Elizabeth Coppin’s mother was just 19 when she gave birth at the county home in Killarney in 1949. Because she wasn’t married, her baby was taken away from her. Elizabeth spent most of her childhood in an industrial school, before being sent to three different Magdalene laundries.
"If a woman in Ireland was not married and got pregnant, she could not go into an Irish hospital run by the State ... they had to go to these units, because they were sinners, they had committed the worst sin of doing what comes naturally in a loving relationship.
"She had to take herself from Listowel and go into the county home in Killarney, because she knew that she wouldn’t be allowed to give birth to me in an Irish hospital."
Elizabeth remembers seeing her mother again for short visits after she was sent to the industrial school.
"She’d come maybe once every two to three years to see me. And that would be for an hour, and it was always supervised, I don’t know why."
Elizabeth believes she was sent to the Magdalene laundry from the industrial school to fill a gap left after someone else died.
"The Magdalene Laundries were run by the State and the church; they were in collusion, they were out to make profits ... they got together and formed this wonderful plan that any women who had babies; especially a second baby, would go into a Magdalene Laundry.
"What they would do then, this was going on for years, if a woman died in the Magdalene Laundry, the laundries would get on to the education department in Dublin.
"Then the education department, who were responsible for the industrial schools, would ring around different industrial schools and say "Oh, So-and-so has died, we need another girl, have you got somebody spare to bring in?’
"This is my interpretation. And I was taken in, I was taken by two nuns from the industrial school.
"I wasn’t even 15. I hadn’t even kissed a boy. And I was taken into this so-called Magdalene sinners’ place."
Recalling her main memories of the laundry, Elizabeth said: "It’s just the total shock first. ‘Is this for real?’ What’s happening?’ It was just so unreal."
She said she had to live with other young girls like her, as well as women who had been in the laundries for years.
"At night time we were all locked in this cell, this was Peacock Lane in Cork, literally, they were like prison cells.
"And on the outside there was a bolt. And once you went in there at night the bolt was shut from the outside, and you couldn’t get out.
"If you were sick, it was tough.
"And you had to wait until the nun came around at six o’clock the next morning to open the bolt for you to get up and dressed. If you wanted to go to the toilet you had a pot. I mean come on.
"And these were women; it was degrading. I was 15, there were women there, older than me now, I’m 69, and they had to use a pot.
"In the morning we had to get out and slop out. And the stench, was just unbear- I feel sick even thinking about it right now."
Elizabeth described her mistreatment in the laundry. "We did get abuse in there, in different forms. They played mind games with us.
"I was in the padded cell in Cork, accused of stealing someone’s sweets. I wish I had! I hadn’t, and I told them. But I was in there for three nights. Three days and nights.
"There was no mattress on the floor. There was an air vent type of thing up high. I had, again, I had a pot. And I had an enamel cup and a plate with dry bread on it. And I had a cup of water."
She added: "At night time, the nun would come up, it was a key in this particular one, and unlock the padded cell, and I’d walk about 20 yards into the toilets to empty my pot, yet I couldn’t go to the toilet, I had to use a pot."
Elizabeth describes running away from the laundry with another girl.
"We jumped out from the top floor window, bearing in mind that there were bars on the windows in the cells, but the ones facing the front, for the public to see, there were no bars, so we figured that one out and we jumped out those windows, the second floor. And we walked down to St Finbarr’s hospital in Cork.
"We told (the sister in the hospital) we’d run away, our innocence, you know, going back to nuns, that’s all we knew, and we told her we’d run away and she got us a job there.
"Her name was Sr Finnian. And we were working, and one morning, these what I thought were police, [Senator Martin McAleese, who conducted a report on Magdalene Laundries] told me they weren’t police, they were NSPCC, they’d come to take me back to the second Magdalene Laundry, because I wasn’t 18.
"They reckoned they were in charge of me until then, but then the judge said they were in charge of me until I was 16. So what’s that about? Then they went to the UN, telling them they were in charge of us until we were 21. That’s not true."
"So then I went back to the second place [Sunday’s Well, in Cork], and they changed my name to Enda. Enda was the name of my first abuser in Tralee, the nun in charge of the industrial school. So I knew straight away there was a connection there. And I said: ‘No, my name is not Enda’. I discovered afterwards it was a man’s name."
She said a nun shaved her head in the Sunday’s Well laundry.
"When she was shaving it she said ‘Now you will never run away.’"
After five months in Sunday’s Well, Elizabeth was told she wasn’t settling, and was transferred to a laundry in Waterford.
Eventually, she left the laundry system, and settled in England, where she married and had children, but her experiences in Ireland have always stayed with her.
"It stays with you for life. You’re overprotective of you children, especially, I was, of my daughter. You’re frightened in case anything happens to them. I deliberately set out not to get married in the Catholic Church, I deliberately didn’t bring them up Catholics, I don’t regret that for one moment.
"I did get my marriage blessed when I went back to Kerry in the Catholic Church, because it’s kind of a love-hate relationship I have with, even the Irish State, let alone the Catholic Church."
Elizabeth said Ireland was great for celebrating Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for attending school who survived and won a Nobel Peace Prize.
However, she contrasted the interest in her case with Ireland’s own history. "We didn’t even get a chance in the industrial schools to be educated. The last day of my school, I was 12, six weeks from my 13th birthday, the way they fiddled the records, I had missed a whole term doing work in the industrial school prior to that, so really I was 12 when I finished my education."
Today she will attend an event at Áras an Uachtaráin hosted by President Michael D Higgins, to give women who spent time in Magdalene laundries an opportunity to speak about their experience.
She told Morning Ireland she has mixed emotions ahead of the event.
"I can’t believe I’m sitting here, and actually going to meet the President. All the women, we were incarcerated illegally, arbitrary detention by the Irish State and the church, to actually feel that we can voice our opinions on how we were treated."
Elizabeth, who previously spent a six-year period in Ireland to spend time with her mother, said that she came to Ireland for the event with a mixture of excitement and disbelief.
"I came back with ‘What if? Did this really happen?’ Not only what’s happening now, but were we really locked away in Ireland? Sometimes it’s like a dream what happened, it’s surreal. It’s just mindboggling really, and to think it was a free – a so-called free state ... Catholicism is supposed to be for the good of all, but really they were good for evil deeds."