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.