Irish Studies, Literature

Ireland, Migration and Return Migration – In Conversation with Sinéad Moynihan

Drawing on literary, historical and cultural studies perspectives, Sinéad Moynihan’s Ireland, Migration and Return Migration examines the phenomenon of the “Returned Yank” in the cultural imagination. Taking as its point of departure The Quiet Man (1952), it provides a cultural history that charts the ways in which the Returned Yank indexes a set of recurring anxieties in Ireland from 1952 to the present. We spoke to Sinéad Moynihan to find out more about the book.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Ireland, Migration and Return Migration and what drew you to focus your research in this area?

My interest in the “Returned Yank” arises out of both scholarly and personal attachments. My previous book, “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2013) was interested in how unprecedented in-migration was negotiated in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years. A notable feature of this moment was the question of how many immigrants to Ireland were themselves Irish (i.e. returnees). Because the returnee is both an immigrant and of Irish descent, s/he came to occupy an interesting position in debates about immigration to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years. In the book, I discussed the significance of the “Returned Yank” in relation to Des Bishop’s stand-up comedy, the film The Nephew (dir. Eugene Brady, 1998) and Ronan Noone’s play The Blowin of Baile Gall (2002). It was while writing that book that I realised a full-length cultural history of the “Returned Yank” figure had not yet been written.

From a personal point of view, my maternal grandmother was a “Returned Yank.” Unfortunately, I never met her but reading, in particular, Edna O’Brien’s work did make me wonder about the many Irish women migrants who returned to Ireland to marry and have children, and how different their lives might have been had they stayed in the U.S.

This is the first full-length study of the “Returned Yank” figure, and return migration is quite an under-examined aspect of Irish diaspora studies. Why do you think these areas have been somewhat overlooked?

I think there are a couple of answers to that question. First, is that actual return migration to Ireland from the U.S. was low compared with other countries. One historian estimates that, between 1899 and 1924, only 9 percent of Irish emigrants returned from the U.S. to live in their homeland, compared with 14 percent of Germans, 15 percent of Scandinavians, 33 percent of Poles, 45 percent of Italians, 53 percent of Greeks and 87 percent of Russians (Wyman 16). Irish census figures taken since 1922 show that the only periods during which there was demonstrable return migration (from anywhere, not just the U.S.) were the 1970s and the Celtic Tiger years. Nonetheless, there has been scholarly work – mostly from an historical and/or sociological point of view – that studies this phenomenon.

But I was interested in the fact that, despite these low rates of actual return, the “Returned Yank” looms large in the cultural imagination. I would guess that for most Irish people older than maybe 40, the term is still quite a meaningful one, conjuring up a whole set of associations that have been amplified and reinforced by representations of the “Returned Yank” in literature and on film, especially (perhaps) The Quiet Man (dir. John Ford, 1952). Some of those associations? His/her largesse; nostalgia for an Ireland now gone; a vocabulary peppered with Americanisms (panty hose; pocketbooks); or, when framed in more negative terms, what Philip O’Leary sums up as “flashy clothes, conspicuous wealth, ignorance, bombast, and a distressing accent.”

The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes are two of the most well-known “Returned Yank” narratives. Besides these two, which of the novels or films you focused on during this research would you highlight as key in studying this figure in the cultural imagination and why?

