Benedict XVI: An apology overdue to the girls & women tortured in Ireland's Magdalene Laundries Print E-mail
 Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It is time the Pope came clean about the Magdalene Laundries

By Sharon Owens
Scroll down for links to watch more, and to read more about the 30,000 girls and women tortured by the Catholic Church's Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, Sisters of Charity and Good Shepherd Sisters in Ireland's "State-approved" Magdalene Laundries over a period spanning numerous decades, and culminating just 14 years ago in 1996

And also scroll down for link to sign Petition urging the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen to call for State acknowledgment of its complicity in remanding women and children to Magdalene Laundries, and to (i) offer an official apology to and (ii) establish a distinct redress scheme for victims and survivors of these abusive institutions

When I was a young Catholic child in the 1970s, I was brought up to reject the British Royal family and everything it stood for: the class system, primogeniture, social elitism, the pomp and ceremony, the ritual, and the obscene wealth and privilege.

Well, guess what? I saw it all a few days ago when the Irish bishops were lining up in grand robes to kiss the hand of Pope Benedict. Yes, the Vatican surely leaves the House of Windsor in the halfpenny place when it comes to elitism, pomp and ceremony. I could have wept with frustration - except I never expected a full and frank apology from Pope Benedict. I wasn't expecting an admission of guilt either, because such a statement might open the floodgates of litigation. And I'm sure the Vatican doesn't want to lose any more money to the abuse survivors than it already has.

I'm sure the Vatican is hoping the unmarked graves of the Magdalene slaves will soon be covered over once more. I'm sure the Vatican is hoping the innocent young children they turned into bitter alcoholics and suicidal depressives will just hurry up and die and not collect any compensation.

No doubt when the leaders of the Catholic Church pray these days, they pray for the tidal wave of abuse scandals to dry up and be forgotten. After all, the orphanages, industrial schools and laundries have all closed down now. So they cannot send along the 'cruelty man' to scoop poor children off the streets like the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They cannot force cheeky boys to dig potatoes in the rain and they cannot force pretty girls to hand wash bloody sheets from the hospitals any more. And it's a criminal offence these days to beat a dyslexic girl with a leather belt or to punch a stubborn boy until he is unconscious. So, as I said, the potential for fresh scandal is greatly diminished.

The nationalists of my youth used to say 'God Bless Ireland' and, 'God Save Ireland' - they were referring to 700 years of British colonialism, the Famine, Mass Rocks, discrimination against Catholics in jobs and housing and the blood-and-thunder marching bands of the Orange Order.

What a great pity they didn't think to question the tyranny of the Catholic Church while they were about it. The church that forbade birth control, yet despised big families of starving, barefoot children. The church that encouraged education yet hated free-thinkers. The church that revered Mary the Mother of God, yet treated all mortal women as sinners and whores. The church that raved about poverty and humility, yet lined the walls of the Vatican with priceless works of art.

The church that took the pocket money off children during Lent, yet covered up the brutal rape and buggery of little boys and girls for more than 50 years.

And I wondered, looking at those grovelling bishops kissing Pope Benedict's hand, do they really understand, even now, why there is a crisis in the church? Have they any idea of how the survivors of abuse must feel?

Have they no empathy whatsoever for the unnamed Magdalene slaves who died of exhaustion or malnutrition or a broken heart and were quietly buried behind those high stone walls? I'm beginning to think only snobs, sociopaths and narcissists are drawn to religious life in the first place, for I have yet to see a flicker of shame, regret or sadness from any bishops. If Jesus were here today he would rage against the Vatican for what it has done to the people of Ireland.

He would roar and weep and pull down the wall of silence that has been built around the crimes of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Jesus would smash the headstones condemning the Magdalenes as 'penitents' even in death. He would throw open the doors of the Vatican and tell survivors of abuse to carry away any art and gold they can lay their hands on. He would demolish the grand cathedrals and say Masses in the open air. He would beg forgiveness on bended knees from the men, women, children and ghosts of Ireland. But I can't see Pope Benedict doing any of that. Can you?
 Dublin ~ Friday February 26 2010

Magdalene victims awaiting apology

Madam, – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued an apology to child migrants who were sent between the 1920s and 1960s to Britain’s former colonies, where many of them suffered abuse. Several hundred of the more than 130,000 child migrants involved in this scheme were either Irish or of Irish background.

In Ireland, the Government, members of the Catholic hierarchy, and various religious congregations, have apologised for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children, including children in State residential institutions.

