'If you did anything wrong you were put down in the hole,' recalls Magdalene laundries survivor at rally

Campaigners and survivors at the back wall of the near derelict Sean McDermott Street Magdalene Laundry in Dublin, today.

Survivors of Magdalene laundries, and their relatives, have relived the horrors of rape, abuse and lost lives as they renewed calls for a memorial and full redress.

A rally was held off Sean McDermott Street in Dublin, the site of the last Catholic workhouse to be shut, a fortnight after a damning United Nations report criticising the Government for failing to live up to commitments to the women.

It is four years since former taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised to those incarcerated in the laundries and their families.

Angela Downey, who was born in Castlepollard Mother and Baby Home after her mother Mary had been raped and was sent to a laundry, called for the name of every woman who toiled in the institutions to be immortalised in stone.

Pressing her hand against the crumbling back wall of the workhouse run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, she said: "My mother spent 15 years in the laundries.

Angela Downey.
Angela Downey.

"The children weren't recognised at all. We weren't entitled to anything.

"They should do something for us now. They should recognise the mothers and the children."

The survivors are also seeking a special day of commemoration be set aside to remember all those affected by the laundries.

Despite Dr Martin McAleese reporting in 2013 on the State's role in Magdalene Laundries, the UN said the Government ignored its call to investigate allegations of ill treatment against the tens of thousands of women in the Catholic workhouses, or to prosecute perpetrators of abuse and ensure that victims are compensated.

It noted that €25.5m has been paid to 677 women who spent time in the laundries.

But the UN said the Government should ensure that any woman who was put in a Magdalene workhouse has the right to sue, even if they have been granted redress.

Mary Merritt was raped by a priest after fleeing from the Highpark reformatory and laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin in 1955 and seeking food and refuge in the Archbishop's Palace.

Mary Merritt, 86, with her
Mary Merritt, 86, with her "saviour" and husband of 52 years William outside the Sean McDermott Street Magdalene Laundry in Dublin today.

"How we survived I do not know. I'm 86 now," she said.

"I'm still fighting and I will keep fighting them. I will represent the women as long as there is breath in my body."

Mrs Merritt fled to Bayswater in London in 1964 and has been married to William, a former Royal Marine, for 52 years.

The daughter she gave birth to in Navan Road Mother and Baby Home is "happy and married" in Dublin.

Mrs Merritt has given her account to the UN.

Her life in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland began when she was two and she was put into an industrial school in Clifden, Co Galway.

She was moved to Ballinasloe and confrontation with nuns resulted in her hitting a sister in the face with a hockey stick before she was sent to Dublin.

"It was diabolical. I was 17. My name was Attracta. We got little or no food," she said.

"We were praying all the time. We never knew when it was our birthdays.

"If you did anything wrong you were put down in the hole."

Several dozen people, including survivors, their relatives and campaigners, attended the rally organised by Dublin Honours Magdalenes and supported by Justice for Magdalenes and the National Women's Council of Ireland.

Spokeswoman Ashley Perry said: "We demand the state gives redress in full."

Ms Perry called for women to be consulted on a memorial. "The women are getting older. They need to see justice in their lifetime," she said.

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