These Women Survived Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. They’re Ready to Talk.


“England was my savior, like many women who went there, or to different countries like America,” she said. “My choice was to get as far away as possible from Ireland.”

But the Ireland that Ms. Coppin left is a far cry from the one she encountered this week. Ms. Coppin was struck, she said, by the many young women who successfully came together — “so articulate and so educated” — to campaign for the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.

She also noted the new willingness to confront the systemic practice of forced and illegal adoptions, often without records, which preserved an illusion of Catholic chastity while depriving unwed mothers of their children and children of their birth identities.

Despite the new mood of openness and acceptance, many of the Magdalene laundry survivors in Dublin this week were either too frail or too shy to talk about their experiences.

Norah Casey, a businesswoman and journalist who was one of the driving forces behind the event, said that more than half of those in attendance had come from abroad. Most were from Britain, and a few were from the United States and other countries.

“A lot of them didn’t even have passports to come here — they got the hell out of Ireland as soon as they could and never came back,” Ms. Casey said. “It is great to have them here, talking, but it is also very sad. I haven’t heard one of them say that life was good after they left the laundries. It got better, that’s all.”

Most of them have spent their lives trying to find parents and siblings or children who were taken from them, Ms. Casey said. Many don’t know who they really are.


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