Magdalene laundry survivor awarded compensation for unpaid work

Ombudsman rules Mary Cavner (80) eligible for redress scheme after almost six years in institution

A survivor of a Catholic-run Magdalene laundry has been awarded an undisclosed five figure settlement over being forced to work unpaid for almost six years.

Mary Cavner (80) fought an an eight-year legal battle over the time she spent at the Good Shepherd Convent in Co Cork, which was run by nuns, from the age of 11 after her father’s death.

The then government formally apologised to all of the women confined to the institutions in 2013 and set up a redress scheme.

Ms Cavner, a mother of five who now lives in England, was denied compensation after the authorities claimed she was at St Finbarr’s Industrial School, which was not listed as part of this scheme.


She was among a number of women who complained to the Ombudsman. A report in November 2017 recommended that the scheme be extended to associated and adjoining institutions, which the Government adopted.

The Ombudsman ruled she is eligible for the redress scheme and awarded her a five figure settlement.

Ms Cavner’s daughter Mandie Stannard claimed the authorities had produced attendance records for her at St Finbarr’s despite not her not attending a single day at school after entering the laundry.

“My mum didn’t have a single day of education when she was in the laundry, but we were sent records that showed she had been at school every day for years. She worked from the moment she entered the laundry and didn’t stop for almost six years,” Ms Cavner’s daughter said.

“When we said that these records were false they settled the claim, but how many other women were told the same thing and just gave up as they didn’t have anyone to fight for them?,” she asked.

“Throughout this process mum has been called a liar and the way these women have been treated is disgusting. They took away my mum’s childhood and then they treated her like that. It’s scandalous.”

Ms Cavner was born on Cork in 1939 and was made a ward of court in 1951 following her father’s death. She spent five years and 10 months at the convent, where she looked after the babies of so-called ‘fallen women’, cleaned and worked in the laundries. In the evenings she would serve the nuns their dinner, before her day ended at 10pm.

“They held me there and worked me until I was nearly 18. We weren’t allowed to talk or associate with anybody else which affected me throughout my life,” said Ms Cavner.

“To then be told that I was lying was devastating. I had never mentioned what happened to me to my husband or my children, so it took all of my courage to admit what I had been through and then they called me a liar.

“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.

“I am speaking out as I want to tell all of the women who went through this but don’t have a voice to stand up and fight. This was never about getting compensation as whatever money they had given me it wouldn’t give me my lost childhood back.

“This was about holding those who made me stay in that laundry and work throughout my childhood to account.” – PA