The answer here has to be Edna O’Brien’s work! Before beginning this research project several years ago, I had read little of O’Brien’s work. Inspired by my colleague, Dr. Ellen McWilliams’s brilliant work on the novel, I began with The Light of Evening (2006) and worked backwards from there. I soon realised that the Irish woman, who returns to Ireland after living for several years in the U.S., marries and bears children, is a recurring character in O’Brien’s work, from Maura Neary Brady in The Country Girls (1960) to Dilly Macready in The Light of Evening. More often than not, return to Ireland in O’Brien’s fiction is, for those women characters, the forerunner to the infinite disappointments, challenges and struggles of married life and motherhood in Ireland. Numerous O’Brien Returned Yank women remember with nostalgia the fashionable clothing they wore in America, the parties they attended and the glamour of their lives. O’Brien’s interest in Returned Yank women is at least partly autobiographical: her mother was a Returned Yank. In the O’Brien papers held at Emory University, I came across an unpublished typescript of A Novel of Lena and Michael (c.1997), which described how Lena worked as a shopgirl in New York when, on what she intended to be a brief return visit to Ireland, she was strongly encouraged by her family to marry a well-heeled local man. (Lena and Michael were O’Brien’s parents’ actual names). The typescript was accompanied by a handwritten note from O’Brien: “A Novel of Lena/Michael (never written) Never will. Dec. 1st 1997.”

Could you tell us the story behind the image by David Creedon Photography which you chose for the cover of Ireland, Migration and Return Migration? What was the reason for this image being chosen?

I first became aware of David Creedon’s work when I heard Dr. Tina O’Toole of the University of Limerick mention his book of photographs, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed (2011) in a paper she delivered at the American Conference for Irish Studies at UCD in 2014. Tina was particularly interested in what the “American dress” signifies and she showed a very evocative image of such a dress from Ghosts of the Faithful Departed. When I bought the book myself, I came across an image called “The Return,” featuring a trunk belonging to Mary Sullivan, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1930 and returned 19 years later. I thought it would be the perfect cover image for the book because the trunk looms large in depictions of the Returned Yank.

I particularly liked that it showed labels and stickers, as these minutiae are often invested with deep significance in Returned Yank narratives. “Lemonade,” for example, is a short story in which a young girl is preparing to move from the U.S. back to Ireland with her parents (much like Lavin did in real life). Prior to their departure, the family has their neighbours around for a few drinks to bid them farewell. One nosy neighbour, Ma Spiddal, is trying to find out whether the family will be sailing in steerage or in first class by “gently, but persuasively, pushing apart the two big steamer trunks” to pore over the labels attached to them. In The Country Boy, Returned Yank Eddie and his wife, Julia, pay a visit to Eddie’s home place in Co. Mayo, bringing with them a large trunk bedecked with a “stateroom” sticker and an expensive camera. By the end of the play, however, it is revealed that the trunk is empty and the camera rented: they felt the need to put on a façade of prosperity and success for their relatives back in Ireland.

What are you going to be working on next?

I’m at the very (very!) early stages of a new project, provisionally entitled: “The View From the Kitchen”: Domestic Workers in American Literature, 1942-1974. Some readers will recognise that the title is taken from a Maeve Brennan short story that appeared in the New Yorker in 1953. With a focus on depictions of African American and white ethnic domestic workers, the project explicitly builds on my expertise in African American and Irish American literatures.

For more information on Ireland, Migration and Return Migration, please visit our website.

 

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Irish Studies, News

Moving Histories author Jennifer Redmond attends International Women’s Day event with the President of Ireland

On Friday 8th March 2019, Moving Histories author Jennifer Redmond was invited to an event with President Higgins to celebrate “Women In The Sciences” for International Women’s Day at Áras an Uachtaráin.

The reception at Áras an Uachtaráin aimed to apply the 2019 theme of  #BalanceforBetter to the realm of academia, highlighting the benefit of diversity in academic work and paying tribute to the work of Ireland’s female researchers. You can watch, listen to, or read President Higgins’ speech from the event on the President of Ireland website, as well as find out some more information about the event.

Below are some photos from Jennifer’s day which the team at Áras an Uachtaráin have kindly shared with us.

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Moving Histories explores the story of Irish female emigrants in Britain, from their working lives to their personal relationships. Using a wide range of sources, including some previously unavailable, this book offers a new appraisal of an important, but often forgotten, group of Irish migrants.

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For more information about Moving Histories, please visit the Liverpool University Press website.

