What would come to mind if you heard the following? Rape, gang rape, sexual abuse, shock treatment, drug trials, medical experiments, death and burial without record, slave labour, mental and physical cruelty, cremation of bodies, murder, mass graves, selling babies for profit.
Yes, most people would say the same.
The following is a transcription of the experiences of Kathy O’Beirne while she was a captive of the Catholic Church as a child. She was a guest on The Vincent Browne Show, RTE radio, on the 22nd June last. It’s a lengthy piece but well worth reading carefully.
Vincent Browne: Tell us your story, how did come to be in the Magdalen Laundry?
Kathy: Well, I was sexually abused from the age of five by three different people, one was a priest and my life went wrong. As Fr. Mc Verry said, the first seven years are the most important part of your life really and the night before my First Holy Communion I was raped and things went from bad to worse and I was out of control and I didn’t know what to do.
I knew there was something happening and it wasn’t right but I didn’t know what it was.
Just before my eight birthday, I was taken to a panel of doctors on the advice of one of the clergy that abused me.
My parents didn’t know what happened to me and didn’t know I was being abused and I didn’t say anything. I was brought to a panel of psychiatrists in Dublin and they diagnosed me a child with a troublesome mind and a week later, I was sent to an industrial school run by the nuns, I was there for just two years
Vincent Browne: Where was this?
Kathy: I can’t say because it’s in the enquiry so I can’t mention the name of it but it was in Dublin, like a training ground for the Magdalen Laundries, I believe anyway. I was there for just two years and I was sexually abused by a visiting priest that came there and I told one of the nuns
Vincent: Was this another priest? Yet another priest?
Kathy: “ Yes, in the industrial school, I wasn’t the only girl, there was other girls raped there and sexual abused
Vincent: “ By the same priest?
Kathy” By the same priest and I did tell a nun about it and when I told her I was taken off again
Vincent: You told a nun, is it?
Kathy: I told a nun that was looking after us and I was taken off again anyway to speak to this doctor and he was going to help me and the whole lot and I came back and a couple of days later I was sent to a children’s mental institution in Dublin where I was for two years.
I had electric shock treatment and drug trials for the two years I was there. We were abused; horrible things went on in it.
Vincent: What sort of things?
Kathy: Abuse and drug trials and electric shock treatment
Vincent: Can you say where this was?
Kathy: I can’, no, because it’s all in the enquiry and you can’t mention the names of the places until the enquiry is over. It’s all in the other book, I have another book coming out The Aftermath, who am I? is the name of it but until the enquiry is over you can’t mention the names.
So I was transferred after two years, we got up to a lot of mischief there and we came across this guy called Johnny and he was just a breath of fresh air so we became friends, himself and another couple of girls.
Our punishment when we did anything wrong was to send us down to the gate and at the gate there was a morgue and we’d have to wash the dead bodies of people who died in the mental institution.
Vincent: What age were you then?
Kathy: I was there from when I was ten until I was twelve. Of course, Johnny had bright ideas to burn down the morgue so we wouldn’t have to wash the bodies. You would have to read the book. But anyway, he burned down a birds nest, he didn’t burn the morgue down but he was sent off to an industrial school, we never saw him again.
My friend was sent off and a week later I was transferred to a Magdalen laundry in Dublin where we worked from half seven in the morning until half six, maybe seven and eight o clock at night washing sheets all day.
From the priest’s quarters, hospitals, the deliveries came from all over Dublin, prisons, hospitals, dirty sheets, dirty linens and we’d work all day long and we were abused there. And there was a visiting priest there that used to sexually abuse us as well.
We were visited by lay people every Sunday and they’d either take you out or take you out in the grounds but I was abused from the age of fourteen and I had a baby girl called Annie a month before my fourteenth birthday in the Mother and Baby Home.
She lived for ten years and died with an illness she was born with. I looked after her for three months and I was sent back to the Magdalen laundry and she was transferred to an orphanage where I had access to her and she died on her tenth birthday.
