Magdalene laundry survivor: ‘Please help me find my sisters’

Magdalene laundry survivor Please help find my sisters
Deirdre Cadwell (LEFT) with her sister June

Deirdre Cadwell wants to find Betty and Rita

An Irish mother of three who was raised in one of the country’s Magdalene Laundries has appealed to find her surviving sisters, Betty and Rita, here in the UK.

Deirdre Cadwell, nee Duggan, was born to Bridget Duggan in Waterford in April 1963. These days after a varied career which included working at the Irish civil service, for PJ Carey in Wembley, and ultimately as a truck driver in the US.

She has, for the past two years, been living in Enniscorthy, Wexford on disability benefits. She has three sons, James, Stephen and James, by different husbands and fathers, who are 24, 16, and 13, and who live in the US – the two younger ones with the brother of her late husband who died twelve years ago.

Her 16-year old son is, she says, profoundly autistic and receiving care in the US he would not get in Ireland while her other two sons may, or may not, choose to join her in Ireland. She believes her mother had several other children – among them Mary, Paddy, Betty, Rita, Tony, Frankie, Penny and June.

She says she has the vaguest of memories of her sister Betty visiting her at the Good Shepherd “but was too young to really remember”.

There were others, she believes, their names not known and who are buried in Waterford.

In her infancy Deirdre was put into care at the Good Shepherd convent in Waterford and, in 1978, was put on a train and sent to the infamous An Grianán High Park Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra, in Dublin, where she spent four unhappy years.

“We are all getting on in years and I would love to meet my family, it has always been my greatest wish to meet my brothers and sisters,” she said in an appeal to Irish World readers whom she hopes may help bring her and her sisters together.

Magdalene laundry survivor Please help find my sisters
Deirdre Cadwell (LEFT) with her sister June were raised in the Magdalene laundries

She says she believes Betty worked for British Rail for many years at Clapham Junction, and had a son, Kieran, and that her sister Rita married and settled in Northshields in Northumberland and had three daughters.

‘Atriocious abuse’

She has no kind words for her mother and even fewer for the Irish institutions in which she grew up.

“As a very young child the abuse was atrocious, if you wet the bed you were made to stay out on the veranda with a mattress, we slept in dormitories where they’d wake you in the middle of the night and make you sit on metal potties for two to three hours.

“They did not care – they inflicted emotional abuse and physical abuse and when it wasn’t abuse it was neglect.

“It was all they knew, they were doing what they were told. None of the nuns ever showed the slightest bit of kindness, the only person who did was someone who came in to work there, a cook.

“I don’t wish any of them ill although most of them are probably dead now, that was all they knew,” she says with some bitterness still evident in her voice.

At the age of 11 or 12, she says, she was eventually left to her own devices and often found herself walking the streets of Waterford by night, rifling through trash cans, often finding herself locked out until morning.

Magdalene laundry survivor Please help find my sisters
Deirdre Cadwell

“One day, in 1978, a suitcase was brought in and I was told I was going on a trip to Dublin and I was sent to High Park Convent in Drumcondra which was also the An Grianán Magdalene Laundry. They were the same thing, on the same site, no matter what anyone says. We were not separated from the women in the Laundry,” she says.

She took Ireland’s Civil Service exam and worked as a typist in Kilmainham before eventually moving to London at the invitation of a friend who had found work here with P J Carey Plant Hire in Wembley.

Moving to the US

She married her first husband but that marriage didn’t last a year. She moved to the US at the invitation of the same friend who persuaded to move to London where she met and married a man and had her first son. In all, she has been married three times, her last husband having passed away twelve years ago.

It was there she worked for years as a truck driver on what are known as the big rigs. She is in no doubt that for her and many of her friends and contemporaries, their experiences growing up where they did adversely impacted their ability to have relationships in adulthood, leaving them damaged or broken.

“My sons don’t know about how I grew up and I have not told them even though they want to know,” she says. “I had dinner at Christmas with people who had been at the Good Shepherd, (many) of them are recovering alcoholics or getting over drugs and are doing what they can, one had her children taken from her.

“I suffered physical, mental and emotional abuse and was never compensated for unpaid labour and the Redress Board is closed and not going to reopen. Everybody needs money to survive but it’s not about the money for me.

“I personally never went into drugs or alcohol although I had real difficulties trying to reintegrate into Ireland and spent four months living in hotels. I put my name down on the council list in Waterford before I realised I did not want to be in Waterford because I would have to see that convent every day so I went to Wexford and rented.

“What I want is to meet my family, I want nothing to do with my mother, she was a mean, nasty, selfish bitch. I met her when I was 21, she was living in Battersea, as a ‘widow’ and she didn’t want to know and I don’t want anything to do with her – but I do want to meet my family.”

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