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Nov 20 2013

She was never told why she was hauled away

Elizabeth Coppin is a survivor of both an Irish industrial “school” and a Magdalene laundry. She has taken her fight for justice to the UN.

Terrified Elizabeth Coppin was just 14 when she was taken out of the Co Kerry industrial school she had attended for 12 years and “locked up” in the Peacock Lane Laundry in Cork.

She was never told why she was hauled away from everything she knew and dumped in the hated institution with the chilling warning: “It will be a very long time before you get out.”

And it was the start of a hellish four years in three laundries for Elizabeth where she was:

  • FORCED to work long days with no pay
  • MADE to sleep in a cell with bars over the window and only a bucket for a toilet
  • LOCKED in a bare padded cell for three days after being falsely accused of stealing another girl’s sweets, and
  • PUNISHED by having her beautiful hair shaved off and her named changed to Enda after she ran away to escape the nightmare.

Now 64, Elizabeth has returned home from England to Listowel, Co Kerry, to fight for justice for herself and the thousands of women like her who were treated like slaves in the Laundries.

That was priest-ridden Ireland, Catholic Ireland. What was that again about the link between religion and compassion?

Elizabeth and fellow Magdalene survivor Mary Merritt have taken their campaign all the way to the United Nations Committee Against Torture to make their voices heard.

Defiant Elizabeth revealed: “As a vulnerable, ignorant, innocent and frightened child growing up in rural Ireland in an industrial school, abuse by the nuns was a daily ritual for as far back as I could remember.

“I have formed the opinion my torture in the Magdalene Laundries was State-sponsored because the Government and the nuns sent me to the Laundries whilst under-age and in their care.

“The fear of punishment was very real to us women in the Magdalene Laundries.

“We were dependent on the nuns for our welfare, liberty, subsistence and for our very survival.

“The religious have since tried to justify this saying they provided us with shelter, board and work and they acted in the best interests for all who entered the Laundries but this just adds insult to injury.

“I never asked the nuns to take me there and I want the Government to admit our human rights were violated and that we deserved better.”

Elizabeth finally got out of the Laundries aged 19 after almost five years and was so traumatised by what she had been through she fled to England.

She was treated like shit in the Peacock Lane laundry. She was locked up in solitary for three days with only a bucket and a cup and plate. She finally managed to escape, and got a job in a hospital.

But her world crumbled all over again when three Government officials turned up three months later and warned her: “Run away from this place we’re taking you to and we will put you in a place you’ll never get out of.”

Elizabeth wasn’t taken back to Peacock Lane but was instead moved to The Good Shepherd’s Laundry in Cork.

She said: “I was given the name Enda, my hair was shaved by the nun in charge and as she cut it she said, ‘I don’t think you will be running away for a long time’.”

As if she were a serial murderer, when in fact she was a young girl who had been locked up in prisons from the age of two.

Fortunately Elizabeth only had to endure that agony for five months, after which she was moved to another laundry, this time in Waterford.

She added: “I was there for one year. I had my own name and my own clothes, we used toilets and slept in dormitories and even though I was locked up and still doing the laundry work I found this place more tolerable.

“Maybe that’s because I was so institutionalised at that stage and the nun in charge was nice to me.”

And opening up about why she feels she can’t accept the Government’s offer of compensation after the Martin McAleese Report, Elizabeth said: “We worked, toiled and slaved under duress, coercion and fear.

“We were never given any type of education, we were not allowed to have friends and verbal abuse was normal so can someone please tell me how that wasn’t a serious breach of our human rights?”

No, no one can. That was a very serious breach of their human rights.

 

12 comments

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  1. 1
    sara

    Isn’t the mirror a tabloid though? How reliable are they?

  2. 2
    rnilsson

    For shame, Eire.

  3. 3
    Les Murray

    Thanks Ophelia for keeping this story alive and in the news.

