“Apologise To Me Before I Die”


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Mary Merritt, who spent 14 years in the High Park magdalene laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin, with her daughter Carmel, top – whom she found 40 years after Carmel was born – on BBC’s Newsnight, above, last night

Last night, on BBC’s Newsnight, journalist Sue Lloyd Roberts did a 15-minute report on the magdalene laundries.

During her segment, she spoke to gravedigger Barney Curran, who was hired by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity nuns to dig up the remains of what the nuns then believed were 133 magdalene laundry workers at the High Park Laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin, in the early 1990s. At the time, the nuns were selling the land to developers.

Mr Curran found the remains of 22 more workers. Mr Curran’s appearance on Newsnight last night was his first ever television interview.

Ms Lloyd Roberts also spoke with Mary Merritt, 83, who was born in a mother and baby home and sent to an orphanage. One day she stole an apple from an orchard because she was so hungry. After this she was sent to High Park laundry where she remained for 14 years. While there, she was tasked with laying out the women who died at the laundry.

In the BBC report, Ms Lloyd Robert reported that Ms Merritt told former Senator Martin McAleese – author of the McAleese Report – how, one day, she broke a window and ran away from the laundry. She went to a priest and begged for help. The priest raped her before giving her sixpence. The gardaí then brought her back to the laundry. Ms Merritt became pregnant as a result of the rape. Her daughter, Carmel, was taken by the nuns and put up for adoption. For 40 years, Ms Merritt only had a photo of her daughter.

Ms Merritt’s testimony of her rape is not included in the McAleese Report.

Ms Merritt and Ms Lloyd Roberts went to visit the headquarters of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity where Ms Merritt pleaded for an apology but didn’t receive one.

During the report, Ms Lloyd Roberts also interviewed Tánaiste Joan Burton. Mr McAleese turned down her request for an interview.

From the report:

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Gravedigger Barney Curran:

“The nuns were trying to sell the place there and it was big money like so they didn’t want anyone to know what was going on, it was all hush-hush. We were supposed to tell no-one about it.”

“We kept digging and digging until we dug out the whole lot and we ended up with 22 more than they knew were there…they didn’t even know they were there.”

“[We also found] a lot of plaster of paris which was on their wrist and in their arms, their legs, their feet, their ankles, there were broken arms and broken legs, as far as, it seemed to me like. The women were too small and too frail for that kind of work.”

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Ms Merritt and Ms Lloyd Roberts at the gates of the headquarters of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity:

Lloyd Roberts: “Good morning, my name is Sue Lloyd Roberts, I’m here from the BBC and this is Mary Merritt, a former magdalene laundry worker.”

Unidentified representative of the order: “You’ve already sent in a request and I think you’ve got your answer to that request.”

Lloyd Roberts: “No, we’ve been refused an interview but we have some very important questions to ask.”

Merritt: “All I wanted, please, somebody to give me an apology for what happened to me. That’s all I wanted.”


Merritt: “I want somebody to apologise to me, the nuns, the church, the priests, just somebody to apologise to me before I die.”

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Ms Lloyd Roberts’ interview with Joan Burton:

Lloyd Roberts: “When I speak to these women what they want is the truth to be told.”

Joan Burton: “Well, we now have underway the process of preparing a full judicial report by a very experienced judge who has been involved in a  number…”

Lloyd Roberts: “So you admit the McAleese inquiry was less than thorough?”

Burton: “Well, the McAleese inquiry was an inquiry at a point in time. I think that the critical thing that it achieved was recognition for what women had experienced and what women had gone through.”

Lloyd Roberts: “But the women themselves say it didn’t, for example, the glossing over the abuse, the duration of stay?”

Burton: “Well, I do know that what is important for a lot of the women is that they would receive a redress payment.”

Readers may recall how Mary Merritt was on Prime Time on February 5, 2013 – about two weeks before Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued a State apology to the magdalene women – when she begged for an apology from the Labour TD Kathleen Lynch, who was in the studio that night.

Ms Merritt didn’t get an apology then either.

Demanding justice for women and children abused by Irish nuns (Sue Lloyd Roberts, BBC)

Previously: The Magdalene Report: A Conclusion

Related: RTÉ Prime Time – Magdalene Laundry Apology (19/2/13)

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86 thoughts on ““Apologise To Me Before I Die”

  1. ThomasP

    I must say I just hate and despise the church. Hate does not come to me often, but what a despicable and criminal organisation. It seems there is absolutely nothing they are incapable of doing and of covering up. Justice has got to be done.