 

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Art, Enlightenment, History, Irish Studies, Jewish Studies, Literature, Modern Languages, News, Poetry

International Women’s Day 2019

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we’ve curated a list of recent work by our brilliant female authors. Keep reading to find out more about some of the key titles by women from across our disciplines!

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Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement by Naomi Seidman

Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov movement she founded represent a revolution in the name of tradition in interwar Poland. The new type of Jewishly educated woman the movement created was a major innovation in a culture hostile to female initiative. Naomi Seidman provides a vivid portrait of Schenirer that dispels many myths.

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Moving Histories by Jennifer Redmond

Moving Histories explores the story of Irish female emigrants in Britain, from their working lives to their personal relationships. Using a wide range of sources, including some previously unavailable, Jennifer Redmond’s book offers a new appraisal of an important, but often forgotten, group of Irish migrants.

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Middlebrow Matters by Diana Holmes

Middlebrow Matters is the first book to study the middlebrow novel in France. It asks what middlebrow means, and applies the term positively to explore the ‘poetics’ of the types of novel that have attracted ‘ordinary’ fiction readers – in their majority female – since the end of the 19th century.

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Chronicle of Constantine Manasses by Linda Yuretich

Linda Yuretich translates the mid-12th-century Synopsis Chronike by Constantine Manasses, covering a history of the peoples of the East, Alexander the Great’s conquests, the Hellenistic empires, the Trojan War and early empire until the reigns of Constantine I in the East, finally focusing on New Rome and its emperors.

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Tyranny and Usurpation by Doyeeta Majumder

Doyeeta Majumder investigates the political, legal, historical circumstances under which the ‘tyrant’ of early Tudor drama becomes conflated with the ‘usurper-tyrant’ of the commercial theatres of London, and how the usurpation plot emerges as one of the central preoccupations of early modern drama.

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The Unfinished Revolution by Karen Salt

In The Unfinished Revolution, Karen Salt examines post-revolutionary (and contemporary) sovereignty in Haiti, noting the many international responses to the arrival of a nation born from blood, fire and revolution. Using blackness as a lens, Salt charts the impact of Haiti’s sovereignty—and its blackness—in the Atlantic world.

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Wolfe Tone by Marianne Elliott

The paperback version of the second edition of Marianne Elliott’s award-winning and highly acclaimed biography of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-98), the founder of Irish Republican nationalism, published earlier this month. Elliott has updated the work with new scholarship, new historical insights and fresh insights, making it a crucial publication for all scholars and readers of Irish history.

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A Scientific Companion to Robert Frost by Virginia Smith

Virginia Smith’s A Scientific Companion to Robert Frost, represents the first systematic attempt to catalogue and explain all of the references to science and natural history in Frost’s published poetry.

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Les Lumières catholiques et le roman français by Isabelle Tremblay

A pious expedient between philosophy and anti-philosophy can be found in some eighteenth-century novels. The collected essays in this volume edited by Isabelle Tremblay study how French novels of the Catholic Enlightenment contributed to the great debates of the eighteenth century and to the transmission of ideas. They also aim to restore those novels to the literary constellation of the age.

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Pavilion Poetry

Pavilion Poetry is Liverpool University Press’ poetry imprint which so far is made up of entirely female poets. In April, the next set of collections will be publishing – Hand Over Mouth Music by Janette Ayachi, Dear Big Gods by Mona Arshi, and The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes by Lieke Marsman, translated by Sophie Collins.

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Writers and their Work

To further celebrate female authors, we’ve curated a collection of  books in our Writers and their Work series which are written either by a female author, or have a female as their subject. View the collection on our website.

 

For more information about any of the above books, please visit the Liverpool University Press website.

