Magdalene victim's daughter: 'We found out on live radio our mother had died… nobody told us'

Magdalene victim's daughter: 'We found out on live radio our mother had died… nobody told us'

AN IRISH woman has spoken of finding out on live national radio that her mother had died – three months after she had passed away. 

Margaret's twin girls, Samantha and Henrietta. (Picture: RTÉ)

Samantha Long discovered her mother Margaret Bullen, who spent the majority of her life working in a Magdalene Laundry, had died while listening to RTÉ's Liveline in 2003.

Twin girls Samantha and Henrietta first met their mother Margaret two decades after they were adopted from a Mother and Baby home in Dublin.

As an infant, Margaret 'Maggie' Bullen had been a resident at a psychiatric hospital in Dublin as her mother was an inpatient after suffering with post-natal depression.

Once Maggie was sent home, she and her six other siblings were in the care of their father who worked, but had a "serious drinking problem" according to Samantha.

A local Garda sergeant had the children removed from the care of their father, and the siblings were sent to different institutions, where Margaret would remain for the majority of her life.

At the age of 19, Margaret became pregnant and was moved to St Patrick's Mother and Baby home on the Navan Road in Dublin.

There, she gave birth to her twin girls who would be adopted without their mother's knowledge seven weeks later.

After two years of searching, the 23-year-old twin girls were finally reunited with their mother at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin in the spring of 1995.

"We were expecting to meet a lady who had moved on with her life; that's not what we found," Samantha recalled.

The twin girls finally met their mother after 23 years. (Picture: RTÉ)

"We couldn't believe she was 42; she wore a polyester dress and she had a navy handbag with a clasp on it, and then the bag fell open. There was nothing in it.

"She'd had coffee that day and that was a big deal in her life as she'd heard of coffee but never had it before."

Margaret admired the pressing of the the tablecloths in the hotel and told her daughters that she did the laundry for Mountjoy Prison.

"That was area of expertise – laundry," Samantha said.

While the twins had tried to maintain contact with Margaret, her health deteriorated and she remained in the care of the nuns, eventually passing away of Goodpasture syndrome, an autoimmune disorder caused by breathing in hydrocarbon solvents over a period of time.

Margaret's death cert, which says she died from Goodpasture syndrome. (Picture: RTÉ)

While Margaret died in July 2003, a day before her 51st birthday, it was months before her daughters realised what had happened to their mother.

Seven-month pregnant Samantha heard a woman named Meabh telling host Joe Duffy about a friend who had passed away three months previously and was furious that she had was buried in a communal grave by nuns.

Once Meabh said her friend's name was Margaret Bullen, Samantha realised that the woman was her mother, who she had met for the first time eight years previously.

"We found out on live radio that our mother had died in July and it was now October," she said.

"Nobody had told us."

Samantha speaking on RTÉ's Liveline: Callback, telling her mother's story. (Picture: RTÉ)

After her sister called the programme to tell them they were Margaret Bullen's daughters, and were never told of their mother's death, the nuns released a statement to Liveline saying they had asked Gardaí to inform 'the twin living in Dublin'.

This information was never given to Samantha, who was living in Dublin while her sister lived in New York.

The broadcasting of Margaret's story on Liveline prompted a national response, and soon the Justice for Magdalenes Research group was founded.

A report into the the abuse suffered in the Magdalene Laundries, the McAleese Report, was commissioned in 2013.

Eventually, the former Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered an apology to the women who had been sent to the laundries, calling it a "national shame".

"When that was all over, I just felt so happy for Margaret, and felt like she was finally at peace," Samantha Long said.

Margaret's Story is featured on RTÉ documentary Liveline: Callback, tonight on RTÉ at 8.30pm.