The always inspiring Liz at Exploring Colour

introduced me this week to this beautiful drawing by Jean Mackay of Drawn In,

a sketch revolving around the various stages in the basket making process. Liz hinted there could be tales uncovered within the shadow and light of the sketch and, after an initial look this week qnd finding a certain nostalgia mixed in amid the delicate pencil strokes, this is the story that unfolded for me…


Before they break the bread they make the baskets,

hands twisting like roots turning, finding the source

beneath the soil; finding the form between the fingers

fixing, wondering if knots can hold, if what is born

can bind and hoping that what they make might mend.


And she saw the fine filigree of her grandmother wave

from within the weave, remembered how it felt to be

entwined into a hold that held so much heart, the smell

of those hands now her smell, her scent, her hands

finding form as the circle turned into something greater,

broader; wider, darker, not all twists can be unturned,

wicker bends and leans in as if to whisper and falls away

and under and she wondered how it might find its way

back as the other laughed, the giggling girls with their long

skirts over skin already stained, looking for ways to twist

out of their own tales, platted into tatters too soon.


Maura gave birth to a Saint Bridgits Cross that day,

wove her worries into a fallen belief, soaking her swollen

aches with the reeds in the water that would never warm.

Brenda bore her basket like a baby, fragile folds

and tucks and wrapped the rim carefully like covering

a blanket neath the chin of a child she would never forget.


Before they broke the bread they made the baskets

the babies would be placed in, each reed drowned

in a river that ran from their fears, ties never attached,

hope never to be held while behind them, resplendent

after lashings and splicings, the black winged women

cawed over the faithful feathers they wore as robes

as their beaded hands prayed for the sinners now

servants for the so-called stains of their skin.


And she watched, as she weaved wicker through

the wicked world, in a convent grown cold,

in a kitchen to clean, those witnesses of judgement,

the untouched sisters of seeming servitude, religious

reeds never bent by other hands, folding only

to an unseen force, foreign to the feeling of other flesh,

twisting their rosary around their faultless fingers

as she turned the reeds around the coming regret

of being born and borne away to never come back.


Before they broke the bread they made the baskets,

before they broke their hearts, they buried all hope in their broken waters.


Audio version available on Soundcloud;



All words by Damien B. Donnelly

Artword by Jean Mackay of Drawn In,

Encouragement by Liz at Exploring Colour


21 thoughts on “BASKETS OF BLASPHEMY

  1. Pingback: Theme: Woven – Exploring Colour

  2. The great thing for me about us both looking at this and creating, each on our own, is the surprise in seeing what you’ve come up. Who you are and where you’re from results in a completely different perspective to what I’d ever have imagined. And I’m the richer for that sharing. Thanks heaps Dami!

    • Thank you so much Jean, for the beauty and the inspiration. It wasn’t an obvious tale that evolved but as I mentioned I felt a certain nostalgia in both the colour of the paper and the craft itself, as if they had fallen forward from a day in the past, it was the grandmothers face and feeling that I saw first and the rest just called out quietly. Thank you 😊

  3. Hey Dami, I’m online now actually reading about St Brigids Cross to try and fill in my knowledge gap a little. Did the diamond on Jean’s basket remind you of the St Brigids Cross? Just wondering…

    • Hello my dear, I’m away this weekend so so with my réponses. I used a férié da computer to upload the poem yesterday and it took so long, French keyboard yesterday, I have a Swedish one at work and a Swiss
      one at home!!!!
      St Bridget’s cross was always popular in Ireland and a tradition, even in schools at a young age, was to weave her cross and part of the detailed drawing had a sense of the cross beginnings about it, it also added a feminine touch as opposed to Christ’s cross, I wanted to center more on women and the cross they bare, especially with consideration to the Magdalene laundry women of that era who went basically to prison in convents, becoming servants to
      the nuns after falling pregnant, often by abuse, some even just for looking too provocative. It is a weird and often wicked web we weave between sex and sin, religious leaders and religious believers and the colours of life that are often banished to the shadows by those who don’t have they eyes to see it.

      • Thank you, thank you…so VERY grateful to you for taking the time to help fill in the background! I’m not well versed in the Irish situation although I knew a little. There seems to be parallels with what I read about convict women sent to Australia, the same fearful mix of power, corruption, religion, the “justice” system along with the politics of the times (I read about this in a book called The Tin Ticket and did a review about it on my blog). Its heartbreaking and I’m more and more appreciating the intricacies of your poem which has been a really difficult one for me to come to grips with.

  4. Duh! Have just remembered the phrase “bun in the oven” for pregnancy. I’ve not come across it much, maybe only once or twice so it simply didn’t come to mind. So “break the bread” is for birth. Wow. Apologies, I confess my brain is moving at glacial speed and barely up to the challenge. But as I learn, I’m gaining a real appreciation for the layers of meaning within the poem and the power of it. I’m fascinated that you took a look at the sketch and then built all this from it! … [shaking my head in wonderment]

    • I wasn’t sure anyone would get the bread and bun connection so I am thrilled that you saw it. I had originally before they bake the buns they make the baskets but it sounded too cute. Bread had more of a weight and also tied in with the bread of life/ body of Christ at the Eucharist too. I was also completely surprised at how this turned out, I expected to find another story within the weave but once the voices started I had to follow.

      • Yesterday afternoon we took a few hours off to visit a country garden and part of the journey I was chattering away incessantly about bread, bun in the oven, Communion (I was raised in the open brethren church where the bread part of Communion was called the Breaking of the Bread and we did literally break real bread). I’d only made the bun in the oven connection in the morning and Nigel got an earful about all these things I was getting together in my head due to your poem! I think your choice to use bread is excellent and totally agree the use of bun is both too cute, and too obvious. I’m glad you made me think, even though it took me so long and it niggled away in my head for ages!

  5. and PS, I wouldn’t allow myself to listen to the recording until I better understood the writing. I’ve just listened and its so incredibly powerful and moving … WOW

      • No, beautiful! I love church bells in Europe, they peal so beautifully. Not like here in NZ where they thud with boring “dongs”, nothing musical at all! To me, to hear the bells is to hear, to take in, hope; and feel it in your soul.

  6. OK Dami, so now I feel like I have a reasonable grasp on the intent and meaning of the poem. But why the title Baskets of Blasphemy? I’m thinking along the lines of contempt for the sacred so… babies are a blessing from God but here we have the church effectively punishing these young mothers-to-be (incarceration/forced labour) and to cap it off, having them make the baskets in which their babies will be carried to their new adoptive home. So the baskets are the symbol of the forced separation of mother and baby by the church, therefore Baskets of Blasphemy. My best attempt, am I on the right track?

    • Hello Liz, welcome to the weekend, it’s been a hot week here in Paris, it’s currently 35 degrees so I am off to the sea side for some fresh air!
      In terms of the title, it does indeed comes from how these girls were regarded which they literally served sentences for this so called sins. Some of the women didn’t get out until they are well into their 60’s and could not cope with life in the outside, a world which had changed while their chores had stayed the same.
      The view of these women and sometimes young girls by the church and often by society was wicked, sinners, blasphemers.
      And so came the title.
      Hope you are both ready for a lovely weekend

      • So hot and sweltering there for you! Yesterday here it was cold and poured with rain all day. Very different! Nigel was in Dunedin and I had nowhere to escape to so I pre-prepared a few days worth of blog posts. Thanks for the info and for your patience with my questions Dami. I had no idea that women had served for so long in convents after giving birth. Terrible and tragic. I’m glad you’ve brought the stories of some of the women to life in your poem and you’ve woven it all together so beautifully. Thanks so much!

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