2009 Patricia Burke Brogan - 'Make Visible the Tree', Fairgreen, Galway
On International Women’s Day, March 2009, Patricia Burke Brogan’s poem “Make Visible the Tree” about the Magdalen Laundry together with a limestone sculpture of a Magdalen Woman were unveiled by the author with the sculptor Mick Wilkins in attendance. The sculpture and the poem are located in Forster Street, close to the site of the laundry.
Text of speech delivered by Patricia Burke Brogan at the Unveiling of the Magdalen Sculpture, 8th March 2009, Forster Street, Galway.
Dia dhuit Mr. Mayor, Dia dhiobh a chairde, distinguished guests. Is aoibhin liom bheith annseo inniu ag ceilliúradh an piosa ealáin íontach seo.
Good afternoon, Mr. Mayor, friends and distinguished guests I'm delighted and honoured to be here with you at the unveiling of this extraordinary sculpture.
In memory of our Magdalene women, it stands here on the space where women were hidden away, their lives eclipsed. When Margaret Geraghty, Bridie Hogan, Orla Higgins and I had our first meeting we decided on a motto The Concept of Dignity, The Violation of Dignity - The Magdalenes . I met with sculptor, Mike Wilkins, and gave him my poem. Make Visible The Tree. We then approached City Hall. There were many meetings.—
In the history of every people there are areas of great wounding, times when human beings inflicted great damage. History often avoids retrieving these areas especially if recalling them threatens to upset the status quo.
I have always been fascinated by layers, layers of time, layers in landscape, layers in the artistic imagination. In the story of this limestone sculpture we have many layers. Three hundred million years ago the island of Ireland was covered by a tropical ocean. As time went on brachiopods and other marine organisms, skeletal remains of past lives, fell to the seabed and formed a layer. This layer was later crushed under the weight of other layers of rock.
Crushed being the operative word here. – Isn't it extraordinary that this crushed material, now called limestone, has been carved by sculptor Mike Wilkins into this woman shape, which represents our crushed Magdalene women? The women were sentenced without trial. Their crime was that they had given birth. It is a dark judgment on a society when the art in which woman is most like God, the act of creating new life, becomes a crime.
That crime was considered to be so horrendous that its punishment could be advanced without due process. And for that crime the baby was snatched from the new mother. She, the mother, was put away. Hidden, crushed under layers of our self-righteousness. Her name and the name of her baby were erased from the discourse of society..... This happened in recent Irish history. But this limestone was laid down millions of years ago.
I now move from sculpture to theatre. I've written two plays set in the Magdalen experience. Eclipsed , first produced in 1992, and Stained Glass at Samhain, produced ten years later. Stained Glass at Samhain looked at the Magdalen experience from a different angle. Sister Luke in Stained Glass at Samhain , when she comes back to her Magdalen Laundry at Killmacha, speaks of 'the pain held in the earth.?
I quote from Peter Brook, the famous Theatre Director, “The responsibility of anyone in the arts is to look, which is more difficult, for the other side of the coin. The moment you see a black side, your obligation is to look for the luminous side. - The role of the arts is to see what is behind the surface.” Peter Brook sees theatre as a kind of medicine. “The theatre artist, like the doctor, must be able to look deeply into a wound before producing an act of healing. Theatre in its origin,” he says, “was conceived as a healing instrument for the city.”
I believe that this wonderful luminous limestone sculpture will heal our city, that the pain held in the earth here in this place of betrayal will be appeased. Go raibh maith agaibh. Thank you.
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