. Feel free to contact me at any point.

  2. william barnes says:

    Is it possible to gain access to the registers of girls at the Magdalene laundry at turn of the 20th century. I’m trying to find out if my great grand fathers daughter (Elizabeth Barnes)was ever sent to the laundry from Middlesbrough North yorks in about 1890(?)



  3. culchiewoman says:

    Will, on behalf of Jim Smith and all of us at Justice for Magdalenes, thank you for your kind and spot-on comments. You would not be the first Irish citizen who was completely unaware of the Magdalene Laundries. If you have a chance, do sign our online petition at

  4. will says:

    I am a twentyfive year old man living in dublin and to be honest i had never heard of any off this until tonight. when i began to investigate i could not belive what i was reading, i feel ashamed that i am living in a
    country that spon these animals who could subject young girls to such horrible treatment and then refuse to acknowledge them. It brought tears to my eyes. I know it must be hard, really really hard, but any women out there must speak up and continue to speak up not not just for yourself but for the poor souls that never made it through
    you are all wonderful women who committed no crime, times have changed, stand up and fight for what you belive in. I offer my help
    in any way i can, will

  5. When ‘Justice for All’ becomes justice for…some

    Author’s disclaimer: the comments made here are my personal comments and do not reflect the opinions of any other group or organisation.

    For anyone who knows me, my history with adoption, Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries, you know that my mantra has always been if you support these issues as I do, then I’m with you, 100%. My mother spent ten years in the Magdalene Laundry in Waterford, and then suffered the further indignity of being shuttled through three different Irish mother-baby homes, finally giving birth to me at the mother-baby home at Bessboro’, Cork.

    A bit of background: I’ve worked with an advocacy group called Justice for Magdalenes for going on the last ten years. Our primary goals are (i) to bring about an official apology from the Irish State and the Catholic Church, and (ii) the establishment of a distinct redress scheme for Magdalene survivors. Once JFM achieves these objectives, the door will be open to every survivor and/or her family and/or other groups representing Magdalene survivors to pursue their own claim for redress. And for the record: when (not if) that time comes, I will be glad to lay down the mantle and call it a job well done. I have no interest in taking on the work of running a support service or centre, don’t care to be the recipient of any State or Church compensation for such, and want to just quietly fade into the background. Having seen the state of many Irish survivor support groups, I want no part of that. I just want to kick the door down for women like my mother, and then let them all flood through on their own steam.

    As part of JFM’s work, we have often been contacted by academics, researchers, documentarians, journalists, etc. In the early days, we were happy to offer our time, information and resources to these folks to help them with whatever project they undertook. Our mission was to spread awareness and their work was critical to this mission. In 2006, we were contacted by a young, eager man (an actor by training) from Ireland who wanted to create a documentary with a new twist: follow the travails of a Magdalene survivor or survivors, modern day, as they sought to achieve redress or file a claim under the existing 2002 Redress Act. We felt this was an important project and spent time connecting him with survivors we felt were up to the task of such a project, providing him background information on the Laundries, etc.

    Fast forward to late 2008: said filmmaker is nearly at completion of his project and lets our on-line discussion group know the title he’s chosen for it: The Forgotten Maggies. Unfortunately, this caused a row among some of the group members, many survivors themselves, who feel that the term ‘Maggie’ is a derogatory insult to the women who were incarcerated in these asylums. Our young film-maker takes great umbrage to this and a heated dispute evolves on the list over the next few months, with me and others trying to smooth the waters, unruffle feathers and generally try to keep people’s eyes on the prize: redress for Magdalene survivors. It’s about the ladies, people!

    In early 2009, I approached New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House with the idea of doing a panel session on the Magdalene Laundries (they’ve done screenings before of the documentaries Sex in a Cold Climate and States of Fear). It was embraced enthusiastically by IH director Eileen Reilly and we started to plan the components. Initially, my thought was to screen Peter Mullan’s excellent The Magdalene Sisters and invite him as a panellist (I’d met with him at a Philadelphia screening in 2003 and spent fours hours over pints and fags discussing the Church and other topics with this very erudite man) as well as our resident advisory committee member and expert, the man I admire as the most esteemed scholar on the subject of the Magdalene Laundries, who has done more to further our cause than anyone I know.