I was transferred on to a girl’s home in Dublin. I spent two years there and then transferred on to another Magdalen laundry in Dublin, then back to the girl’s home and a social worker took an interest in me. She had known me from one of the Magdalen laundries I was in when I was only thirteen. She lost contact and then I met up with her again when I went to the girl’s home.
So she kind of got me on the right road, you might say and got me a flat and got me out and helped me. But my life went absolutely desperate for the next twenty years.
Vincent: What happened?
Kathy: Well, I was distraught and I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to go because when I reported it to the priest he told me nice and politely to fuck off, that no one would believe me and I was damaged and no one would ever want me.
So, when I came out I kept that in my mind and I thought I was damaged and no one would ever want me. So, I had to keep what had happened to me to myself because if I told anybody, no one would want me and I would’t have any friends.
And then I went on this revenge thing, I’d have to make everyone hate me, it was just unbelievable and I ended up in hospital on three different occasions. I took two or three different overdoses, I cut my wrists, I tried to commit suicide. It was just absolutely unreal.
It was just the second part of hell I was delivered to in the first place when I was eight.
A lot of things went on and it’s not only what happened to me, I saw girls being raped. I witnessed a young girl of fourteen/fifteen being gang raped in one of the homes, not the Magdalen laundries but one of the girls homes, by five men. When they were finished with her one of them broke a bottle and shoved it up to her and we never saw her again.
l never forget that night because I was banging on that door for that priest to come out and help us because his punishment was to put us out on that step for the night and if we weren’t there and he hadn’t punished us that wouldn’t have happened to Mousey, that was her nick name.
Horrible things happened, people died and they were buried and you never knew what happened to them, you never knew what they died of, it was just unreal and it was living hell. I thank god that I survived.
My psychiatrist or any doctors that I had been assessed by don’t understand how I survived because I was in a lot of biopsy trials and things like that. Biopsies were taken from our livers and bowels and we never had sedation and they were sent away for, you know, to improve lives of others that may die in years to come and for cancer research.
I’m just very lucky but I do believe that I did survive to tell the story and get justice for the hundreds and thousands of people who suffered because it’s not only me and it’s not only women and children, there was men as well.
I have met men from Artane and the Dangles and the stories are so horrific. They can’t bear to live with themselves, I mean 58 survivors of institutional abuse and Magdalen laundries have committed suicide in the last five years and they are only the one’s we definitely know about, the one we have names for and that’s a very high rate.
When we went to require our files they told lies and said we were never there or that we were only there for so many weeks, we were there when we were such an age because it was illegal to have us there at the age we were. Now I required my files from the first industrial school that I was ever in when I was eight and I was told, that to their great regret, that all my files were lost in a flood.
I’m doing this campaign thing for the last eleven years for justice to get the word “penitents” which means sinners from over hundreds and hundreds and thousands of innocent Magdalen Laundry women’s heads.
Up in Glasnevin is a big monument with pray for the repose of the souls of the female penitents. We weren’t penitents and they weren’t penitents. They worked and they washed priest shirts, your shirts, everybody’s shirts because everybody brought their laundry. The woman down the road brought her laundry, the man from the grocery shop brought his laundry, the man from Smithfield brought his laundry.
We worked all our lives and we got nothing for it. There was people in the Magdalen Laundries from the time I went there and they were there from the time they were twelve, you know, they were sixty when I went there and they were eighty and eighty five when they died in the laundries and they got nothing. They got no recognition, got no thanks for what they did. The only thing they got was dumped into a mass grave with hundreds of other bodies.
I mean in one of the Magdalen laundries, and I’m sure you’ve all read it in the papers. In Dublin, they had their own burial ground, most institutions did and eleven years ago, when I was thinking about getting this all together and getting the truth out I got a phone call to say that the nuns were selling off the land to a builder to build private apartments and houses.
But they needed an exhumation; they had to take up the bodies that were buried on that ground in order for the builder to buy the ground. He couldn’t buy it with the bodies there so they sought it anyway and they were granted it and diggers (bulldozers) went in.