 

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Irish Studies

Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland – In Conversation with Ciarán McCabe

Beggars and begging were ubiquitous features of pre-Famine Irish society, yet have gone largely unexamined by historians. Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland explores for the first time the complex cultures of mendicancy, as well as how wider societal perceptions of and responses to begging were framed by social class, gender and religion. The book has recently been unlatched by Knowledge Unlatched, and the ebook can now be accessed for free. We spoke to author Ciarán McCabe about this recent publication.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

I have been interested in the history of poverty and welfare for a number of years, and the topics of begging and vagrancy kept coming up in the sources, but there was no substantial study of them. I think I was initially attracted by the language used by contemporaries to describe “study beggars and idle vagrants”! The sheer ubiquity of beggars in the pre-Famine period was fascinating to me: they were everywhere and constant. They were found in large numbers in both urban and rural areas, and they were inevitably commented on by foreign travellers, albeit with some literary gloss sometimes applied to their account!

When researching this topic during my PhD at Maynooth University, I decided to explore how charitable societies, civil parish bodies and the various churches dealt with mendicancy. And this facilitated the approach I have taken in Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland, wherein I consider societal perceptions of beggars and begging, and then responses to the problem  – (begging was usually seen as a problem!). I also consider the other side of the giver / receiver exchange, and explore the motivations and experience of alms-givers.

The book explores different ways in which beggars were seen: as spreaders of disease; as work-shy idlers; as conveyors of gossip and political sedition; as a drain on the benevolence and Christian generosity of a mostly impoverished population. But, they could also be seen as engaged in a perfectly legitimate, fundamentally human act: asking assistance of one’s fellow man. When factors such as gender, social class and religious background are considered, it becomes a fascinating, yet complex, topic.

In a nutshell, Chapters 1-3 consider the broad topic of mendicancy: how can we define who was a beggar and what was begging; how and why were many contemporaries so eager to enumerate the numbers of people begging; and the disparate ways in which beggars were perceived.

Chapter 4 explores the short-lived mendicity society movement (there were more than fifty anti-begging societies established throughout Ireland between 1809 and 1845), while Chapter 5 looks at how parish vestries regulated begging through a badging / licencing system.

Chapters 6 and 7 respectively examine Catholic and Protestant approaches to mendicancy and discuss differences and similarities in perceptions and responses.

You highlight the lack of historical study into begging in pre-Famine Irish society. Why do you think this topic has been somewhat overlooked?

I think that the seeming lack of sources – especially sources from the perspective of the soliciting beggar – did not lend itself to considerable attention from scholars. I trawled through archives and libraries throughout Ireland and Britain finding material relating to begging and beggars in Ireland, and in some cases came upon sources which had not been used before, while in other cases, I asked new questions of well-worn sources.

The historian Caitriona Clear has written about beggars and vagrants as having “at best, a walk-on part in Irish history”, which I think is perfectly accurate. In social historians’ studies of the pre-Famine period beggars are usually mentioned, but have been left as ubiquitous, yet not terribly important, figures. My book broadens out the question beyond just the people engaged in begging and considers the practice of begging itself, as well as the significance that begging played in wider social and political reforms, such as the introduction of the Poor Law into Ireland in the late-1830s. But also, it looks at how a study of mendicancy informs changes in other developments within Irish society – the evolving experiences of poverty and welfare; the emergence of statistical and social inquiry in the early- to mid-nineteenth century; societal responses to disease epidemics; the changing function of the parish vestry as a unit of local government.

How does this volume pave the way for future research on the topic?

Among the topics I explore is the changing role of the civil parish vestry as a local government entity and a provider of social services, such as the care of orphans and deserted children, the provision of coffins to poor parishioners and the regulation of begging through a badging system. The parish gradually lost these powers throughout the mid-nineteenth century and this loss, I think, represents a substantial change in community power-brokering and interdenominational relations, especially in urban parishes, which is a much-neglected subject.

My book also makes considerable use of the published reports of the Whately Poor Inquiry, which sat between 1833-36 and examined in considerable detail the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland a decade before the Famine; their final output comprised more than 5,000 pages of reports. While numerous historians have made great use of the Whately Inquiry material, I still found new questions to ask of the sources. I think that the inquiry’s reports are wonderful sources that other scholars can return to as well, bringing new interests and asking new research questions.