      1. ABM

        Bad news doesn’t sell newspapers. Nobody cares or is interested in works of mercy unless they’re brought to journalists’ attention by the marketing department.

    1. ABM

      The catholic church isn’t perfect. Never has been. It’s subject to human failings (like any every other institution). Show me an institution that operates on the scale of the church that has educated millions, cared for the sick, the poor, the destitute that hasn’t succumbed to human failings?

      Nations, institutions, communities, professionals, individuals and families also need to examine what went wrong – contemplation, scrutiny and change isn’t just for the catholic church. If anything, the church are leading the way here. On child protection and patient welfare they also lead the way. New Ireland’s track record (despite all the money and oversight quangos) isn’t proving to be much better.

      I don’t know what these people want. I don’t know what these journalists want. The interface between the church and these people who come forward presenting themselves as victims is complicated and sensitive. Some people want everyone to know their story, others don’t. Each case is treated in a compassionate and caring way. I don’t see what more the church can do. The church aren’t there to bow to journalists with hidden agendas and underlying prejudices, the church is there to minister to genuine people.

      1. ABM's Bloodied Underwear

        “a compassionate and caring way”

        Such as telling someone searching for their birth mother that she’s probably dead and why are they still trying to locate her.

        If only that organization had been preaching morality to the countries citizens for the last few decades, then we’d be living in Utopia.

        1. ABM

          You are not tasked with dealing with abuse victims. You don’t have to sit down with them and look them in the eye. If you think you know better than the current justice system and the current forms of recompense, go and do something about it. Critics criticise. Doers do.

          A lot of work has been done on these issues. Work that was going on long before broadsheet.ie ever existed.

          1. ABM's Bloodied Underwear

            The church has never sat down and looked them in the eye either. Or paid any recompense to them for the slave labour and theft of their children either.

          2. ABM

            You see now you’re telling porkies claiming that the church have “never” sat down with victims or compensated them financially. You’re not really in a position to be criticising others when you’re a demonstrable liar. Are you?

          3. ABM

            Question for you: How many witches were burnt? Roughly?

            What was the average number of burnings per year during the peak of the trials (1580–1630)? How about you go research the number of those killed due to “collateral damage” by the “coalition of the willing” since 1990.

            Do you think 5 or 6 orders of magnitude more would be bending statistics?

          4. Nigel

            If critics didn’t criticise we’d know none of this. As it is we’re showing more mercy and forbearance than the church ever showed those women and children. Due process and opportunities to be heard, should they choose to accept them. But of curse, they have wealth and power and the women and the critics do not.

      2. Anne

        I don’t know what these people want….The interface between the church and these people who come forward presenting themselves as victims is complicated and sensitive. I don’t see what more the church can do

        Did you watch the BBC clip above ABM?
        If you did, you’d know what ‘these people who come forward presenting themselves as victims want’.

        Hint: It’s in the title of the post.

        You don’t know what more the Church can do, besides shutting the door on the woman’s face and telling her she got her refusal to talk in a letter? You really don’t know what more they could do?

        Go and watch the clip.

        1. ABM's Bloodied Underwear

          It’s pointless trying to converse with ABM. He sees what he wants to see and nothing else.

          1. ABM

            You lot believe contemplation, scrutiny and change is just for the church.

            Many other institutions, organisations, professionals, communities, families and individuals also need a couple of days of fasting on Lough Derg.

            I look forward to a barrage of post-moderated personal abuse.

            Good night.

          2. Anne

            Ah we’re all sinners.
            Just kidding.

            I don’t care what he sees to be honest, but he asked a question – what do these people want and what more can the church do.. So, helping him along there.

          3. ABM's Bloodied Underwear

            Fasting? Pay them the f*cking money they’re owed and give them access to the adoption details of their children.

            For a start.

          4. ABM

            This is not about the “f*cking money” (though it certainly seems to be for some who use the plight of abuse victims as an excuse to erradicate the Irish church via bankruptcy/asset appropriation). If all the public buildings of Ireland were sold off, it wouldn’t undo the damage caused.

            You really need to grow up and drop the anti-Catholic baggage.

          5. ABM's Bloodied Underwear


            How much money have they handed over?

            And the victims are being accused of only being interested in money.
            When the organisations involved have transferred assets into holdings and trusts so that they don’t have to pay any money.

            If looking for justice means eradicating the church here as you say, well bring it on!

          6. will-billy

            the point is we cannot have it both ways. many of you feel quite strongly the church is evil which I respect. if it was up to me all churches would be banned and their assets seized. but nonetheless i recognise the church speaks also for many good citizens and in spite of its many flaws. should my brand of tyranny prevail over that of the church? very quickly we arrive at a slippery slope

          7. ABM

            You are going to be very disappointed if you think the church will be “banned”.

