Showing posts with label Northern Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Northern Ireland. Show all posts

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bishop Edward Daly, 1933-2016: May You Find Your Own Heart's Ease, Bishop Daly

Bishop Edward Daly passed away today. He leaves behind a lifetime's commitment to his corner of the world and a faith that expressed itself in innumerable ways.

Priest, bishop, historian, author, writer, archivist,  performance director, radio and television producer, hospice chaplain, brother, friend. He was so many things.

Most of all, he was a decent and a good man.



Thursday, July 21, 2016

Since when were the Gardaí on the other side of the Northern Ireland conflict?

Today, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience announced its grant awards for 2016.



Photo courtesy of SHOUT
One grant was awarded to an organization called  Diversity Challenges, whose mission is "to assist culturally specific groups in integrating community relations principles and considerations within all aspects of their work."

(No, I don't actually know what that means either.)

According to the Sites of Conscience the grant will fund “Voices from the Vault,” a project that collects stories from former police officers in two police forces on either side of the (Northern Ireland) conflict. The work is groundbreaking in the sense that it is uncommon for state agents in any dispute to talk about their experiences."

Ummmm, what?

As a public historian, I tend to dismiss academics who get petty about semantics.  They always seem to have an air of the kid in the front of the room just dying to get the answer right. (The kid waving their hand in the air so hard you think they might pee themselves.)


As an historian of Northern Ireland, though, this term "on both sides of the conflict" jarred.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Low Voter Turnout in Derry Dishonors the Past


According to Northern Ireland elections statistics, only 56% of registered voters in the Foyle District turned out to vote in last month's elections. As an historian of Derry, this breaks my heart a little.

Look at the photo to the left.  Those are real people.  Historical figures, some of them, like Eddie McAteer and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Civil rights steward Vinnie Coyle.  Others, probably, not known to me.  And then the faces of the young, the hopeful, the indignant, the worried.  The faces of the civil rights movement.  


Which -- of course -- was in large part a movement for for the right for every adult citizen to have a vote.



Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paddy "Bogside" Doherty, 1926 - 2016

And another legend passes. 

Paddy Doherty had not been well for the past several years, but it was still hard to hear that he passed away on the 7th January, 2016.  Touted as the face of the civil rights movement in Derry, he was a legend.  He was a firebrand and an ideas man and a figure of controversy.  He was a neighbor, a friend, a husband, the patriarch of his clan.


Derry Journal 1/8/16
Paddy Doherty was also a plodder -- in the best possible way.  Long after the civil rights movement ended, throughout the Troubles and into the post-conflict era, Doherty slogged through the difficult tasks of raising money, cajoling politicians, courting the press in order to create jobs and trying to make Derry a livable city that could retain its young people without losing its soul.  Development inside the walled city and the Foyleside Shopping Center owe their existence in no small part to Doherty.

Doherty is not the first of his generation to pass.   Solicitor Claude Wilton, of ' Say nahing de ye see Claude' fame died in 2008.  Photographer Larry Doherty, responsible for capturing on film some of the most iconic images of the early Troubles, died last year.  Others have passed and more will follow.


It is too soon, perhaps, to say how they will be, or indeed, should be, remembered.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.


According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are artifacts of the ancient bonfires lit to celebrate Lúnasa, the harvest "festival of light." December would see Lundy's effigy burn.  


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Depression Under the Sofa: Trauma, Post-Memory and Antidepressants in Northern Ireland


Prescription records in the United Kingdom were released recently by the Health and Social Care Board. Much has been made of the rates at which  antidepressants are prescribed in Northern Ireland -- at  two 
and a half times more than in England, it turns out that the Northern Irish are being medicated to address anxiety and 
depression more often than in almost any other region in the world.  

Journalists have been quick to make knee-jerk observations about use by patients who are too young to be directly affected by the Troubles.  "The disparity is so huge that it warrants closer examination," said Steven McCaffrey of The Detail.


The insinuation in both The Irish Times and the BBC is that the Health Service in Northern Ireland is over-prescribing.  

Health care professionals in Northern Ireland have noted for several years that patients who come to see a professional about mental health concerns tend to expect a prescription and are averse to alternative therapies.  There are good reasons for this.  A society that functioned on silences and secrets for over forty years might not race to embrace talking about and through complicated emotions.  A conservative society with a large rural population may not find holistic remedies or eastern mind-body-spirit practices welcoming. Prozac is far less invasive than a therapist, far less sweaty and well, compromising, than yoga. 


Those issues notwithstanding,  I see some good reasons antidepressant use may be up that have nothing to do with patients opting out of other therapies for mental ill health.  There may simply be more people seeking help.  Why?  Well, here's my take:
  • Post-memory
  • An acknowledgment of the psychological costs of dealing with the conflict  and post 'extreme-life' funk
  • A shift away from self-medication

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Seeing Through New Eyes?" Grappling with Identity/Identities

Is this a Derry granny?




Brought to you by British Telecom's "Portrait of a City,"an initiative designed to crowd-source community archives as part of the City of Culture events last year, this image of an older woman and sixteen children is one of eight photos that were enlarged last year, printed on heavy-duty tarp material and hung on the exterior wall of the Orchard Street entrance to the local shopping center, Foyleside.

It sits in the wall of the building just like a photo sits in a frame.

I took this photograph while going to catch a bus to visit my friend Bryonie, who is one of the most creative, effervescent and astute thinkers I know.

