Catholic Ireland was a very different place in the early to mid-20th century to what it is now, and those that lived through the turmoil of the warped morality are still alive to remember the pain they suffered. The media has specifically highlighted the abuse experienced by unmarried mothers who were put into workhouses whilst pregnant and their babies taken from them. It is difficult to imagine the grief suffered by these women, especially in an age when sexism is completely frowned upon and acceptance of sexual activity between unmarried people perhaps considered the norm in wider society. However, since the allegations of abuse came to light, investigations have been conducted which claim to show that life was not as hard as it is depicted on the small and big screens. Women who were there at the time beg to differ.
The Magdalene Laundries
For decades women endured the most horrific treatment and were made to live with the knowledge that they would never be mothers to their children. It is said that the Irish government turned a blind eye as the women were seen as sinful and deserving of the punishments inflicted upon them. Young girls who had been put into care because they had been abused by family members also ended up in the workhouses, known as the Magdalene Laundries where they would work from 6am until 8pm each day. They would have Sundays and Bank Holidays off. Thankfully times have changed and these women are now demanding justice for all they endured during their time in the workhouses.
Some of the victims approached the United Nations Commission Against Torture (UNCAT, but the subsequent investigation did not report what the women had expected. The report insists that ‘ill treatment, physical punishment and abuse was not something experienced in the Magdalene laundries. Another recent scandal to hit Ireland is the discovery of a mass unmarked grave containing 800 babies and young children at a Church-owned home for mothers and babies. An investigation is set to commence and women from the Magdalene laundries are requesting that their investigation be reopened also.
It was not only the mothers that suffered in the wash-houses, and those that were born into the homes have come forward to tell their stories of hardship. One woman, now in her 80s, describes how she was placed in an orphanage after being taken from her unmarried mother and was often so hungry that she took to stealing apples from the orchard. As punishment, the nuns at the orphanage sent her to work, unpaid in a laundry, where she remained for fourteen years.
Tales such as these are the stuff that grim works of fiction are made of, but tragically they are all too real. The victims of the abuse may be able to seek compensation, and if the Irish government admits they failed to care for vulnerable people out into their care, these victims will have a strong case for a claim. One must also stop to think of the fathers that never knew their children and how helpless they may have also felt in an age where confliction with social morality defined the rest of your life.
Our personal injury solicitors have extensive experience with these types of claims, and if you have been in a similar situation, you can contact us for further information about making a claim.