They were supposed to take three or four days but they were still working three weeks later because when they dug down a foot deeper after exhuming 35 bodies they came across 22 bodies, other bodies that were a foot deeper.
All in all they took up 155 bodies and they put them in cardboard boxes and drove them across the city to Glasnevin cemetery and they put all the bodies into the one furnace and they burnt them. They put them in three different urns and buried them along with seven to eight hundred other Magdalens in a mass grave at the top of Glasnevin.
We sought an enquiry into the exhumations because when the nuns were asked; what happened the bodies? and the cause of death; no death certificates were obtainable and there was no cause of deaths. Cause of death unknown. Marital status unknown.
Of course they weren’t married, they were there since they were twelve and thirteen, they were never out of the place. So we have twelve bodies up in Glasnevin that nobody knows who, where when or what, but I know because I have all their names. But, when we sought the enquiry from An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern and the police, it was turned down.
Now it is an offence to bury a body without a cause of death and if there’s a body found in your back garden then I guarantee it will be sealed off and you will be arrested and they will know what that person died of even if it was a hundred years old.
So the nuns and clergy can bury innocent women and children, pluck them up, bring them here, bring them there and burn them and do what they like with them and nobody knows why, where, who.
They were somebody’s children and they are only the one’s we know about, there are hundreds and hundreds of bodies buried on the lands of the Magdalen Laundries all around Dublin and the country and in Letterfrack.
And they just didn’t die from being undernourished or anything else, a lot of the children were murdered, they were murdered and they were left to starve to death.
And we’re sitting here as a nation and everybody in Ireland and all over the country because I have it well spread. I have been all over the country, I’ve been in England, I’ve been everywhere and we all know about it and we’re all guilty because we know about what happened those innocent children.
You, me and everybody else, the people that’s here tonight are letting it happen and I think it’s about time that people got out and stood up and be afraid no more because I’m not afraid of the clergy and I’m not afraid of the nuns. They ruined my life and they took away my life but never again. (Kathy breaks down crying here)
Vincent: My god, what a story
Kathy: And that’s only some of it, it gets worse but it’s too hard to talk about, sorry, I’m fine. It’s just absolutely appalling.
There was a mass up in Glasnevin on Sunday for 50,000 children. It was covered in the papers as still born births, it wasn’t still born births. I got my daughters birth and death certificate after thirty years on Friday.
And I was up there with all those people at that big mass, 50,000 children, there are 50 children in each plot from all walks of life, there not just my children they’re not just Magdalen children, they’re not just survivors of institutional people’s children, they’re from every walk of life.
They’re from working class people and everything else 50,000 people, children, buried in one of the graves, we have five mass graves up in Glasnevin and you never seen anything like them.
There’s a field up there three or four acres long and you wouldn’t put your dog or cat in it if it died and that’s where there’s hundreds of people buried.
And you come to this big stone which says “pray for the repose of the souls of the female penitents asylum” which means sinners.
They weren’t sinners, how dare they and I’ve been fighting for eleven years to get that off. I’m going on hunger strike next week and I’m definitely going to stay there and if I die doing it, well, I died for a good cause.
We’re all sinners, there’s none of us perfect, we know that but I think it’s up to god to judge them women, not up to the nuns; they’re only human beings like us and everybody else.
I was in an enquiry in Archbishop Martin’s palace for the last year, with Guards, with everything else, seven hours a day, a dreadful time I went through, I nearly went mental, I nearly committed suicide.
Vincent: In Drumcondra?
Kathy:The Child Protection Service run by Phil Garland. They were very good to me and they looked after me very well and Phil is very good and the people up there but there’s only so much they can do.
When I was to go on hunger strike seven months ago the nuns came out and said they would meet me after they denying me, and you know as bad as things were, it was a worse kick in the teeth for me for them to deny me than it ever was for them to abuse me
Vincent: What do you mean they denied you?
Kathy: They said they didn’t know me, that I was only in their care for six weeks because it was illegal for me to be there when I was eight. In the middle
Vincent: This is in one of the institutions you can’t identify now?