    But we were unable to pull the Mullan panel off, so my next thought was to invite the young documentary filmmaker to show his film, which he jumped on. Unfortunately, as plans for the Glucksman event gelled, the controversy about his documentary on our discussion list continued to devolve into angry accusations, childish behaviour and just downright nastiness, despite our best efforts to keep the train on the track.

    It finally got so bad that our advisory committee scholar begged off the Glucksman event (understandably, albeit regrettably) because he didn’t want to professionally engage with this most unprofessional of young documentary film-makers.

    I managed to survive the event and even be civil and cordial to the film-maker despite my misgivings about the quality of his film, his motivations and his practise of undermining others. After the event, I decided to keep my distance. I would neither promote his film nor decry it. He unfortunately took this and the discussion group’s criticism a bit too much to heart and thought we had turned on him, refusing to see the truth: that a documentary should be nothing if not accurate, and that it’s never wise to piss off the very people who helped get you where you are. In other words, he had bitten the very hand that fed him and then marched off declaring us all nefarious, treacherous, etc.

    In fact, with the lone exception of myself, he refused to even acknowledge the help others within JFM gave him, not that they asked for acknowledgement. It was as if survivors magically appeared from a fairy fort to talk with him and allow themselves to be filmed, rather than the careful and considered approach my colleagues took in asking the women if they’d like to participate and then liaising them with the film-maker. We never just willy-nilly turn a survivor over to a journalist, film-maker or other representative of the media without carefully preparing them. Primarily, out of respect for their confidentiality, we just aren’t in the habit of giving people names.

    And what many don’t realize is that even granting a short interview can bring up memories and emotions a survivor isn’t prepared to deal with. I’ve done my share of media interviews and my background isn’t nearly as harrowing as that of a survivor of a Magdalene asylum, yet it still leaves me feeling like I’ve been in a car wreck afterward. So we are very careful with how that’s handled. Our film-maker apparently takes this to mean we’re ‘secretly’ guarding survivors or jealously hoarding them like china figurines. They are like china figurines in their fragility, but we’re certainly not hoarding them. We just like them to be prepared, fully aware of what they’re being asked for and permitted to make a decision of their own free will…something the Church never allowed them.

    We’ve seen the results of his controlling, manipulative behaviour with the very women he highlighted in his documentary and now continues to trot out in an uncomfortable dog-and-pony show.

    He recently screened his film at the London Irish Centre (where he seemed to feel he received a less than warm reception — no wonder, since he originally wanted to charge survivors to see his film!) One attendee at this screening said that “…at the end he asked the woman [name removed at the request of the woman named P.D.] to stand up and more or less ‘let the people look at you.’ (A woman’s name has been removed from this section of the comment at her request made to me via email. P.D.), who was also in front of me had to be pushed to stand up but would not face the crowd and the others tried to get her to turn but she remained rigid.’ Apparently our gallant film-maker doesn’t understand that pushing these women into very public and traumatic scenarios like this is about like putting someone through intensive therapy and not ‘putting them back together’ before they leave the therapist’s office.

    In other words, he is piling trauma upon trauma and it’s agonising to watch these poor women dance to his machinations.

    And the poor sod has even gone so far as to libel us, declaring via a shared e-mail that we had gotten “$10,000 from Miramax” for our cause. The truth is (and Miramax brass are prepared to back this up), we received an in-kind donation of 5,000 black-and-white postcards to be used in a campaign to mail then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

    He’s now banded together the original women featured in his documentary (two of whom also wanted to be part of our advocacy group, and one of whom actually was on our committee until she was told by the film-maker that she had to declare an allegiance to one or the other of us!) along with some other survivors and started a group called ‘Magdalene Survivors United’. Recently they started a public Facebook group in support of Magdalene survivors called Magdalene Survivors Together. I tried to join this group, but apparently was blocked by this young man. When I clarified by e-mail with him that I was indeed blocked, and suggested that this was discrimination, his response was: “If that’s the way you see it that’s your choice!” Wow, that’s professional.