            You will be dead soon. The church will be around a lot longer than your impotent surmisings.

          8. will-billy

            look pal. no one gives a shit about you or your peasant mindset. it may take time but eventually your lot will be an irrelevant historical aberration

        2. Sadface

          Wont be much of a Church left with no Priests or Nuns around,you know,cause the ones there at the moment will die eventually…
          Saying that,i would enjoy seeing these particular snakes driven from Ireland.. It’ll never happen butthere is always hope isnt there ABM?

          1. ABM

            That’s factually incorrect.

            The number of major diocesan seminarians and the number of Religious major seminarians is increasing, not decreasing.

            There are more priests in the world today than there were in 1975.

            There’s a whole world outside Ireland you know – the Irish church continues to contribute to this mission, despite the fact that few Irish people go to Mass.

          2. will-billy

            aye there are a few more hellholes left where folks remain uneducated and more likely to become enslaved.

          3. Sadface

            Im not talking about the world,im talking about ireland.
            I suppose they can always transfer a few lads in…
            You are a dying breed ABM,as long as you realise that..
            And basically standing up for the hienous behaviour of your so called Church while admirable,is just ridiculous..

      3. Maggie

        It (the archaic power and control organisation) is what happens when a group of humans consider that they have (in the name of their god) the right to judge, the right to punish, the right to smile, give a sixpence and rape, the right to behead. Belief systems that set some up to control others should silently disappear.

  2. Sancho

    To my mind, Burton is suggesting the women are only complaining because they want money. A very snide, sick comment on her part- unless it’s just taken out of context.

    1. ABM

      Redress boards are a good way of protecting victims from having to reliving the horrors in the courts.

      However the system is open to rampant abuse – spurious and exaggerated claims get through. Some victims claim they were “bought off” and “silenced”, when in many cases the records clearly show they accepted confidential settlements. These records are not public so the “silencing” claims can’t be refuted. If the church pursued an individuals for disclosing confidential information, the Irish Times would have a morning, evening and Sunday edition.

      Criminal and civil proceedings is the best form of justice we have. Outcomes are on the public record and the full facts are laid out for all to see. That said, I’m not totally against tribunals and I think they do do some good work. A delicate balance needs to be found.

          1. Anne

            We have judges to adjudicate on cases before them. Not to do our thinking for us.

            You’ve ruined the whole f***ing thread with complete f***ing nonsense.

            Not one word of sympathy for Ms. Merritt and the horrendous life she had at the hands of the nuns. Raped by a priest whom she sought refuge in.

            It’s absolutely disgusting what you’ve done to this thread.
            It’s more denial of the truth of this woman’s suffering, focusing on defending the evil organisation that did this to her and lots of other woman.

          2. Scoobs

            What he’s say makes perfect sense. Its wrong to slander the travelling community because the minority of them are bad. Perhaps you find it more comforting blame the building or the brand for persons failings. We look at the public sector, if a doctor does things wrong professionally and they are protected by a nationwide union. Then who is left to pay retribution, “The tax payer (HSE)”. Nobody is accountable for their actions or in the patronizing manor people put it, their “sins” (bad things done to others). Instead you hide behind buildings or brands called company’s/organizations/governments. Don’t worry they have insurance. Anne your version of right is to slanderize ABM. Your argument is “I’m right” and the apparent professionals that we train are wrong. Perhaps a lack empathy in with news is Gaza, Nuns, Europe and america going to war, Russia.. etc, personifying the words “TERROR”, “HORROR” throughout the media. There are crimes on a larger scale justified. As long as its is justified by blaming brands and buildings it will always continue. Who should have to pay for it all. Humanity?

  3. Odis

    I suppose the other issue of outrage is that we have to get this from the BBC. Irish media not up to it, so it would seem.

  4. ahjayzis

    No disrespect to RTE, but it really shows the situation for what it is when viewed through non-Irish lenses.
    Christ what a country.

    1. Odis

      I think you might be taking the comment out of context there.

      Maybe what she is trying to say, is that the McAleese report was a bit of a rushed job, and not particularly thorough, because the victimns needed to be compensated ASAP.
      None of the victimns are particularly young. And so arriving at an early compensation arrangement, was important, if you are to avoid the accusation of, cynically, dragging it out.