  4. 4
    Marie-Thérèse O'Loughlin

    OB: Thanks for airing this story on Elizabeth Coppin. She is a survivor of two institutions, whose voice desperately needs to be heard by all. Elizabeth had already served a lifetime sentence in an industrial “school”, and was still only 14, when she had embarked on another sentence for five years at several Magdalen laundries. Life had dealt her a bad blow X2. Elizabeth had been wrought by the system from toddler-hood. So therefore the religious could mould and shape her, however they thought fit. Elizabeth was going nowhere in their eyes.

    It’s such a pity that stories of longstanding survivors’ such as Elizabeth, were not more highlighted at the height of the commission to inquire into institutional child abuse (CICA). Instead, the media honed in much more on – much older as children – survivors, who had merely spent ‘wet weekends’ in industrial “schools”, and reformatories. The latter got most of the attention, and it really peeved those who had spent their whole childhood in the system. Some of the ‘wet-weekenders’ were just under the age of Elizabeth, and a little older when they first entered their respective reformatories for short periods. I understand that they too had suffered at the hands of the cruel religious regime, but they should not have been given the emotional floor for so many years – to the detriment of those whose whole childhoods were shaped by the system. It was grossly unfair.

    I wish Elizabeth and her counterpart Mary Merritt, all the best in their endeavours to fight the system, until justice is seen to be done. Doubtless, Maeve O’Rourke is behind them or otherwise rooting for them in the background.

  5. 5
    AndrewSB49

    The more you read into the gross violations of human rights in the Irish Republic between the years 1922 and up to 1996 (apparently the year the last slave laundry closed down) you come to the conclusion that these obscenities would not have been possible without the knowledge and collusion of the State.

  6. 6
    Minow

    That was priest-ridden Ireland, Catholic Ireland. What was that again about the link between religion and compassion?

    The claim isn’t that all religious people and institutions are necessarily compassionate. And this was also democratic Ireland, with all the abusive power afforded by Ireland’s democratic institutions. But nobody is suggesting that this represents a fundamental failure of democracy, or that democracy is necessarily wicked.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    Jesus, Minow – your gift for missing the point is getting tedious. Notice that “What was that again about the link between religion and compassion?” does not imply that there is a claim that “all religious people and institutions are necessarily compassionate.” Notice, in other words, that claims about a link between religion and compassion are not at all the same thing as a claim that all religious people and institutions are necessarily compassionate. Then think about that difference. Then resolve to make more of an effort to address what was actually said instead of your own hack version of it.

  8. 8
    Laila Rasheed

    Salaam,

    Where do I apply for restitution for being raped & an attempted stoning by my family?

    There are millions of us all over the Middle East.

    In the West, one can get restitution if they worked in a Magdalen Home.
    In the Middle East the standard of life for girls is far inferior to Magdalen Homes.
    I and the rest of us, would willingly have traded places with Magdalen Girls.

    It is clear that atheists like Stalin & CO were far worse than what people want to know about.

    The savagery of atheism is well known. They are parasites, pretending to be better people than others, when in fact, they are a cancer to any society.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    What?

    That makes no sense.

    It surely wasn’t atheism that prompted rape and attempted stoning by your family – was it?

    I’m well aware that life is shit for many girls in the Middle East, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with atheism.

    I think you’ve mixed up your scripts somehow.

  10. 10
    A. Noyd

    @Ophelia
    Laila Rasheed is some bigoted creep that Avicenna (of all people) already banned. See here and (for another taste of their winning commentary) here.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Thanks A.

  12. 12
    Minow

    Notice, in other words, that claims about a link between religion and compassion are not at all the same thing as a claim that all religious people and institutions are necessarily compassionate.

    I notice all those things, Ophelia, but still think that your comment implies that the crimes in Ireland refute the notion that there is a link between religion and compassion, when it can only be a refutation of the claim that all religion is compassionate or something as strong as that. So I think I hit the point. Or were you honestly simply trying to say that religious people and institutions are not all necessarily compassionate? Fair enough if so, but it hardly seems worth the effort.

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