Abuse victim relives memories of Longford industrial school Longford Leader reports: Published on 29/06/2009
A woman who endured 13 years of institutional abuse inside a County Longford industrial school has opened her heart in a moving memoir about her experiences.
Author Maureen Coppinger spent much of her early childhood as an orphan behind the doors of Our Lady of Succour Industrial School near Newtownforbes in Longford and in her new book, Annie’s Girl talks at length about her unforgettable experiences and the search for her natural mother.
Addressed only by her surname, Maureen can still recall the relentless cold, persistent hunger and impoverished conditions that accompanied regular tirades of physical abuse
“I have never forgotten that odour of the little children who regularly wet the bed. It would soak into the big calico shifts we wore.
“The ‘wet the beds’, as they were called, were marched up to the top dormitory every morning and beaten with an ash stick across the bare bottom. One girl, Colleen, who had been our friend, was beaten into insanity. Eventually, she was taken away to an asylum and we never saw her again.”
The level of abuse dished out to orphans like Maureen is graphically illustrated throughout the book, perhaps none more so than when first declaring her own intentions to join the order shortly after seeing a young nun conferred.
“I had dared to whisper to a friend in the dormitory about how lovely the ceremony was and Sister Anthony heard me. She beat me so badly, I couldn’t bend over to put my boots on for days.
“Having to watch others was as bad. One of the worst occasions was when two girls had briefly escaped and were brought back. They were made to stand in front of the whole school. They were crying in terror. We had to hear their screams.”
Decades later, Maureen is able to speak about her feelings towards her mother and about the harsh realities of her childhood.
“I eventually discovered that my mother Annie died when I was 12 but I was angry for so long at her because she could have come to see me at the orphanage but didn’t…When I was born, my mother had to give me up, but it was to a couple who really loved me.
“Unlike some of the other children who came straight to the orphanage and never experienced kindness, or cuddles or hugs, I was loved and cherished for those first few years of my life. And that’s the important difference.”