Commemoration and Irish Memory

The way we remember our dead says a lot about the type of people we are, to bury and commemorate is a universal constant it is, in a very real way, what defines us as a species. In the summer of 2011 a friend and I jumped in a car and maneuvered our way through the maze like roadways of the Irish countryside. Our remit was a simple one: to look at the way in which the Irish nation commemorated those who had fought in the 1798 Rebellion, the 1916 Rising, the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War. Human nature being what it is we found that the collective memory is a selective one and that those we choose to remember reveals much about how we place ourselves in relationship to our past, how we position ourselves in the present and how we pass our favour, our hopes and our biases onto future generations.

Fr John Murphy

Above is a memorial to Father John Murphy and it can be found in Tullow, Co. Carlow. Father Murphy was a leader in the 1798 Rebellion and it reminded me of Ireland’s relationship with the Catholic Church and the church’s relationship with Ireland and it’s various rebellions. Murphy was found guilty of treason against the Crown and executed.

Manchester Martyrs

In Tipperary Town we found a memorial for The Manchester Martyrs. The Martyrs were Michael ‘O Brien, William Philip Allen and Michael Larkin. All three IRB members were hanged for the murder of a police officer in Manchester in 1867. A note of interest the monument is called The Maid of Erin, making explicit the connection between the martyred sons and the ultimate mother: Ireland. Of course, positioning Ireland as feminine often meant that women were expected to be passive as the men fought for their honour.

Roger Casement

1916 was a year that witnessed The Easter Rising and above is Roger Casement. He worked as British Consul in The Congo and Peru and highlighted the abuses of Empire. Turning republican he tried to muster up an Irish Regiment among POWs in Germany during WWI and unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle in arms for the Rising. He was a gay man, a fact disputed for years by republicans. This statue stands in Ballyheigue, Co. Kerry.

Kilmichael

The Kilmichael Ambush in Co. Cork was the scene of one of the most notorious incidents in The Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) it marked the escalation of the war and was masterminded by Tom Barry.Below is an inscription proclaiming the IRA members as among the countries best. Kilmichael is a topic of infinite controversy especially after the late historian Peter Hart contended that the IRA shot the British after they had surrendered (a thesis now believed to be inaccurate).

Kil Two

Collins

Above is the cross at Beal na blath, Co. Cork, scene of the assassination of the leader of the Free State Forces, Michael Collins. Whilst Collins looms large over Irish historiography, the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) is an episode that we Irish like to forget. Like all civil wars it was a bloody conflict and one that would see some of our best and brightest lost to ideological differences in the name of the country they served.

Liam Lynch

Collins opposite number, and leader of the anti-treaty military, was Liam Lynch. This impressive monument is near the spot where he was shot, a wound that would lead to his death, in the Knockmealdown Mountains Co. Tipperary. As I stood in the spot I could not help but think of the futility of the conflict and the bravery of those on both sides.

Throughout the journey I was struck by what we choose to remember and of course what we choose to forget. I was struck by the lack of memorials to those who fought on the Free-State side during the Civil War. As per usual there were very few memorials to the Irish women that did so much to help obtain Irish freedom. That is a topic I shall be returning to in the near future.

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  1. Excellent. The way we remember our dead and the way we remember…
    Selectively!

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