Redress for Magdalen laundry inmates

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Madam, – Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe’s suggestion that the inmates of the Roman Catholic Magdalen laundries were “employees” is grotesque.

They were slaves to religious and social prejudice.

Patsy McGarry noted in, “No redress for residents of Magdalen laundries” (September 18th), that there is a “dispute” as to whether the “Protestant-run” Bethany House was a “Magdalen Asylum”. Who disputes it? Jim Smith noted in his excellent Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (2007) that women convicted of birth concealment and infanticide were referred there by the courts during the 1920s. The Irish Times and Irish Independent reported in 1931 that a court sent Mary Elizabeth Walker to Bethany after conviction for obtaining goods by deception. In the 1960s The Irish Times reported the matron as stating that prisoners on remand were kept there.

As a former resident I spoke later to some who attempted to escape from this notional mothers’ and babies’ home.

I would also question a phrase in the same article, to the effect that the Bethany Home was “privately” run. This is possibly true in only the narrowest sense. Between opening in 1922 and closure in 1972, the home held separate prayer days and annual meetings. On almost every occasion a Church of Ireland clergyman presided. The exception was during the 1960s when Methodist clergy occasionally performed these functions.

Bethany Home was an evangelistic organisation that was an outgrowth of the Proselytizing Irish Church Missions to Roman Catholics. It operated alongside the self-styled Mission to Jews. Both organisations reported annually to the Church of Ireland Synod. The Reverend TJ Hammond was involved in running the Lamplight Mission that amalgamated with the Midnight Mission to form the Bethany Home.

Besides being instrumental in setting up the home, he was Dublin Superintendent of the Irish Church Missions during the 1920s. The Revd Hammond was a favourite of those warning of Romanism within the church and was prominent in its “Orange section”. When alleged to be “the leader” at a Dublin synod in 1915 he responded, “I would be proud of the privilege if I were”.

My own relatives were members of the Orange Order in Monaghan. The organisation collected for the home both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. My cousin cried when I told him in the 1990s what had happened to me in the place he helped support through the Order.

The governance of the Bethany Home was of a form taken by religious organisations or individuals in or closely associated with the Church of Ireland who carried out social service activity in its name.

Possibly, contemporary embarrassment has led the Church of Ireland to attempt to distance itself from a home it once promoted. The Roman Catholic Church attempted a distancing manoeuvre when first confronted with evidence of abuse carried out by those acting in its name. That church now accepts responsibility. The Church of Ireland should do likewise and so also should the Irish State. I join with my suffering sisters in the Roman Catholic Magdalen homes in demanding redress. – Yours, etc,

DEREK LEINSTER,

Southey Road,

Rugby,

Warwickshire,

England.

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