Kathy: Yes, the first industrial school I was in when I was eight and it was a five hour meeting up in the Child Protection Service with a nun, a couple of nuns. Phil Garland headed it and another nun because every meeting there the minutes are taken and everybody has to sign that they satisfied with what was said
Three hours into the five hour meeting about the mass graves this nun looked across the table at me and she said.
You know Kathy I have some of your files from the industrial school when you were a child and I also have some letters that your mother left you
My mother was dead three years at that time, that was last year. Sure, how would my mother write letters?
Yes, she said, letters, your mother left them for you when you were a child in the industrial school.
Thirty five years later after them denying me and saying that they never knew me, I was never in their care, only for six weeks she had my mother’s letters and when I required my files I was told my files were washed away.
I never knew my mother left letters for me. She handed me over the file and I said to Phil Garland, “how long ago was that, because I couldn’t think straight, he said, Kathy, thirty five years ago, and I looked at her and I jumped up and I ran out.
I went mad because here was I with these lovely letters and what she did say to me was “oh Kathy, don’t get upset they’re loving letters from a loving mother”.
My mother left them for me when I was nine in that industrial school, thirty six years later the nuns was handing them over to me.
But to add insult, they couldn’t have insulted me any more than they insulted me, and talking about throwing salt in an open wound.
When I got home, I couldn’t take myself to open them until two weeks later.
I brought them to my mother’s grave and I opened them there “cause all I wanted to do when I opened them was to go over and take my mother out of the grave and say oh Mam, I’m sorry, I didn’t know these letters were here, you know.
When I opened them, they had the cheek to give me photocopies of my mother’s letters and refused blank to give me my mother’s original letters.
I have spent hundreds of pounds trying to get them off them. My legal team have sent solicitors letters. Phil Garland has sent letters, Archbishop Martin has sent word and they haven’t answered one of them and they won’t give me back my mother’s letters and that’s why I’m going on hunger strike next Wednesday.
I want my mother’s original letters. They’re mine, she wrote them to me, my mother will never write me another letter and I think they’ve made me suffer enough and if I have to die doing it, well it will be worth it.
To get my mother’s letters and penitents off the headstones, well, that’s what I will do and I’m determined and that’s why I’m here today because they never broke my spirit and they never will break my spirit.
And I still have my faith but I don’t believe all people are the same. I have some very good friends that are priests and nuns. It was just a few evil people like them that got into the church that turned a lot of people sour.
The church is a temple to me and I don’t blame the church. People said that I had to stop going to mass, it’s not the church. The church didn’t do anything on anybody.
It was a few evil people that went into the church, who gained access to the like of my innocence and hundreds of thousands of other innocent people.
I go to church, I pray. I’m sick at the moment; I’m waiting for news from the hospital on a biopsy. With the help of god it will be alright.
I definitely believe that I survived to tell this story and to help all those innocent people, not just me. I’m only a small part of it. You think tonight’s story was bad, you want to read the next book. It’s absolutely disgusting what happened here in Ireland to innocent children.
Babies were sold. I was lucky; my baby wasn’t sold because the wealthy Americans didn’t want sick babies. When the babies were born, they were sold off to the wealthy Americans. They were driven once a month by a man.
Vincent: How do you know that?
Kathy: I was there, you could buy a boy for fifty shillings and a girl for ten shillings. You got a girl cheaper.
They were all shipped down, because I was on a programme and the man that drove the babies heard me and he rang in and said I’m the man she’s talking about, I’m the man that drove the babies, that was only last year.
He came forward to the enquiry. The babies were taken in his taxi once a month and they were brought down to the North and put on a ship to America and sold to the wealthy Americans.
To good Catholic families in America where the godless bastards would be brought up to have a good life while their mothers washed away their sins in a Magdalen laundry.
I’m human, I’m human. Hitler didn’t treat his people like that, he was decent, he put them all in and he gassed them.
Vincent: My god, shocking stuff