Elizabeth Coppin Tells of Abuse in Ireland’s Industrial Schools and Laundries!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured story this morning describing a woman, Elizabeth Coppin, who spent twelve years in Irish industrial schools and laundries where she suffered abuse from the nuns who ran these facilities.  Here is an excerpt.

“For 30 years, she struggled with secret memories of beatings and other abuses, as well as most of the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: chronic anxiety, social isolation, compulsive behavior, depression, flashbacks, nightmares and suicidal thoughts.

Finally, 20 years ago, convinced the pain would never subside unless she acted, Elizabeth Coppin, now 69, walked into a police station in her native County Kerry, Ireland. She filed a complaint relating to the 12 years she had spent in an Irish “industrial school,” one of a now-defunct network of state-funded orphanages and reformatories run by religious orders on behalf of the state.

Her statement, which the on-duty police officer typed up and signed, was accompanied by two letters that Mrs. Coppin had written in support of her case.

“I need answers,” one of them pleads, adding: “The emotional scars I carry with me today are still very real. Please check out everything, please don’t be put off by the nuns. Check everything, dig deep, especially records…

Born in May 1949 in Kerry’s “county home” — essentially, a workhouse — to an 18-year-old unmarried mother, Mrs. Coppin never knew her birth father. Her stepfather beat her so savagely that she was placed at age 2 with the Sisters of Mercy in the Nazareth House industrial school in Tralee.

There, she told the police in her initial complaint, the abuse continued. She said that one particularly sadistic nun, whom she named, would regularly strip her and beat her buttocks with a strap until she was welted and bruised. Sometimes the nun would grab her by the hair and swing her around the room. The nuns regularly starved her, locked her in cupboards and kept her out of school to do heavy housework. When the little girl wet herself she would be forced to wear her soiled clothes on her head.

At the age of 12 or 13 she tried to kill herself by setting fire to her clothes. Although being severely burned, she was denied medical treatment, and received “not even an aspirin,” she said. Her chief abuser would taunt her as she cried out in pain.


                                                                                       Mrs. Coppin and her husband 

At the age of 14, she was moved from the school to a Magdalene laundry at Peacock Lane in the city of Cork, the first of three such laundries that she would be confined to.

In her new prison, she and the other girls were locked into separate cells every night with only a bucket for a toilet. Once, having been wrongly accused of stealing sweets from another girl, she spent three days in solitary confinement in the laundry’s “padded cell,” a bare room with no light, blanket or bed.

“It was in the padded cell that it dawned on me that I would be there for life, that I’d be buried in a mass grave; there were whispers that went around,” she recalls now. “I saw the people who were there, who were broken, institutionalized, illiterate, from living in a dark, dark place with no way out. I remember asking myself the questions, ‘What will I do? How will I get out?’”

At 17 she and another girl sneaked into an unbarred room at the front of the building and jumped from an upstairs window into the street. They remained at large for three months, working in a nearby hospital..”

What a sad story! 

Read the entire article!


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