Survivors of the Magdalene Laundries still await their apology: from the State, which was complicit in referring women and children into the laundries; from the religious orders that operated the profitable laundries; from the Irish hierarchy which reaped the benefits of that profit; from families that banished daughters, sisters and cousins behind convent walls; and from Irish society, which turned a blind eye while sending their dirty laundry to be scrubbed clean.

Is the abuse experienced by these woman and children somehow fundamentally different? Is it conceivable that nuns abused children and didn’t abuse adult women in a different part of the same institution? Or, is contemporary Irish society suggesting the Magdalene women somehow deserved the treatment they received? Does Irish society really believe there is nothing for which to apologise? – Yours, etc,


Justice for Magdalenes, Crocknahattina, Baileborough, Co Cavan.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Why time is not on the side of the Magdalene victims

Batt O’Keeffe has not covered himself in glory with his handling of the Magdalene laundry controversy, despite last week’s conciliatory moves to meet the Justice for Magdalenes group.

The Minister for Education & Science was recently forced into his third climbdown on the issue of the state’s complicity with the religious congregations’ Magdalene laundries.

Last week’s meeting stopped short of pledging a distinct redress scheme and the apology sought by the women who now range in age from60 up to their 80s.

O’Keeffe acknowledged last month that the courts referred individuals to laundries run by the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, Sisters of Charity and Good Shepherd Sisters.

But a strong case could be made that the state failed to protect the constitutional rights of young women confined by their families for reasons including illegitimacy, pregnancy and sexual abuse.

The for-profit laundries operated as a parallel detention system with the full knowledge of the state.

The ‘penitents’ were deprived of the most basic human rights and forced to work for no wages, washing and ironing clerical vestments and the laundry of state-run institutions, including hospitals.

‘‘There are different circumstances to these survivors, so we can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ model of redress. But it has been a giant leap - it’s taken ten years just to get them to admit to any kind of culpability,” said Mari Steed of the Justice for Magdalenes group.

In government, Fianna Fáil TD Tom Kitt is pressing for a state apology and distinct redress scheme. He has established an ad hoc Oireachtas committee that includes the Labour Party’s Ruairi Quinn and Joan Burton, Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter and Fianna Fáil’s Michael Kennedy.

‘‘What’s needed is an apology for failing to protect the constitutional rights of these women and for all the young girls who lost their childhood in these institutions,” Kitt told The Sunday Business Post.

Five months ago, even an admission of state referrals from the courts appeared a lost cause. In a carefully crafted letter, O’Keeffe said that the state had no role in referring these women to laundries.

At pains to avoid any state liability, O’Keeffe’s letter sparked public outrage when he described the women as ‘‘employees’’. He later apologised and retracted the term - only to add fuel to the fire by later describing them as ‘‘workers’’.

‘‘The women have referred to themselves as slaves. There were no wages, no protections as workers and no freedom of movement,” said associate professor James Smith at Boston College, who has conducted archival research into the laundries.

Smith has produced documents showing that women were sent to laundries on receiving suspended sentences between 1923 and 1963.

Documents also furnished to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and to O’Keeffe showed the courts transferred the women to a Magdalene ‘asylum’ on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin in the 1960s, and to various laundries on probation.

Ahern acknowledged in December that there was no legal basis for the courts to sentence a person to be detained in a Magdalene laundry, even though the practice continued well into the 1960s.

O’Keeffe’s subsequent acknowledgement came in light of the ‘‘new evidence’’, yet it is unclear why court documents could not have been unearthed before now.

This sorry episode of Irish history was touched on by the Ryan Report on abuse of children in state-run institutions. But the state’s redress scheme applied only to those transferred from state reformatories to the laundries.

The human tragedy of these women who lived and died inside the walls of convents has been described in books, films and plays, but remains officially unacknowledged by the state.

A special redress scheme that does not require elderly women to give evidence before boards or committees is the favoured option.

‘‘Time is not on the side of these women,” Kitt was told in a letter from councillor Sally Mulready, representing the London Irish Women Survivors Support Group in the London Irish Centre.

As to liability, the numbers involved will form a crucial piece of the jigsaw for the religious orders and the state.

The London group estimates that there are about 200 victims living in Britain, but Smith said that only convent records could reveal the exact numbers. The group is urging the government to require the convents to release the data to a state body. Minister for Health Mary Harney is responsible for records on women referred from mother and baby homes to the laundries.

The key question for the ministers i s whether an apology should be made to all women confined, either by courts or families, on the grounds that the state failed to protect their constitutional rights.

