For decades the Irish Catholic church took in abandoned and illegitimate girls in what seemed an act of mercy.
Now a six-month government inquiry has revealed that the children were little more than slaves, and that over 2,000 were sent to the church’s Magdalene Laundries by the state.
“The stigma that the branding together of all the residents, all 10,000 in the Magdalene Laundries needs to be removed and should have been removed long before this. I really am sorry that that never happened,” said Prime Minister Enda Kenny in parliament.
About 10,000 women went through the laundries between 1922 and 1996.
“All I was put in was in a laundry room. I worked folding sheets. My fingers were burned all day. I was there from 13 to 16. I didn’t get paid anything,” lamented Diane Croghan, who was at the Wexford laundry.
“I’ve waited all my life for justice. I’m 77 years old now and I’d like to see justice done for what was done to us in the Magdalene Laundry,” said her friend Marina Gumbold.
The launderies were 20th century workhouses where shame and silence were used as forces of coercion, pay was unheard of, and conditions were harsh.
Many women were sent there for petty crimes, a few for prostitution, and some for having affairs or children frowned on by families. Any could be arrested without a warrant if they tried to escape.