      (NB this comment does not reflect my position and is offered without predjuice)

  5. Sheikh Yabooti

    I had a relative who was a nun in High Park; around the early 80’s we occasionally visited. Though I wasn’t aware of its function as a gulag, I still remember the haunted passive women shuffling silently around. Even though I was a kid, their hollow empty expressions and blank unresponsiveness to a hello is still clear. Husks emptied of identity and humanity by religion.

  6. Anne

    It’s really incomprehensible what the women of these laundries were put through.
    They deserve every recompense they request.
    The agreement Bertie made with his former employers – the nuns should be nullified
    They would be stripped of every asset they own if there was any justice.

    The reception Ms Merritt received at that gate was absolutely horrible.
    Evil c*nts.
    At least say sorry to the woman and thank her for coming.. instead of ‘you got your answer in the letter’.
    Absolutely disgusting treatment.

    1. ABM

      Some of these women were convicted of crimes. However I do believe that it was extremely unjust to bung unmarried mothers in with criminals. The State certainly didn’t provide safe homes for unmarried mothers – there was nowhere else to put destitute women except into these one-size-fits-all 20th century workhouses.

      1. Nigel

        At least the criminals had a trial and were released when their sentence was up. And the women certainly weren’t safe from abuse and exploitation and imprisonment.

        1. ABM

          So you think desperate women who operate as prostitutes in direct provision caravan parks aren’t being exploited?

          Your energies are focused on abuse that happened 60 years ago?

          1. Nigel

            Your tunnel vision is so narrow you can’t comprehend the idea that one can think two separate things at two different times are both horrible and wrong? Perhaps even more than two? Direct provision is proof that we learned very little from the Magdalene Laundries: that’s why it’s so important not to forget them.

    1. Janet

      I missed it too. Heartbreaking. What kind of arguments could ever justify this ? in the name of ” morals ” ?

  7. Moo

    Still continues to shock the bejaysus out of me. How on earth are they still fighting for their ordeal to be adequately acknowledged.

    “I do know that what is important for a lot of the women is that they would receive a redress payment” – they probably would also like a proper apology and a report published that actually captured a full honest reflection of the nightmare they endured too. Pretty cold stuff from

    1. ABM

      Have you ever considered that there might be reasons for an adoption agency to keep secret the names and addresses of mothers who gave their children up for adoption?

        1. ABM

          What about non-Catholic adoption agencies? They have confidential files too you know.

          All civil servants are bound by the Official Secrets Act. Employees of companies are also bound to secrecy or they’ll instantly lose their job. If I uttered certain facts that i know about, I’d be down in the dole office on Monday. Priests and religious must also adhere to the church laws. Secrecy is not inherently bad. Secrecy is used every day of the week for countless reasons.

          On it being an entitlement to know who your mother and father are – complex issue that nobody on this website is going to resolve.

          1. Nigel

            More to the point, they felt that they were entitled to profit in any way they saw fit from their property.

  8. Lilly

    Yet we all have friends who, despite having no time for the Catholic Church, continue to christen and enroll their children first holy communion to pacify the grandparents. It’s time we all developed a little backbone in our daily family life.

    1. Always Wright

      Absolutely. Every time a parent allows their child to be baptised or indoctrinated they are implicitly condoning the traditions and actions of the church, as well as its teachings. The laundries, the industrial schools, the adoptions, the abuse and the subsequent protection of abusers, the systemic oppression of women and children and the vulnerable. These are the actions and traditions of that church.

      1. will-billy

        this is really abject nonsense. most of these folks take comfort from participation in community rituals and pay little or not any attention to wider issues. let them be they’re dead and gone tis with O’leary in the grave

  9. Iseult

    Grew up opposite High Park…as a teen I worked in a local shop and met some of the older ladies coming in to get little messages. They came in pairs, dressed very shabbily. They were lovely and heartbreakingly childlike a lot of the time..totally institutionalised (I believe the nuns were providing some species of retirement home arrangement for the last inmates). They had been given exact change for milk, bread etc. So friendly and shy at the same time.
    I was aware of the pure rage and disgust of the locals at the nuns when details of the exhumations, the extra bodies, the difference in treatment of the nuns v inmates remains and the selling of the land cane out. My mother tore strips off one nun she saw speaking sharply to one of the elderly ladies in the church on the High Park premises.
    These women are owed in every way possible for their incarceration, wasted lives and stolen labour. The church disgusts me beyond words.

  10. Rosie Fisher

    I was taught by nuns in the 60’s……”who taught them to be so cruel”…I suffered abuse from them….But as servant’s of god, who, but who taught them to be so vindictive and dole out such punishment quite easily…and call it discipline….They were frustrated, brow beaten individuals governed by the church…..and ”MAN”….

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