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Kathy’s Story: Is Truth The Real Victim?

The Irish Catholic July 28, 2005 by Hermann Kelly

Bestselling author, Kathy O’Beirne sensationally claims allegations of abuse at the hands of priests and nuns but has provided no evidence. Four Orders of nuns deny Kathy ever went to a Magdalen laundry. Now the Garda are investigating her latest claims. Hermann Kelly reports.

Kathy’s Story is one of best selling books of the season, standing at number 6 in Eason’s best sellers list. It paints a dark picture of systematic abuse, both sexual, physical and psychological in a series of Dublin Magdalen laundries committed on a young girl called Kathy O’Beirne. It tells the disturbing story of a girl who suffered abuse within her own family before being committed into a residential school around 1970 at the age of eight. This was the first of six institutions which she claims she attended. She also claims to have been raped by two different priests, was forced to take part in a regime of “slave labour” and was corralled into drug trials in a mental hospital against her will.

However the main assertion of her story, that she was abused while in Magdalen Laundries in Dublin has been completely dismissed by the four religious orders that ran the now closed laundries in Dublin. They have all countered they have no record of Ms O'Beirne having been one of their residents. In fact the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity which ran half the laundries in Dublin have asked the Justice Minister for a Garda inquiry into these allegations.

Kathy confirmed that she spent six weeks in the care of The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity while still a child. The order did confirm that they ran institutions for young people totally separate from the laundries. They have met with her to confirm this and hand over a letter to her from her mother, which they had in their possession. While Kathy says she was in three Our Lady of Charity institutions, the Order itself has said that after an exhaustive trawl of their records by a professional archivist, no trace of Kathy can be found as ever having attended their laundries or adjoining accommodation.The statements of Kathy and the Order obviously contradict.

One of the difficulties is that Kathy, who says she is in her mid 40s, does not state in her book which laundries she was in, or which religious order ran them. She writes in her book that “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.”This inhibition has not prevented other people however, from talking about their abuse or making allegations of abuse against religious orders. A number of people have come out publicly and named the order and indeed the persons involved. They can prove they were there and have fellow-witnesses to back-up their presence there. How about Kathy?

Meeting at Bewley’s Hotel in Newlands Cross last Friday, Kathy told The Irish Catholic she had been under the care of Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and had spent time in High Park Laundry in Dublin.After revealing that she had spent time with this specific order, Kathy later in the interview said, “ I was only ever abused in one of those laundries. There was one of the laundries I was in that was fine. I have nothing to say about that laundry.”In this particular laundry Kathy said she was looked after really well. One nun, she said, “saved a lot of girls from death by taking them in from the streets.”

The Order had two laundries, one in High Park, Drumcondra and the other in Sean McDermott Street.Though claiming to have documentary evidence to show her stay in all the institutions, Kathy failed to show this journalist any documentary evidence demonstrating that she ever attended any of the institutions in the book. Neither the dates nor the full names of any living people who worked along with her in the laundries are named in the book either.When asked to name people who could prove to be corroborative witnesses to her time in the institutions, she declined to do so. Instead she said: “there are nuns who came to visit me, clergy who came to visit me, family who came to visit me, there are letters.” She also said she had photographs of herself and other girls from the laundries.

Questioned on whether she was taking all the institutions in which she claimed she was abused to court, she replied that “I’m not saying, what I’m doing or what I’m not doing.”Asked if she had shown the documentary evidence to the Gardai who have investigated the matter over the last year, Kathy replied, “Well, I’m not going to make any comment on that.”

Kathy told The Irish Catholic she did not receive an education during her time in these institutions: “I didn’t get any education. I was in school for a couple of days and that was it. I certainly didn’t get an education in any institution that I was in. Certainly not in the mental institution I was in because I was doped out of my brains all of the time.”She remains adamant however that she “has all her files showing that she was there.” I asked to see these files but again she declined.

Amongst the most serious statements in Kathy’s book (page 120) is the allegation that the nuns stole babies from their mothers and sold them to America.That “beautiful babies were, as far as the nuns were concerned, human traffic to be sold for profit,” she writes.Sr Sheila Murphy, as regional leader of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity said this was totally untrue. “We had nothing to do with the buying or selling or the adoption of babies.” The laundries and related institutions of her specific order did not accept any girls who were pregnant at all, Sr Murphy told The Irish Catholic.

Kathy said that “the Ledgers are there, they weren’t burnt or washed away in floods. The babies names and prices are there.” Again allegations were made but no ledgers or photocopies have been produced as proof.