Watch More:

Miramax Films

The Magdalene Sisters

DRAMA (2002) Rated R
Directed by Peter Mullan
Written by Peter Mullan

Geraldine McEwan [Sister Bridget]
Anne-Marie Duff [Margaret]
Nora-Jane Noone [Bernadette]
Dorothy Duffy [Rose/Patricia]
Eileen Walsh [Crispina]
Britta Smith [Katy]
Frances Healy [Sister Jude]
Eithne McGuinness [Sister Clementine]
Phyllis McMahon [Sister Augusta]
Rebecca Walsh [Josephine]
Eamonn Owens [Eamonn]
Chris Simpson [Brendan]
Sean Colgan [Seamus]
Daniel Costello [Father Fitzroy]

What Happens:
A stirring, must-see motion picture critics called one of the best films of the year, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS is the triumphant story of three extraordinary women whose courage to defy a century of injustice would inspire a nation! Abandoned by society and cast out by their families for crimes they did not commit, these women found themselves stripped of their liberty and dignity and condemned to indefinite sentences of manual labor. Within the church-run Magdalene Laundries, these women were forced into unbearable institutional servitude in order to cleanse themselves of the "sins" of which they had been accused. From acclaimed director Peter Mullan, this award-winning powerhouse not only reveals the truth behind one of the great tragedies of our time, but celebrates the bravery that would bring it to an end!

See more:

YouTube  RTE NEWS @ 6 ' The Forgotten Maggies

You Tube Magdalene Laundry - Cork

YouTube A former Magdalene Laundry resident speaks out
Maureen O'Sullivan was a former resident of one of Ireland's notorious Magdalene Laundries. When she was just 12 years old, her mother took her away from her home and she ended up in a Magdalene La...   

Read More:

Thursday July 02 2009

Millstreet film-maker tells harrowing story of the 'forgotten Maggies'

Right: Stephen O'Riordan and his sister Joanne pictured at their Millstreet home. Stephen made the documentary 'The Forgotten Maggies' which premieres at the Galway Film Festival on July 8.


A YOUNG documentary maker from Millstreet, whose ' The Forgotten Maggies' is set to stir up a storm of controversy at the Galway Film Festival next Wednesday, admits that in the process of making the film "I felt ashamed to be Irish".

The ' Forgotten Maggies' picks up the stories of four women who were inmates of Cork's notorious Magdalene Laundries after they left the workplaces they were forced into because they became pregnant when they were unmarried.

In some cases the harrowing effects of what happened to these women reverberate down through the generations. Along with the 30,000 women who lived and worked in the laundries until the last was closed in 1996, the children of these women, this documentary shows, are often deeply damaged by this legacy.

Stephen O'Riordan, who is now 25 years old, felt compelled to do something after watching Peter Mullins‚ award-winning ' The Magdalene Sisters'. He was haunted by the feeling that "there was no way in the world those women rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after, not after what happened to them".

One woman who was torn away from her unmarried mother at two and sent to a children's home, where she was routinely beaten because of the circumstances of her birth, is among the unforgettable contributors to the documentary.

She was brought to a laundry to meet her mother when she was seven. Mother and daughter sat in a room for some time without exchanging a word.

When she got back to the children's home, the woman who had accompanied her stripped her naked, beat her severely and locked her in a coal shed as punishment for her social ineptness. The woman tells Stephen on film: "I didn't know what to say to her ­ I didn't know what a mother was".

Stephen, a graduate in film studies, felt enormous pressure to get this right, and he feels he has created an important documentary. "These are four real women and, for all of them, it was their first time coming forward and telling their stories. We really want to get their voices heard."

Stephen was motivated to try and make a difference, in part, because of his inspirational sister Joanne O'Riordan, who was born without arms and legs and who leads a full and active life. Joanne, 13, has just completed her first year of secondary school at Millstreet Community College.

And so began a three-and-a-half year trek around Ireland and England gathering these stories and working with the women to make a stand against a redress board which, in one case, flatly refused to believe the woman's account of her treatment in one of the Magdalene Laundries.

Stephen is reluctant to release too much detail before the premiere but the documentary is set to be explosive. The content focuses on what happened after the women left the laundries and brings their stories right up to date with Stephen and his colleagues, Gerard Boland and Seamus Hegarty, drawn into their fight for justice. He was also greatly assisted by Elaine Hooper, also from Millstreet, who became an adviser, soundingboard and confidante.

It was all done on a shoestring and all of them ultimately gave up three and a half years of their lives to get it finished.

Every woman TD in Ireland has been invited to the premiere at the Town Hall Cinemobile at 10am on July 8th and Stephen believes they must attend. "These women need redress and need a State apology for the injustice they have suffered."

