Sunday Independent, 3rd July 2005 by Lara Bradley
IT was the surprise best-seller on the summer book market - a bleak tale told by a brave survivor of rape and abuse within the infamous Magdalene laundries.
But the nuns who ran the institutions have rejected her story and claimed that Kathy O'Beirne - author of Kathy's Story: A Childhood Hell Inside the Magdalene Laundries - was never a resident.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity have now written to the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell demanding Ms O'Beirne's claims are properly investigated.
The book opens with an author's note: "For legal reasons, I have not been able to name any of the institutions in which I was incarcerated or any of the people who abused me."
Ms O'Beirne claims to have been repeatedly raped and became pregnant while a resident in the Magdalene laundry at High Park, Dublin and said she was also a resident of a similar laundry at Sean McDermott Street.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran both laundries. The order has never agreed to be interviewed, but were so appalled by the allegations they spoke last night to the Sunday Independent.
Senior archivist Sister Theresa said: "We are very careful about confidentiality as people's reputations are sacred to us whether they are dead or alive. Our girls came to us because they needed help.
"Kathy should produce evidence of where she was and when. Where is the child's birth certificate? Why has it taken 30 years to find? I am very sorry, the girl is clearly very traumatised."
A statement issued by the order said: "We can categorically state that Kathy O'Beirne did not spend any time in our laundries or related institutions. We met Kathy O'Beirne in the past year for the purposes of clarifying this with her.
"As the allegations made by Kathy are so serious we are now writing to the Minister for Justice to ask him to have Kathy's allegations investigated. We will fully co-operate with such an investigation and we trust Kathy will do likewise. Although Kathy's story is an horrific one, in the interest of fairness and justice to all, it is important that the facts of her story are clarified and verified."
Ms O'Beirne, 45, from Clondalkin, Dublin claims she was a resident in High Park from the age of 12 to 14. In a chapter titled 'Slaving in the Magdalene laundry', she says the nuns there beat her so hard with "a special thick piece of rubber" she sustained a broken pelvis trying to escape, and she details a rape within the laundry walls which left her pregnant at the age of 14.
Last week she went further, telling the Sunday Independent she was raped a number of times. Ms O'Beirne is working on a sequel in which she says she will name the men who raped her.
A professional historian was recently employed by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity to catalogue their files, and the order claims its records for the period Kathy claims to have been in a Magdalene laundry are complete and so comprehensive that one woman's two-day admittance was recorded.
Sister Theresa said: "We searched and searched and cannot find Kathy in either of our laundries. Then we came across her at one of our industrial schools."
The Sunday Independent has seen documentary evidence confirming Ms O'Beirne spent six weeks at St Anne's School - having been referred there by the Health Board. The school was also run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, but the order insists this six-week period was the only time Ms O'Beirne was in their care.
Provincial Sister Sheila Murphy said: "'Related institutions to the laundries' means the residential side of the laundries and we certainly can say as a congregation that Kathy was never there.
"We also ran other care homes under our childcare section that had no relation whatsoever to the running of the laundries."
Ms O'Beirne told the Sunday Independent she had documentary proof that she was resident in High Park and Sean McDermott Street Magdalene Laundries, but refused to produce this. She said: "Of course I have proof. I'm not one bit confused. I'm calling them liars. I never had an issue with people believing me. There are hundreds of people out there who know what happened to me. There had to be forms signed by psychiatrists. I was actually delivered by a nurse to High Park.
"Of course I have all the proof I need. The best wine is kept till last. I'm keeping it for the High Court. I'll sue them."In Kathy's Story, Ms O'Beirne claims: "When I contacted one of the Magdalene laundries I was told that my files had been burned in a fire."
The nuns admitted there was "a small fire", but said the records destroyed in it related to a different period to the time Ms O'Beirne claims to have been resident in the Magdalene laundries.
Mainstream Publishers have sold the rights to Kathy's Story to a number of other international publishers and the book is soon to be launched in Australia, America and Sweden. Mainstream Publishers MD Bill Campbell said: "We are satisfied Kathy's Story is 100 per cent true. It is an earth-shattering story. We have done our own investigations, which are very stringent. There is no question of us pulling this book."
COMMENT: This is the first time in years that I recall reading a serious criticism of an alleged "victim" of child abuse in the Irish media. In 1999 after the broadcast of "States of Fear", the media published some critical comments by journalist Breda O'Brien. Breda O'Brien pointed out that some of Mary Raftery's allegations are ludicrous (e.g. a lurid story which centered on the death of Brother Joseph O'Connor in the Mater Hospital - Brother O'Connor did NOT die in the Mater Hospital!).
Even that kind of criticism soon ceased and the "victims" themselves seemed to be sacrosanct. Hopefully their stories (including murder allegations) will now be subjected to the kind of scrutiny that would be normal if they were accusing Jews instead of Catholics.