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Eclipsed

by Patricia Burke-Brogan

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Resonances from History

The theme is universal. I used the laundry space as a metaphor for the space allowed to women/outcasts in society and the Churches - including the Roman Catholic Church. The play is about a Magdalen Laundry in a fictional place called Killmacha. It is set in 1963, when attitudes were changing in the church of Vatican 2 and outside in the wider Elvis influenced society.

Killmacha:

This is a fictitious name for the area in which I placed my Penitent Laundry. It is a combination of pagan and Christian words - kill (cill) is the anglicisation of Gaelic for church or cell/oratory of the early church; Macha, a sun goddess, a life-giving image, a fertility goddess, one one of the most important goddesses in ancient Ireland. Tradition holds that when pregnant, Macha, in order to save the life of her husband, had to compete in a race against two of the king's horses, she turned to the assembled people in a wrenching plea that would echo down centuries of Irish history: Help me, she cried, for a mother bore each one of you! Give me, O King, but a short delay until I am delivered. Childbirth was a sacred activity in pagan Celtic times. Because the King refused her request, Macha put a curse on Ulster. [Since then] there has been much bloodshed in Ulster.

In Act 1, Scene 5 Sister Virginia repeats the cry of Macha, when she prays and begs help for the mothers locked away in the laundry: Christ crucified, help them! For a woman bore you, carried you for nine months! Mother of Jesus, do something about Cathy, Mandy, Nellie-Nora and the others!

Brigit Murphy:

One of the characters in Eclipsed is called after St. Brigit, but there was also a pagan Celtic goddess called Brigit, a fertility goddess, a triple goddess. When Christianity arrived in Ireland it had to contend with the most powerful female figure in all of Irish history, Brigit, a folk image, whose shadowy cloak still moves over Ireland. She eventually evolved into St. Brigit, Mary of the Gael, also Patroness of he Poets. St. Brigit was ordained Bishop of Kildare by St. Mel. She was the first Irish woman to be a Bishop!. Brigit's cross is a Christian symbol superimposed on the sun-goddess symbol.

Eclipsed:

There are different levels of meaning apart from the natural phenomena - eclipse of sun and moon. 1.The Roman Catholic Church represents an eclipse of the older pagan meaning of motherhood and fertility. 2.Women have been eclipsed in their lives and in their experiences. Women's lives have been invisible. The real history of women has not been written. In particular, the history of Magdalenes ahs been eclipse. In Church history and in art history, few women are mentioned. 3.Nuns, by virtue of their bodes and their feminine attributes have been eclipsed.. Medieval clothing, starched coifs and veils. 4.We are eclipsed, as Mother Victoria says in Act 2, Scene 1 - our understanding is darkened.

On one level the play is about motherhood and attitudes towards it. At least twenty-two Magdalen Laundries were in operation in Ireland between the time of the Potato Famine (middle of last century) and the nineteen seventies. There were similar laundries in England and Scotland - at least one in Glasgow. These were shelters for women who had been thrown out of their homes and signed in by their families. They had no other place to go. Nobody else wanted them. In Act 2, Scene 1, Mother Victoria advises Sister Virginia: Those women can't be trusted! They're weak, Sister! No control! They've broken the sixth and ninth commandments! - We protect them from their passions. - You see this weakness to sins of the flesh stays in the blood for seven generations! - Remember the garden! Eve started it all!

In reality, the women disappeared. Betrayed by lovers, signed in by their families or employers, forgotten and disowned by society, they lived out their lives in penitential laundries. Most of them became institutionalised and were buried in nameless graves. Because of the attitudes of society and the tendency to regard sezual behaviour or misbehaviour as what was meant by 'morality', the attitude of many of those who looked after the victims tended to be harsh and condemnatory.

Four of the characters in Eclipsed, Cathy, Brigit, Mandy and Nellie-Nora, are mothers whose children are either dead, have been taken away for adoption or are enclosed in orpahages.

Their lovers, the fathers of their children, were not locked away, not held responsible. "Some of the major Social Theorists (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas and Marx) have agreed that the subordination of women is 'regrettable but necessary.' - Only men could act on behalf of the Common Good, because only men had objectivity, only men were dispassionat; only men were logical and fair minded" [Mary Condron].

"Eclipsed is a social document as well as a powerful dramatic piece, this hitherto unwritten story must be told to men and women of all cultures and must be remembered as part of human history" [programme note].

Patricia Burke Brogan