According to the publicity material in the 2005 catalogue of Mainstream Publishing which published her book: “At 13, back in another Magdalen Laundry, Kathy was raped and became pregnant. Poorly from birth, her baby Kelly Anne, spent the rest of her short life in a home run by nuns and when she died she was interred in a mass grave. Kathy still doesn’t know where her baby is buried.”I asked Kathy about the burial of her child and she flatly contradicted the publishers publicity: “Who was buried in a mass grave? Who told you that? You want to get your facts right.” When I pointed out it was in the publishers press release, she said they had “got their facts wrong. There is nothing about her being buried in a mass grave in the book.” She added that her daughter, “was very well looked after by the nuns.”

Sr Sheila Murphy pointed out that only babies are buried in a Holy Angels plot, not 10 year old children. Sr Sheila Murphy suggested that for a ten year old child buried in the mid- 1980’s surely there would be a birth certificate and death certificate?

And asked what institution the child was put in?Kathy also told The Irish Catholic that she had spent time in Magdalen Laundries with a woman called Maggie Bullen. “We spent a couple of years together. I knew Maggie very well. That’s why I aired her story because I was so upset, the way she was buried.” Maggie died two years ago at the age of 52 and was buried in Glasnevin.

For the first time, Kathy admitted it was she who spoke using the name ‘Elizabeth’ on the Joe Duffy Liveline radio programme on October 7, 2003 about Maggie Bullen’s burial. On that two hour radio programme under the assumed name ‘Elizabeth’, Kathy as well as other callers made a number of serious allegations.After a radio listener complained about the lack of accuracy and balance in the programme the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) upheld the complaint. In its decision the BCC said: “This programme purported to be factually based. However, significant inaccurate claims made during the programme went unchallenged. The programme approached an emotive subject from a biased perspective and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity were not afforded a fair right of reply.”

‘Elizabeth’ claimed on Liveline that Maggie Bullen’s name was not put on the headstone, that the nuns were living like the ‘Queen Mother’ while Maggie was in a ‘pauper’s grave.’ She said on national radio; “The Nuns killed her, the nuns destroyed her, they took her babies off her, they destroyed her,....”. She went on further to claim that “the babies were wrapped in sheets, and thrown into holes, unmarked graves, they weren’t even buried in consecrated ground, so maybe she [Maggie] is lucky where she is.”

However, the BCC said that significant inaccurate details included: -“ that Ms. Bullen was buried in a mass grave; that the Nuns lived in the lap of luxury compared to the conditions they made Ms. Bullen live in; there was no eulogy given at Ms. Bullen's funeral mass; the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity was a 'mothers and baby's home'; and that the family were not informed of Ms. Bullen's death.”

According to the BCC: ”The programme contained many factual inaccuracies and the Commission further was of the view that the attempts made to contact the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity do not appear to have been sufficient. The complaint was upheld.”

The Sisters of our Lady of Charity pointed out that Maggie Bullen had a well attended funeral attended by three priests, religious sisters and many friends. A funeral homily was given by a priest who knew her, a special Mass booklet in her honour was prepared for the occasion and she was buried in a burial plot and her name was inscribed on the headstone. Nuns from the order visited her regularly while in hospital and a very close nun friend visited her on the day before she died. In addition, one woman rang in during the show to say, how in her personal experience, the women in the nursing home were cared for very well by the nuns.

But to The Irish Catholic, Kathy said Maggie “ was buried in what the nun’s called a communal grave, but any grave with more than six bodies in it is a mass grave. That’s were she is buried.”

Kathy has made ‘mass grave’ allegations in other quarters. During an interview on the ‘Tonight with Vincent Brown Show’ on June 22, Kathy claimed there were “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bodies buried on the lands of the Magdalen Laundries all around Dublin and around the country and in Letterfrack. And they did not die from being undernourished. A lot of these children were murdered.”

After similar claims of murders and a mass grave in Letterfrack, the Gardai set up a special investigation centre in Clifden to which 7 Gardai were assigned on a full time basis for over two years from November 1999 to the summer of 2002. In January 2003, Superintendent Tony O’Dowd told The Irish Catholic that “there is no evidence available that would suggest that foul play led to the deaths of anybody buried inside or outside of the cemetery at the old Industrial School in Letterfrack.” The Superintendent added that “there was no evidence of a mass grave.”

The vast divergence in the claims of both Kathy O’Beirne and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity may soon be coming to a head. After the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity called on Minister Michael McDowell to initiate an investigation the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy on July 6 appointed a Detective Superintendent to “examine the issues raised” in their letter. Added to this heady mix is the word from Kathy that she is in the process of writing a second book. This will be music to the ears of Mainstream Publishers in Edinburgh who have already sold rights to the first book to international clients for a fee. Kathy told The Irish Catholic that her group of ex-Magdalen girls, called ‘Care and Share’ were going to organise a march in Dublin last Saturday and she herself was going to start a hunger-strike to air her grievances. Hopefully, time will tell who is telling the truth.