Dirty Linen

Dirty Linen

For the Magdalen Women

 By Breda Joyce.


In the laundry room,
you unspooled your story to the others,
scrubbing at stains that held you there.
Admitted that you had committed
the unspoken, the unforgivable.

Under holy orders, in dim light,
you sewed new vestments and mended more
for priestly men who saved you from ruin;
blue ribbons for Children of Mary,
red banners for Corpus Christi.

 Heat from the glass roof made you feel faint
but you dared not leave your station
till the gong said so.
They found you in the room
when the van men* called;
forced you to kneel in shame
and snipped your golden hair.

When the day of your confinement came
they gave you nothing to ease the pain,
told you to offer it up,
you had only yourself to blame.
You held him while your milk came in
before they snatched away your sin.

They buried him outside the rails.
Dirt still stains their fingernails.

*Van men picked up the laundry from the Magdalen laundries in large baskets in which sometimes Magdalen girls tried to escape, often with the collusion of these men.


Breda Joyce grew up in Headfort Co Galway and now lives near Clonmel Co Tipperary with her husband and two daughters. This poem is from Cadence, her debut collection. Proceeds from the sale of the book go to MSF.

One thought on “Dirty Linen

  1. What a poignant poet, the sadness beautiful expressed in such a few words and phrases, as good poetry can do.

    There are so many who went through this horrible ordeal.

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