The book uses a range of sources including case studies. Are there any sources which particularly stood out to you which you could discuss further with us?

The most enjoyable sources to work with were ones which opened up new perspectives on the history of begging, vagrancy and the relief of the poor. I started my research by considering these topics within the broader history of criminality, but the research evolved away from this angle and towards considering the responses of charities and churches. As such, it became a study of begging and alms-giving within the wider sphere of charity. The sources which facilitated this approach included Presbyterian kirk session minute books, the manuscript records of the Methodist-run Strangers’ Friend Society, the Society of Friends’ monthly meeting minute books and, for a Dublin case study, the papers of Archbishop Daniel Murray, who served as the Catholic archbishop of Dublin between 1823 and 1852.

Most interesting of all, though, were the vestry minute books of parishes from across Ireland. With some exceptions, these were all consulted in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin. The parish vestry was a gathering of (male) householders in a parish, to consider the levying of local rates (a parish cess) to fund particular items of expenditure for the coming year. The minutes reveal that, from the 17th into the 19th centuries, parishes’ role was not limited to ecclesiastical matters, but extended into social matters – for example, the support of foundlings, orphans, widows and, in some fascinating instances, the operation of a system of licenced begging. Local ‘deserving’ beggars, who were known to the authorities, were issued with copper or tin badges, which served as a licence to solicit alms in a public place. The beggar who did not possess a badge could, therefore, be labelled ‘undeserving’ and duly refused alms. The parish vestry minute books are a much underused body of sources for Irish social history tell us much about the public operation of power and community tensions, as well as attitudes towards poverty and welfare, in this period. I was fortunate in being pointed in the direction of the vestry minute books by the late Dr Caroline Gallagher of Maynooth University.

As valuable as the vestry minute books are, they are best considered alongside contemporary newspaper reports of the annual Easter vestry meetings. These reports, especially for parishes in large urban centres such as Dublin and Cork, reveal much more about these meetings than the administrative records. Journalists’ accounts reveal to us the debates, arguments and (occasional) boisterousness which went unrecorded in the minute books.

What are you going to be working on next?

At the moment I am a postdoctoral research fellow at University College Dublin, funded by the Irish Research Council’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme. My project examines the survival strategies of working-class women in Dublin city between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, and is associated with Dublin City Council and its new museum at 14 Henrietta Street. Among the topics I am exploring are the position of charwomen in Dublin’s unskilled labour force, women’s use of pawnshops, Dublin’s second-hand clothes markets, and the social and cultural relevance of the ubiquitous ‘open front door’ in the city’s tenements.

Visit our website for more information on Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland or to read the ebook for free.

 

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Irish Studies

Artistic works inspired by the Great Famine struggle to do it justice, but they keep the memory alive

This piece was originally published on The Conversation.

How do you represent in film an experience as keen and painful as hunger? Director Lance Daly’s recently released film Black ‘47 – a revenge epic set during the 1840s Irish famine – is the latest attempt to depict the devastating catastrophe which left more than a million dead in Ireland in one of the worst episodes of human suffering in the 19th century. The famine’s legacy is profound: today Ireland remains the only European country with a smaller population than in the 1800s.

Robert Fripp’s ‘An Irish Peasant and her Child’, a saccharine portrait of curiously well-fed looking victims of the famine. Robert Fripp/Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum

Yet the problem of how (and whether) to convey the horrors of the famine in visual art perplexed artists of the period. There were few conventions in Victorian art practice to represent the starving human body in extremis. More commonly, paintings of the famine reverted to saccharine images of noble peasants at the mercy of external forces, or caricatures of Irish indolence and fecklessness, or simply ignored the crisis altogether, since it didn’t accord with the values or interests espoused by academic painting.

