To Be Washed of their Sins

To Be Washed of their Sins

By Hwaa Irfan

A laundry is a place where you take stained and dirty clothes to be cleaned until it returns to an approved state. The process can be aggressive using unnatural products that damage the environment, and breaks down DNA as in bleach.

The Irish government oversaw workhouses run by Catholic nuns. Prime Minister Enda Kenny stopped short of making any official apology after a 1,000-page report by former Irish Sen. Martin McAleese revealed to the world the stark reality of the Magdalene Laundries. The last Laundry closed in 1996.

The United Nations Committee on Torture in 2011, on one of it’s rare moments of application of justice heard a legal petition from the Justice for Magdalenes group. The UN Committee then rejected the Irish government’s arguments and ordered the fact-finding effort subsequently undertaken by McAleese and officials from six Irish government departments.

‘Magdalene Laundries’ was a giant laundry business run by nuns of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, Mercy Sisters, Sisters of Charity and Good Shepherd Sisters. They forced young women into these asylums, torturing and using them for free labor. Held against their will, the girls were degraded, and manipulated into believing they had to be washed of their ‘sins’ for being “fallen women”. That is, for getting pregnant before marriage (including victims of rape), for being “too pretty” and “tempting to men”, mentally disabled, or if a girl was outspoken, strong-willed, or otherwise non-conforming.

An estimated 30,000 women passed through Ireland’s laundries and the last asylum in Ireland closed on September 25, 1996. Doing time for Magdalene survivors was five to eight years.

Girls were forced to work endlessly without compensation, starved, physically abused, and denied their rights and freedom. They endured a daily regime of long periods of prayer and enforced silence. To-date, the “Sisters of Mercy” deny the abuse they have caused, but claim that the documents of many inmates have burned in “accidental” fires. The Irish government has done nothing about this. In fact, to-date the government claims the ladies were here “willingly”. Survivor testimonies prove otherwise.

When it comes to the Magdalene Laundries, the recent expose by Irish singer, writer Sinead O’Connor gives insight as to what was perceived as spoiled and in need of rectification.

At 14 she was sent to the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity laundry in Dublin after she was labelled a ‘problem child.’

“We were girls in there, not women, just children really. And the girls in there cried every day.

“It was a prison. We didn’t see our families, we were locked in, cut off from life, deprived of a normal childhood.

“We were told we were there because we were bad people. Some of the girls had been raped at home and not believed.

“One girl was in because she had a bad hip and her family didn’t know what to do with her. It was a great grief to us.”

“My worried dad thought he was doing the right thing by sending me to be rehabilitated.

He told me he even paid for the privilege of doing so.

“He thought he was doing the right thing. He was convinced into it. He paid them to take me. I never told him the truth of how bad it was.

“There was no rehabilitation there and no therapy. Nothing but people telling us we were terrible people. I stopped the stealing all right. I didn’t want to be sent back there. But at what cost?

Many adopted children lost who they were in that system of brutality. Samantha and Etta Long (twins) wrote of the shock when they found out their origins. They were fortunate that they were adopted at months and raised in a loving, secure environment in the U.S. of their childhood.

After a two year search . . .

Nothing prepared us for what we found.Margaret Bullen had been committed to Ireland’s Industrial School system at the age of two years because her mother was unwell and her father was unable to take care of their seven children. That was the end of Margaret and the  outside world. By the age of five she was preparing breakfast for 70 children including herself. This work started at 4am after kneeling in the cold to say the rosary first. A fellow female child slave from this institution has told me that Margaret was a fretful bed-wetter, and to this day that woman can still imagine the smell of urine as the girls knelt to pray before dawn.Margaret continued her childhood and puberty in these institutions, without the chance to grow up. At age 16, she was transferred to the Gloucester Street Magdalene Laundry just off O’Connell Street in our capital city. There she toiled, unpaid for the rest of her life. The working conditions were hard, with long hours of tortuous labour carried out in the strictest silence. Meals were meagre, and recreation time consisted of other types of unpaid work, such as embroidery or basket-making. When we were reunited, Margaret was 42, but looked like a woman 20 years older. . .At age 19 she gave birth to my twin sister Etta and I, followed three years later by another daughter, whom we have never met. Upon being informed that her daughters had traced her and were ready to meet, Margaret had an emotional breakdown because she did not recall that she had given birth. . . But all of the documentation was verified, not to mention our strong resemblance to her. . .Margaret died whilst still on the inside. She was one day shy of her 51st birthday. The laundry ceased to operate in 1996, but the women continued to live there in     the same conditions as before. Some people have asked why we didn’t take her out but she was so deeply institutionalised that we would not have had the necessary understanding or qualifications to deal with her possible  re-integration into society.

Only 700 of the survivors have been finally compensated under the scheme being headed up by Mr Justice John Quirke. 55% of the applicants will receive more than €50,000 each. The cost of the scheme is expected to be €59m.

Mari Steed was not as fortunate as Samantha and Etta Long. Now director of Justice for Magdalene,  Mari a daughter of a Magdalene survivor was born at the Bessboro mother-and-baby home in Cork in 1960 and sent to the United States for adoption in December 1961.

Mari writes she was one of the more than 200 children involved in the vaccine trials conducted by then Burroughs Wellcome (now Glaxo SmithKline) and was one of more than 2,000 children secretly sent to the United States from Ireland for adoption.

Blurr the history and identity. . .

Like Samantha and Etta Mari said she had a “very happy” adoptive upbringing but became curious about her natural mother in the early 1990s. Finding the truth was not easy, a path filled with “harassment”, “lies” and “a road block” at every stage, but Mari was reunited with her birth mother in 2001.

The Adoption Rights Alliance says there are more than 42,000, and possibly as many as 50,000, adopted people in Ireland. In some cases in the 50s and 60s, children were adopted illegally from institutions, and their births were registered as if they were the natural-born children of the adoptive parents. The groups have no figures on the number of children affected.

If there is a tinge of familiarity with what has been happening today in with the rise of the Policed State, The Magdalen laundries were originally British institutions that were imposed on Ireland under Westminster approval under the presumed independence of Ireland in 1922 – a Free State, but a British State. The laundries were a specific form of the workhouse, a remedy for the poor, a system devised by the British Empire. Just another manifestation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Sources:

Counihan, P “Sinead O’Connor reveals her torment after she was sent to a Magdalene Laundry” http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Sinead-OConnor-reveals-her-torment-after-she-was-sent-to-a-Magdalene-Laundry-190173211.html

Magdalene Laundries http://magdalenelaundriesabuse.blogspot.com/

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