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  • Writer's pictureVivi Steels

The Magdalene Laundries~ Vivien Steels

We, unconventional and passionate,

flesh and blood,

often dulled into conformity

by a strait jacket

of distorted religiosity

venting its spleen.

We talk too much,

are too enthusiastic,

too vivacious,

attractive to men,



and, before we sin,

condemned to asylum workhouses

bearing holy names.

Slaves in suds

non-beings eternally laundering

dirt out of soiled clothes,

some owned by perverted priests

and embittered nuns,

whose vows to love

mask a heart to hate.

When we express ourselves

we are condemned as irreligious,

temptresses of the flesh,

fecund and warm,

rich in spirit and body

our loving and giving

represented as profane.

Stripped of dignity,

of any personal possession,

our rounded bodies are forced

into identical brown shifts

and starched white aprons

we have sweated over

dissolving any trace of self.

I wrote this poem in May 2013 after watching a film called 'The Magdalene Sisters' and now, after watching 'The Woman in the Wall' drama on BBC 1 with Ruth Wilson as Lorna Brady, I wanted to post this poem, which has never been published, perhaps due to its very controversial subject. In Ireland, young girls, who were thought of as very attractive, were just shoved in these terrible places in case they 'sinned', as well as families putting pregnant, unmarried daughters in there, who they thought would bring shame on them. Births were left unattended, babies were wrenched from their mothers and left to die, and babies were sold to couples even though they had a certificate stating they had died. The women were used as slave labour and treated abominably by the Nuns who ran them. Nuns of the Catholic religion that supposedly espoused compassion, love and caring for others. The last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996.

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