    No, my friend…it is discrimination, pure and simple. I am the daughter of a Magdalene survivor and I am not permitted to join a public Facebook group devoted to Magdalene survivors and, presumably, their family members, because of my affiliation with another group.

    So enough is enough: I’m outing him publicly. This is a man who refuses to accept that his film may have some warts and could not digest constructive criticism to save his life; this is a man who manipulated women no differently than the way they were cruelly manipulated and controlled by the very nuns and priests who abused them; this is a man who will not allow these same women to have any allegiance or ties to our advocacy group; and this is the man who will not allow me — a Magdalene survivor family member — to join a public Facebook group. This type of behaviour is, sadly, indicative of the way many Irish survivor groups have gone. They devolve into elementary schoolyard donnybrooks: “You can join this group…but you can’t! Nyaaah, nyaaah, nyaah.” In fact, some have devolved into actual donnybrooks featuring real violence and allegations of fraud, misuse of funds, etc.

    Apparently there is justice…just not for all, or at least in the mind of one young filmmaker. If you agree that his actions are discriminatory, pay him a visit at and let him know.

  6. stephen lambert says:

    I saw the trailer for the movie, “the magdeline sisters,” and that was more than enough for me. The nuns who ran those gulags have blackened the name of their orders for decades to come. Some of the inmates are getting damages, but none of it is coming from the nuns who made a lot of money off of these women who endured horrible conditions.

    I am in awe of these women some of whom were able to live normal lives in spite of what they endured. These are the true Christians because while they could have made their tormentors pay with their blood and burn down their convents they haven’t. I feel pity for those nuns because in the end they have God to answer to. I do not know if any of these nuns are repentant for their sins, but they should be ashamed of themselves, and the shame they brought on the church.

  7. FXR says:

    Personally I think Catholic Nuns Priests and Brothers delivering what they claimed were the blessings of the lord is what caused the problem in the first place:

  8. Anne says:

    Dear People,
    I live in Holland. Two years ago I visited Ireland for the first time, and I fell in love with your country. The beautiful and rural landscape, the friendly, warm people we’ve met, the pubs, the streets, I loved it all.
    About half a year ago I saw the movie `The Magdalene Sisters´ and I was shocked. Such a great country with such a horror history? I went on reading and reading and felt more and more hurt by the pain of all these poor women.

    Of course I don´t have to do anything with these things, but I really would like to wish you all the blessings of the Lord in all your lifes and all the strength to go on with your lifes in a way that will satisfy yourself.

    With love, from Holland,

  9. Hanora Brennan says:

    Paddy, May I suggest that you print my replies from the Dept. of Health regarding the funding for the Maggies? Edited of course? Many thanks.

  10. FXR says:

    The Irish Catholic Gulag. Stalin has the name but the Pope escapes his blame. And people are still lining up and putting money on the plate to fund this organisation.

  11. Hanora Brennan says:

    Yes, these twisters of charity or mercy or whatever they purported to represent did get paid a £1 a week for each woman in the laundries (a substantial sum in 50’s Ireland) and extra monies for each child. It took an English journalist to unearth that valuable piece of information as Irish citizens are blocked at every turn by our so called govt. departments. What else are they hiding that has yet to be exposed. Those children who were born in these laundries should form a collective and go after the religious and the State for their evil child trafficking through the decades.

  12. FXR says:

    The Catholic Church is a State within a State. Batty OKeefe, like his predecessor Mary Hanfin, is an arch Catholic. Finna Fail and Fine Gael are practically the political wings of the Catholic Church.

