Though nearly five decades have gone by, the horrors of the Magdalene asylums are still fresh in the memory of Mary Currington.
After being raised by nuns in her native New Ross, County Wexford, she worked on a farm and then from the age of 18 she toiled in the sewing room of a complex in Cork.
On her first day in the Magdelene asylum in 1963 Mary had her possessions seized, her hair cut and her name changed.
She told the Luton News/Dunstable Gazette: “I was given their shoes, their clothes and their haircuts. I earned pots of money for them every day without seeing any of it.
“We never even thought to ask and they never paid a stamp for us, I worked my fingers to the bone.”
Prior to her arrival in Cork, Mary, now aged 70 and living in Houghton Regis, endured a difficult upbringing in a convent after she was taken from her unmarried mother.
“They would take great joy in beating us, they really did,” Mary said.
“It was a very primitive upbringing. We were behind great big walls with meagre food. We had very watery porridge that was made the night before and water was added to it the next morning.
“We were always praying, in church and you couldn’t sneeze without asking for permission. I was very defiant, if I was whacked I wouldn’t let them see me cry.”
After leaving the convent at the age of 16 Mary worked on a farm, but admits: “I was still under their control from afar”.
Two years later she found herself in front of the same nuns who had brought her up, this time in the Cork asylum.
Mary said: “All I could hear them saying was ‘now, what shall we call her?’
“I kept saying my name is Mary and then they decided what they would call me. It was a form of humiliation.
“I still didn’t really know where I was. I had done nothing wrong to be put in there and I cried every night.”
After six gruelling years of long hours and no pay, Mary was transferred to work in the maternity ward of a hospital just over the border in Newry, Northern Ireland.
While at the hospital Mary saw first hand the callousness of mother and baby homes also run by nuns, in which mothers would often be forced to give their children up.
Many babies were sold to families in the US and on a number of occasions Mary witnessed the heartbreak of mothers who would never meet their newborns.
After saving up her wages Mary escaped her captors by buying a plane ticket to Heathrow from Dublin.
On her arrival, in 1969, she met her sister in Luton and settled in England.
Mary said: “It is very very sad I had to leave my place of birth to make a life for myself.
“It will never go away what happened to us, there is something every day in our lives that reminds us that our young adulthoods were taken from us.
“We never knew when we would get out of there. At least a prisoner knows their release date, we didn’t.”
> Luton Irish Forum is encouraging survivors of mother and baby homes and the Magdalenes to assist with an ongoing investigation into the affair– if you would like to give evidence contact Irish Women Survivors Network on 0207 267 999.