Magdalene Laundry survivor awarded compensation

An 80-year old woman who worked in a Magdalene Laundry for six years from the age of 11 has won her battle for compensation.

The mother of five said her six years at the workhouse affected her “throughout her life”.

Mary Cavner, who now lives in the UK, worked at the Good Shepherd’s Convent in County Cork, Ireland after her father died.

She was separated from her siblings and despite only being 11 when she arrived, she received no education from the nuns and was often hungry. She worked into the night looking after babies, cleaning, working in the laundries and preparing meals for the nuns.

“They held me there and worked me until I was nearly 18,” Cavner said.

“We weren’t allowed to talk or associate with anybody else.”

Cavner said when she eventually left the convent she found it a shock being back in the outside world.

“It really does affect you,” she said.

“My experience in the laundry left me unable to communicate properly.

“I have had really low points as they have made me live this again and to be accused of not telling the truth made me feel rejected.”

Although she was initially told she was ineligible for compensation, she has since been informed she will be getting €76,000 (about NZ$132,000).

Cavner’s solicitor, Chun Wong, said Cavner’s journey has “been very emotional … she’s spent longer fighting the Irish government than she had been in the Magdalene Laundry.”

She added that Cavner was “never sure if she would ever see the compensation.

“Her fear was always she would die before she got a penny of the money due to her.

“It’s never been about the money for Mary because no amount of money is ever going to be able to compensate her for the trauma that she went through as a child, but it’s about calling the Irish government to account.”

About 10,000 women worked at the Magdalene Laundries, which were initially institutions for “fallen women”, between 1922 and 1996.

The women and girls worked behind locked doors, were not allowed to leave and received no wages.

In 2013, the (now former) Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Enda Kenny apologised on the state’s behalf for its role in the scandal.


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