'Our identities were taken': Magdalene survivors remembered as President hosts event

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Magdalene Limerick laundry survivors Breda Duffy and Martha Osmonde were received by President Higgins Picture; Gerry Mooney/Irish Independent

Magdalene Limerick laundry survivors Breda Duffy and Martha Osmonde were received by President Higgins Picture; Gerry Mooney/Irish Independent

A LIMERICK MAGDALENE Laundry survivor has said that what happened to women “should never be forgotten”, as a commemorative event for more than 200 women took place this week. 

Breda Duffy, aged 72, was one of 200 women from Ireland, the UK, Australia and the USA to be united and received by President Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain this Tuesday.

In a press interview, Ms Duffy who escaped a Magdalene institution, aged 21, in a laundry van said that Ireland “must never forget us”.

Four years ago, Ms Duffy was reunited with Martha Osmonde, with whom she spent time at the Limerick laundry after a number of years at an industrial school in Waterford.

She 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.”

Ms Osmonde, at the age of 17, had been thrown into a laundry in Limerick after a teenage girl told nuns that she had been talking to her boyfriend.

“We’d rise at 6am to work and I had to operate this huge industrial washing machine,” she said. “We’d work right through until 5pm or 6pm. My sister and I never had a father and we suffered for my mother’s sin.”

President Higgins said that shame, stigma and an unreceptive society prevented survivors from sharing their traumatic experiences.

“In recent years the silence has been broken and you all have helped to let the light into some very dark corners of our shared past.

“You have presented us with what makes a very harrowing and deeply uncomfortable reflection of an Ireland some would prefer not to be able to recognise, but which has to be acknowledged, transacted and to which a response must be made.”

President Higgins said: “You are Irish citizens who have been greatly hurt and wounded by the past experiences inflicted on you. But you are also women who refuse to be defined by such experience.

“I truly hope that the public addressing and redressing of the consequences of those experiences, and the commemorations that acknowledge the sufferings of so many thousands of women, will help to ease the burden of those past wrongs, a burden that some of your fellow citizens have striven to shoulder with you in recent years.”

The event was organised by Dublin Honours Magdalenes.