U.S. Magdalene daughter was taken from her mother aged 18 months
Mari Steed led the fight to have justice done for Magdalene women
When Irish leader Enda Kenny last week made an abject apology on behalf of the Irish state for the mistreatment of Irish women treated like slaves in the Magdalene laundries, Pennsylvania-based Mari Steed, 53, the director of the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes, knows all about it.
She had been torn from her mother, a Magdalene inmate and sent for adoption in America at eighteen months old.
Kenny stated “As a society, for many years we failed you,” he said in an unprecedented speech.
“We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes.
“This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies.”
Mari’s mother, now known as Josephine Bassett, was one of the thousands of women who worked for years in the Magdalene laundries system before the last one closed in 1996. Her mother’s life, Steed says, is a kind of testament to the shadow side of Ireland and the deceitful tale it told itself of a kindly and compassionate social order.
Steed has been to the forefront revealing the injustice and last week’s apology was welcome but her work is not over.
“My mother grew up alone knowing she had siblings and a mother but never having any contact with any of them,” Steed tells the Irish Voice.
“Why weren’t there services in place that could have allowed her access to her parent and siblings? That compassion just wasn’t there.”
Born out of wedlock in the early 1930s, Steed’s mother was placed in an industrial school, a brutal and brutalizing institution that often harmed the children it purported to help.
In 1947 she was then sent to the women’s laundry of Sunday's Well in Cork City. There she spent the next 10 years of her life doing sewing for no pay.
“Her work included tasks that ran from embroidery to stitching smock dresses, from sowing items for the clergy to altering surplices and other religious materials,” Steed said.
“And obviously there was profit being made on these items, but she was never paid for that.”
Steed’s mother is now 79, lives in Swindon, England and still has immense difficulty talking about her experiences.
“She was ashamed that her family had been thrown to the four winds. It seems to be true of a lot of survivors of the laundries,” says Steed.
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