 Dublin ~Thursday, July 9, 2009

Redress Board's Failure To Hear Abuse Histories A 'disgrace', Says Film-maker

Kathleen Legg, Maureen Sullivan and Mary King, former residents of the Magdalene laundries, after the screening of The Forgotten Maggies in Galway yesterday. Photograph: Joe OShaughnessy

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

MAGDALENE DOCUMENTARY: INTERVIEWS WITH FORMER INMATES SCREENED: CRITICISM OF the failure by State and religious orders to apologise to thousands of Irish women incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries was articulated by several former residents who were in Galway yesterday for the screening of a documentary on the issue.

The failure by the State’s redress board to hear the cases of such women was a “disgrace”, the documentary’s director, Steven O’Riordan said.

Maureen O’Sullivan, one of several women interviewed for his documentary, did have her case heard last week before the redress board.

However, this was only because she was able to prove that she had stayed at an industrial school adjoining a laundry in New Ross, Co Wexford.

Speaking after the screening, Mrs O’Sullivan said she had received a settlement and a Taoiseach’s apology. “The fact that it took me six years to have my case heard – and that I am an exception – takes a lot of the good out of it. They have left it too late.”

The mother of two never told her husband of her experiences in three separate laundries run by nuns – having been sent there at the age of 12. Her husband died three years ago.

Two Irish women now living in England, who were also interviewed, attended the screening. Kathleen Legg said that in 38 years of marriage she had never told her husband what had happened, in spite of the fact that she often had terrifying nightmares. Her visit to Galway was her first return to Ireland in 50 years.

Mary King described constant beatings and abuse during her time, and said that no doctor was called by the nuns when she slipped into a coma due to rheumatic fever.

“They called the priest to anoint me,” she said. Her treatment, the failure of the nuns to provide any education and the long working hours had turned her and thousands of other women into “child slaves”, she said.

The documentary asks why a plaque to 155 women, whose bodies were found during construction on a former convent in Drumcondra in 1993, was never erected by the developer after purchase of the site from a religious order.

As reported at the time, and by Mary Raftery in this newspaper, the list of names provided by the nuns for the exhumation licence did not match up to names on a mass grave – and one date, for April 31st, 1948, did not even exist.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Labour Party women’s group said the screening of the documentary, The Forgotten Maggies , was an opportunity to “rectify in some small way, the wrong that was visited upon these women over many decades”.

“We should take this opportunity to express our determination that the plight of the Magdalene women will never be forgotten, and that nobody will ever again be forced to endure the pain, anguish and humiliation that they suffered,” the statement said.

“There has never been a formal apology of any sort to the Magdalene women, either from the religious orders involved, or from the State, which was in many ways complicit in subjecting these women to this awful treatment – and that is something that needs to be addressed.”

The group called for a signal to be given “in a real and meaningful way” that “families torn asunder in such a cruel and brutal manner will not be tolerated again”.


  Leadership needed on Magdalene Laundries

Target: An Taoiseach of Ireland, Mr. Brian Cowen
Sponsored by: Justice for Magdalenes
Urge Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen to call for State acknowledgment of its complicity in remanding women and children to Magdalene Laundries, and to (i) offer an official apology to and (ii) establish a distinct redress scheme for victims and survivors of these abusive institutions.  We also have a direct e-mail form which can be sent to An Taoiseach at

Dear Taoiseach,
We, the undersigned, as concerned global and Irish citizens, write to you to appeal for justice and to add our voices to the call for Irish State acknowledgment of its complicity in remanding women and children to Magdalene Laundries.  We urge you to (i) offer an official apology to and (ii) establish a distinct redress scheme for victims and survivors of these abusive institutions.

Your recent assertion that there is a distinction between "children in the residential institutions" and "women in [Magdalene] laundries" is appalling in the extreme.  Justice for Magdalenes has proven beyond doubt that there were children in the Magdalene laundries. The Department of Education acknowledged its awareness of this fact when Justice for Magdalenes met with senior officials on 2 February 2010. Your response signals the State's primary concern is to limit liability with respect to anticipated claims for compensation. You and your government should be focused on providing justice for women and children denied their constitutional rights. Do you believe that the State, and in particular the Department of Education, did not have a moral and Constitutional obligation to protect every child from the exploitative work conditions in the laundry institutions?

We urge you to pursue the cause for justice for these women and children, to cease trying to pass the burden solely on the religious orders that ran these institutions, and to exert the utmost pressure on those same orders to also find, as Cardinal Sean Brady himself promised, a 'just solution' for these citizens, whose rights were so grievously violated.

To do less brings shame on yourself, Ireland's government and the nation as a whole.

 Sign HERE