Illustrated journalism – which was in its infancy, with the Illustrated London News founded only in 1842 – fared somewhat better. Many of the best-known depictions of the famine are from journalistic coverage of the crisis, such as the sketch of Bridget O’Donnel and Children from the Illustrated London News, December 22 1849. Black ‘47 makes ample use of this source material, with its opening sequences explicitly mimicking the monochrome palette of 1840s wood engraving.

 

The sketch accompanying the story of Bridget O’Donnel in the Illustrated London News has become one of the best-known depictions of the famine. Illustrated London News

But newspaper coverage was uneven, as what they published was also constrained by their perception of what readers would tolerate. Although frequently based on eyewitness accounts, newspaper images generally pale in comparison with the words that accompany them: too shocking an image and the viewer would quickly turn the page.

Did a silence descend upon Britain and Ireland on the subject in the aftermath of the famine? Has it really remained an unspoken horror left in the past? Recent research on the visual and textual representation of the famine challenges this broad view. Today scholars of “famine memory” seek to more closely observe when, and crucially why, the famine emerges or shifts as a subject of representation. Far from being an unrepresentable event, the memory of the famine has assumed a wide array of visual and textual forms from the 19th century to the present. These include popular and literary fiction, drama, political rhetoric, print and painted depictions, photography and film.

Touted as the “first famine film”, Black ’47 is intriguing example of the genre, but not the first. That distinction belongs to the silent film Knocknagow (1918), the first feature entirely shot and produced in Ireland by the Film Company of Ireland, set loosely during the famine period and based on the popular 1873 novel by Charles Kickham.

With a sentimental and convoluted storyline combining star-crossed lovers, forced emigration, an absentee landlord and a rapacious land agent, and with a dramatic centrepiece scene depicting an eviction, Knocknagow drew upon stock characters and vignettes with broad appeal to the anticipated (largely American) audience. It used a repertoire of images of famine and eviction well known to contemporary audiences through their repetition in decades of painting, engraving and in popular fiction.

Black ’47 adopts many of these same elements, but its dramatic action is situated in the genre of the revenge western (a kind of O’Django Unchained), and it offers a far more sophisticated telling of a familiar story. For example, the targets of its central character’s fury range from the indifferent landlord, a frequent villain in 19th and 20th-century famine fiction, to the gombeen-man, a complex figure who exploited the suffering of his own people (and in the film, his own family).

During the 150th anniversary of the famine in the 1990s, hundreds of public memorials were constructed across Ireland and in the new homelands of the expansive Irish diaspora, something I discuss in my book Commemorating the Irish Famine: Memory and the Monument. Public interest shows no sign of waning since: new memorials are planned, from Glasgow to San Francisco, and the Irish government has adopted an annual National Day of Famine Commemoration. Nevertheless, all representations of the famine respond to pre-existing literary or visual traditions, are crafted to appeal to specific viewers, and stem from a range of political and social motivations. As such, any image of the famine is a complex artefact of its own time and place, not merely an illustration or reflection of historical experience or collective cultural memory.

Since the 19th century people have questioned whether the famine is a suitable subject for creative reinterpretation. Howls of outrage greeted news of Hugh Travers’ “famine sitcom” pilot commissioned by Channel 4 in 2015, a project eventually abandoned. But the famine should not be considered any kind of sacred cow: this has certainly never been the case historically. As the genealogy of its depiction shows us – from The Black Prophet by William Carleton, writing at the time of the famine, to Black ’47 today, the seismic shock of the famine has continued to haunt all subsequent generations, each seeking forms of comprehension and meaning.

As Walter Benjamin observed: “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognise ‘how it really was’. It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” The making, and remaking, of the famine will recur so long as its memory unsettles us.

Emily Mark-FitzGerald is Associate Professor in the School of Art History and Cultural Policy, University College Dublin and is the author of: Commemorating the Irish Famine: Memory and the Monument.

 

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