  13. Andrew says:

    Hi Michael

    Fianna Fail don’t do resignations – Batty is the enforcer or the torpedo man of this administration – he’s no fool either. So in that context his remark was calculated.

  14. Michael Hull says:

    Seems like they want to copy what is happening here in the States.
    If someone was not sexually molested by one (or more) of the nuns/priests, then it doesn’t matter. They don’t count slave labor, torture, starvation, lack of love or guidance, etc., etc.
    I wonder if a move to recall/fire the minister of “education” for his callous and ill timed remarks might have some affect on the rest of the idiots in government?

  15. robbie dempsey says:

    May I add my sincere support to the “Slaves of the Magdeline Institutions; I extend my sorrow to Leo Armstrong….(a) because, it took me almost the same amount of years to FIND MY MOTHER; (b) even though my mum has been Found, (I don’t know her)-that is “state Sponsored interference” that permitted the abuse, the separation and other related wrongs to be done…to so many; the Larger picture to all of this…is that, a “family has been created”, they being, those that were incarcerated in the Magdelines- the Ferryhouse Mon Boys etc- by those that destroyed so many families; that, in it’s own right, is the right (of us) to confront the wrongs done; and no where do the experts (as they call themselves) have the right to express these hurts, your views/my views, etc, unless they (too) have suffered in like fashion;

  16. Kathy says:

    Are we now being informed that the Irish Government allowed the Religious Orders of Nuns to keep women and children in slavery for decades even after they had joined the EU. In 1973. Where they were kept behind locked doors in slave labour. Is this not classed as a prison , where they served a longer term then people that had committed murder. Were these women allowed to vote at any election, or were they even put on the electoral role. Where are the likes of Bob Geldof, Bono and their entourage at this time

  17. What kind of action might we, who are horrorstruck at the lack of justice in this situation, take which would have an impact? I cannot promise to march in Dublin – I live in Mayo, (‘god help us’) – but if letters work, I’m willing to write and write and if a petition would work, could that be set up online? This situation screams ‘wrong’ and even if the country’s bankrupted itself, the amount of money it would take to make some token gesture of recompense would be minimal. It is the bare minimum requirement of a democratic state to treat its members with a modicum of respect. The state has failed these women once. Let it do right now. With an acknowledgment, I am sure many of these women might find peace. Without it, the wound deepens and festers.

  18. Andrew says:

    They wouldn’t stop at crucifying Jesus they’d lock up his mother too.

  19. Paddy says:

    Catherine, I agree absolutely about the silence that has befallen the Irish nation since the publication of the Ryan Report (Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse). Where are the so called leaders of the groups around this country that purport to represent ‘victims of abuse’. Have they all been bought off or has it finally dawned on them that they have no mandate whatever to speak on behalf of people like myself who were institutionalised and viciously abused as children and teenagers? Believe me I am every bit as angry as you are but I don’t know what to do. To say I feel betrayed, used and abused is nowhere near how I really feel. Let the so-called group leaders in the various counties across Ireland speak now. Seek the mandate they should have before claiming to speak on behalf of any group of people who suffered abuse and who continue to feel the pain of it to this very day.

  20. Catherine says:

    That is a brilliant letter, and we need more of them in order to wake the people out of their old brainwashing re these “fallen” women.

    We all know fine well that it was only an evil excuse by the church and state to keep women as slaves and get free babies for their child trafficing business.

    Paddy, when the Ryan Report came out, I imagined millions of Irish free people maching in every city and town,to show the world they were not in approval of this wickedness- but alas- collusion is all I see- as I sit and observe from across the water.

    That’s right Irish people- to do nothing is to condone what your men and women of some Roman God has done to our brothers and sisters.

    If Jesus arrived in Ireland- the Irish would crucify him again in a heartbeat, along with Mary Magdalene- his wife.

    Why? Because they represent LOVE- and there is no money in Love.

    Sorry Paddy, it makes me so angry to see irish people still turning a blind eye to abuse.

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