I saw the film Philomena at the weekend. I had initially been reluctant to see it, finding the stories that have unfolded following The Magdalene Sisters deeply disturbing and tragic. Yet, the stories need to be told, and their telling needs to be witnessed.

Philomena shares one such story, from an Ireland of the 1950s, where to be pregnant and single was profoundly sinful, with the sinner duly brutally punished in the eyes of Catholic Church by God’s most loyal and complicit servants, the nuns.

The story that unfolds in Philomena is gripping and revelatory, not for the obvious reasons, but because, at least for me, the film made me consider issues around forgiveness – how truly admirable a virtue it can be, and how difficult it can be to achieve.

I thought of Philomena again today, when a poem I came across reminded me of the hidden away graves in the convent where the mothers-to-be were incarcerated.

The poem, Stillborn by Derry O’Sullivan, appears in 3Quarks Daily (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/11/tuesday.html) and an excerpt follows:

‘You were born dead

and your blue limbs were folded

on the living bier of your mother…

…The priest said it was too late

for the blessed baptismal water

that arose from Lough Bofinne

and cleansed the elect of Bantry…

…You were buried there

without cross or prayer

your grave a shallow hole;

one of a thousand without names

with only the hungry dogs for visitors…

…Limbo is the place your mother never left…

where she strains to hear the names of nameless children

in the barking of dogs, each and every afternoon.’

CQ

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