Friday, May 27, 2016

Labour & Pop Culture: Magdalene Laundries

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is the “Magdalene Laundries” by Joni Mitchell. This song chronicles the plight of up to 30,000 unmarried Irish women banished by the church to various convents and other institutions. Many of these women were pregnant and unmarried or fled abusive husbands or fathers. Others were imprisoned because they were flirtatious or beautiful or poor.

They would often spend their lives in “the laundries”, performing thankless domestic tasks. Many died there, often buried in unmarked graves. These so-called asylums operated into the late 20th century and both the government and private companies contracted with these institutions to supply cut-rate laundry services provided by an unfree labour force.

I was an unmarried girl
I'd just turned twenty-seven
When they sent me to the sisters
For the way men looked at me
Branded as a jezebel
I knew I was not bound for Heaven
I'd be cast in shame
Into the Magdalene laundries *

Most girls come here pregnant
Some by their own fathers
Bridget got that belly
By her parish priest
We're trying to get things white as snow
All of us woe-begotten-daughters
In the steaming stains
Of the Magdalene laundries

Prostitutes and destitutes
And temptresses like me
Fallen women
Sentenced into dreamless drudgery
Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?
Oh charity!

These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their groom
Then they'd know and they'd drop the stones
Concealed behind their rosaries
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room
They'd like to drive us down the drain
At the Magdalene laundries

Peg O'Connell died today
She was a cheeky girl
A flirt
They just stuffed her in a hole!
Surely to God you'd think at least some bells should ring!
One day I'm going to die here too
And they'll plant me in the dirt
Like some lame bulb
That never blooms come any spring
Not any spring
No, not any spring
Not any spring

-- Bob Barnetson

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