The Magdeline Laundries was an establishment opened first in 1765 in Ireland. It’s first building on Lesson Street but they were to slowly grow all over the country in the next couple of centuries. The Magdeline Insitiutes were set up for “fallen women” and were named after the supposed troublesome woman Mary Magdeline. After seeing many movies and documentaries about Ireland’s very own miscarriage of justice I decided to take a deeper look into it. After many phone calls and hang ups I was finally led to the Aislinn Centre where I met an amazing woman named Maureen. A Magdeline herself, she was brave enough to sit down and tell me her story on what went on inside these laundries.

Above: Judi Dench plays a Magdeline in the recent flick Philomena

Above: Judi Dench plays a Magdeline in the recent flick Philomena

When I first sat down with Maureen what struck me most was how at peace she was. She was so calm and gentle you would never believe she had gone through what she had. We sat in a quiet room in the Aislinn Centre and she began to tell me where it all began.

One of the many films written about The Magdeline Laundries

One of the many films written about The Magdeline Laundries

Maureen was raised in an industrial school in Ireland until she flew to England to meet and live with her Mother. At the age of 16 she decided this was not making her happy and insisted on moving back to Ireland. On arrival she was met with two people who would change her life forever. It was organised prior to her arrival that she would be sent to the Magdeline Laundry.

It was just four years of pure fear and horror

She described the treatment there as “something you cannot believe actually happened” when asked what she meant by that she explained “we weren’t badly abused but just badly beaten… slapping across the face and pulling hair, lots of that”. The girls of the laundries, who at the time were known as Magdelines, were allowed a treat once a month Maureen said that as a girl of 16 who treat would always been “personal” however if you decided to do something wrong the privilege would be taken away from you. Visitors were another privilege, on the first Sunday on every month they girls were allowed a visitor. Maureen had someone from the angels of Mary visit her every month and give her a holy picture. Any letter written by or to the girls would be opened. “Nothing was private” Maureen added, “Christmas cards, birthdays, they were always opened”.

It was worse than prison

When it came to living conditions Maureen believes “it was worse than prison” , between thirty girls there was one toilet and one bath. The bath went by taking turns and the water would not be changed from the person before you. As Maureen became emotional she shared with me that she ran away multiple times, “the guards always brought me back, and I’d get a terrible beating”. Maureen was no stranger to this treatment having been brought up through an industrial school and says that for the first twenty years of her life she was “scared”. Maureen was told “I would never be allowed out again” by the sisters who ran the institute. However she was soon to find out this was not the case.

 I was ashamed

After four years of enduring the abuse of the sisters of mercy Maureen was able to escape. The sisters opened up a hostel beside the launders where many of the girls were allowed to work. Eventually she left there and got a job in the real world being freed from the harsh rules and conditions of the Magdeline laundries. Maureen became self-educated after escaping and made a career for herself however, she kept this abuse a secret for most of her life. “I was ashamed” she explained “I had never spoken about the abuse until it all came out a few years ago”. Many other students from the industrial schools spoke out about their past and this gave Maureen the courage to tell her story.

A sign of protest against the stolen children of the Magdeline Laundries. Credit: Treevis

A sign of protest against the stolen children of the Magdeline Laundries. Credit: Treevis