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Mary Norris, the eldest of eight children, was born in 1932 in Sneem, South Kerry, Ireland. She was sent to a Magdalene laundry or asylum run by the Good Shepherd Order in Cork, Ireland, in 1949 at the age of 16. She spent two years there. The laundry closed down in 1994.
Mary was removed from her mother at the age of twelve. Her mother was having an affair, and Mary believes that those in authority thought she was a bad example. The children were taken to a judge and made wards of court. They were sent to different places run by different Roman Catholic institutions. Mary found herself at St Joseph's Orphanage in Killarney.
At the age of sixteen, Mary was sent to work as a maid, but was returned to the orphanage after she went to a cinema without permission. She was then sent to a laundry in Cork. She reports that the way she was treated at the laundry amounted to slavery, and that the girls and women were forced to work ten hours a day every day except Sunday. She reports also that her name was changed to Myra, as the nuns felt she did not deserve the holy name of Mary, and that she was told falsely that her family had abandoned her.
When Mary had been in the Magdalene laundry for two years, a concerned aunt in America tracked her down, and removed her from the laundry. (Later Mary petitioned the sisters of the Good Shepherd in Cork to obtain a list of the names of the Magdalenes who had been buried in unmarked graves behind the laundry.) She was reunited with her mother, brothers, and sisters. Eventually she moved to London with her mother. After her mother's death in 1989, Mary returned to Ireland.
Her brothers had been with the Christian Brothers in Tralee—an order which has also, in some cases, been found guilty of abuse. They were both alcoholics at the time of their deaths. One died as a result of a fire; the other as a result of murder. Her sisters emigrated, and Norris is the sole member of her immediate family to remain in Ireland.
She discusses her experience as an "orphan" in an interview published by the Irish Independent in January 1999. Mary has been married twice and has one daughter. She now lives in Co. Kerry.
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