‘I would say prison was better’: Magdalene survivors tell their story

Women placed in industrial schools and Magdalene laundries speak out about their experiences.

Marina Permaul, Angela Downey and Gabrielle O'Gorman at the Dublin Honours Magdalenes event at the Mansion House in Dublin.

‘It was slavery really, is how I’d describe it’

Marina Permaul was orphaned and placed in an industrial school at aged eight. She ended up in a Magdalene laundry at aged 16 after being caught talking to a boy.

Marina Permaul from London. Pic: Dan Linehan

“I left Ireland in 1961. I was 17-and-a-half. My life in Ireland was hard, very, very hard. The youngsters today would never go through what we went through.

“My parents died when I was about seven. My mother died of TB and my father died a year after and that’s how we entered the schools.

"The boys went to the Christian Brothers’ schools and I went to a school in Galway.

“When I left the school in Galway, I went to work in the county home [hospice] in Ennis, Co Clare, and this is how I happened to be having the laugh with this boy in the morgue.

“The door was always open, there wasn’t anything in it, I didn’t even know him really. I knew he was one of the porters. It was just a conversation.

The next morning, after watering the flowers on the altar, two nuns put me into a car, tricked me to get me into this car and took me to a laundry in Galway. I was there for six months. It was brutal. It was like a prison. No, I’d say prison was better.

"I’ve never been in prison but I’ve seen it on television and things like that and they get reasonably good food.

“It was slavery really, is how I’d describe it.

“I was lucky that somebody spotted me. We used to have to entertain other nuns, that would come into the convent at Christmas time and sing for them.

“One of the nuns spotted me, she knew me. She went back and told a nun I’d grew up with and it was her that got me out of there.

“She sorted me out a bit and let me rest a while and then she got me a job down by the seaside in Galway in a place for student nuns.

"I ran away from there and I went down to see a woman, Mrs Doyle, she had this cafe.

"She was a very decent person and she got me a job and a place to stay.

“I left for England in 1961 and never really came back.”

‘You worked all day. You sang. You prayed’

Gabrielle Mary O’Gorman, 72, was born into a mother and baby home and placed in a Magdalene laundry at 17 for breaking curfew.

Gabrielle O’Gorman from Petersfield, Hampshire, UK. Pic: Dan Linehan

“I was born on August 22, 1945, in a mother and baby home.

“There I stayed until I was four. My mother stayed with me there and that was in St Pat’s Navan Road. Then my mother went to England.

“I was then transferred to another institution called St Philomena’s in Stillorgan and I was there until I was 12 and, overnight, we were told that we were leaving St Philomena’s.

“We had never known anything different and we were now being transferred to another convent which was in Sandymount which was called Lakelands convent.

“There I stayed until I was 16 and once you became 16, you had to leave the convent.

“The day after my 16th birthday, they arranged a job for me in England.

“Off I went with my little case, not knowing anything about the facts of life, on the boat to Hollyhead.

“I was collected by nuns and they took me to London. So I lived in there and it was £12 a week.

“Long story short, I worked in the convent in London for a year and came back to Ireland and that’s when I got a job in the convent that (St Philomena’s in Stillorgan) I grew up in.

Then I met this guy and they (the nuns) didn’t want me going out with him. I stayed out (after 10pm curfew) one night. When I got back they had my case ready and they took me straight to the Magdalene laundry in Sean McDermott Street.

"I was in there for six weeks.

“Then I was driven by taxi all the way to Limerick (to another Magdalene laundry).

“You worked all day. You sang. You prayed. I was in there for two-and-a-half years — hell.

“Then one morning, six o’clock in the morning, they woke me up and said: ‘You’re going’.

“I put the same dress on that I came in with, blue with a black belt.

“I hopped from one to job to another.

“Then I saved the money and got back to England — I’m there more than 50 years.”

‘Forget about coming back here if you keep your baby’

Angela Downey, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. Pic: Dan Linehan

Angela Downey, 69, was born in a laundry after her mother was raped.

“It started with my mother being pregnant — that was 1948. My mum was raped at 15 and had me at 16.

"I don’t know who my father was. An uncle brought her down to Castlepollard, that’s where I was born. She was there until I was two-and-a-half.

"Both of us were moved when I was two-and-a-half and she was sent to Sean McDermott Street, in Dublin and the same day she was brought there I was brought to the orphanage in Athlone, in Summerhill and I was there until I was 14 years of age.

"My mam didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know where my mother was.

"As far as we were concerned we had no mother, it was that way with the nuns. The women had committed sin and that’s how it was.

"That’s why my mother went into Sean McDermott Street — she’d committed a sin because she’d had a baby.

"I left Summerhill at 14 and sent down to Sligo for two years. At 16 my gran took me and she brought me to see my mother.

I didn’t know I was going to meet my mother and I didn’t know it was my mother sitting there. She was sitting down crying, with her hands clasped — scared, with her hair cut short and a clip and a uniform on her. My mother was very, very institutionalised.

"I went back to Summerhill and left at 18. I went to work in St Michael’s Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.

"We couldn’t go anywhere, we had to do live-in work because we had no homes to go to, we had no families to go to.

"I was sent out from St Michael’s at 19 as I was pregnant on Yvonne.

"I was terrified so they sent me off to St Patrick’s on Navan Road and told me if I gave my child for adoption I could go back but ‘forget about coming back here if you keep your baby’.

"The only choice I had was to get married.

"Where was my child going to go? It wasn’t going to go into a school.

"I wasn’t letting my child go through what I went through, not knowing who her mother was, not knowing who her father was, not knowing her family.

"I said: ‘no way.’ I’d die before anything like that’.

"So we got married, on the side of the altar, that was 49 years ago.”

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