When it comes to thinking about Northern Ireland, I often get this Rumi quote in my head (I know, I know, the cliché of it all!!!!) "Out beyond right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I'll meet you there." I always think of Bryonie on that field.  Partly because she writes about landscapes and maybe because in my mind, a part of her own identity is intertwined with the fields of Leitrim.  Mostly because she doesn't just reject, she simply enters into, gently scrutinizes and then deconstructs prescriptive, rigid, essentialist thinking about the histories, cultures and cultural politics of this place.  All the dichotomies: them/us, north/south, Éire/UK, belonging/not belonging --- they lose resonance and are revealed as the caricatures they are.  But she does it in a way that also affords the processes of their very construction respect.  Like I said, formidable.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The City Revisited: A Re-photographic Study of Derry

A lot of really wonderful things happened in Derry, or Londonderry, (or Legenderry even,) last year when it became the first UK City of Culture.  For a small city, it's been big at attracting interesting and creative people; last year there was funding and impetus for people to continue and build on that tradition.

One of my favorite projects was created by two photographers, Andy Horsman and Paul McGuckin.  They rephotographed iconic Derry photos, many taken over 100 years ago.  Using a large format camera that would have been used to take the originals (5" x 4") they did some editing magic to knit the images together in surprising, poignant and occasionally haunting ways. You can check out their awesome blog to learn more about them, their technique and the evolution of the project. A montage of their work mashing up more contemporary cityscapes in Derry with scenes of the civil rights movement and the Troubles can be found here, at the BBC History website.

I didn't know about the pictures and so I discovered them serendipitously. Many of the images were hung, mural-like, in the space  I was exploring --- the most-dramatically changed aspect of Derry since my last visit: the site of the former Ebrington Barracks, which has been transformed into a public space that is commemorative in a deliberately pageantry-infused way. The longterm plan includes spaces for residential, commercial and cultural use.  It is connect by a pretty awe-inspiring suspension footbridge that links the city center to Ebrington.


Historians say the site at Ebrington was where King James II's troops were camped during the Siege of Derry (1688-'89.) Finding it a good site, it was used as a barracks from the mid-eighteenth century, mostly housing locally recruited regiments. It was a parade ground in the 1840s.  From 1939, it was a navy base until 1970, when British soldiers used it as their barracks during the Troubles until 2003.

As military history (like most history) is often divisive in the city, and because the River Foyle, which runs between Ebrington and the Guildhall, was long seen as a kind of dividing line between the cityside and the Waterside, Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist, this is symbolically a big step.  It's also an important public space.  Northern Ireland has historically had precious few of these.  Even before the Troubles raised fears of large gatherings, public spaces were limited in a congested city where order demanded that everything and everyone have a place.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Tale of Two Margos

On Saturday, my friend Holly and I went for a jaunt out to west Donegal.  We took the road from Derry, out to the Grianán fort, then stopped in Letterkenny for a bite to eat and a rummage through a local flea market.

This gave me a chance to think about Irish kitsch, how it speaks to a different history of material culture and what I want from it.  I shocked myself by picking up a series of objects that I do not think belong in my home, but which I couldn't bear to leave in the crates and boxes of the market.  They were very inexpensive.  I felt like I was rescuing them, whether they come home with me or I find homes for them elsewhere.


We got a little turned around in the Letterkenny suburbs, but eventually made our way from Kilmacrennan, to Glenveagh Natl. Park, through the Poisoned Glen and out to the Bloody Forelands and Gortahork via Gweedore.  (Or the Bloody Holiday Home Lands, depending on your cynicism.)

We drove the "Wild Atlantic Way" up to Falcarragh and Dunfanaghy, came down through Creeslough and back down to Letterkenny and Derry, which is just on the other side of Bridgend.
(I still can't help humming The Emigrant's Letter every time I am up in this country.  You can listen to it here.) It is cheesy.  I don't care.  I am not sure that you can understand the emigrant experience without occasionally inhabiting the emotional and sentimental cultural expressions that it birthed.  As much as there was opportunity, there was loss.

So, we covered a fair bit of ground.   Here's a map so you can see for yourself:




Ever since my first visit out to Gortahork, with the wonderful Irish historians Billy Kelly and Breandan Mac Suibhne in 1999, I have always tried to make at least one trip up there when I am in Derry.  In the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, it is a special place.  The quality of light, of air, of sky --- the softness that is insistent in spite of barren and desolate landscapes.....the history.  It is not my place, will never be my place.  Nevertheless, I see it as a pilgrimage of sorts.  A visit to the northwest without Gortahork and the Bloody Forelands  would feel incomplete.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Return to Sender: Lessons from Boston College' s Belfast Project


On Tuesday, May 6th, Boston College’s Director of Public Affairs, Jack Dunn, announced that ‘The Belfast Project” oral history initiative would honor all requests from participants to return recordings and transcripts of interviews not currently in use as evidence in the murder investigation of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972.  The college will keep no copies. The information in the interviews will remain known only to the interviewers, a few Boston College employees and William Young, a federal district court judge who read the transcripts to determine which ones should be delivered to Northern Irish authorities under a treaty governing exchanges of information between nations for the purposes of law enforcement. 

Boston College’s decision came on the heels of events last week, when the Police Service of Northern Ireland held Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams for questioning about his involvement in the McConville murder.   Evidence came directly from the Belfast Project interviews.  The move by the PSNI invited new scrutiny on an oral history project that has already been the focus of very public controversy, as Beth McMurtrie laid out in her detailed investigative piece published last January in The Chronicle of Higher Education

News that the recordings and transcripts would be returned was surely met with relief by former republican and loyalist combatants who had agreed to share their stories from the front lines of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, a thirty-year period of political turmoil and civil violence which left 3,700 people dead and approximately 10,000 injured.  Those interviewed had been promised confidentiality in exchange for honesty.  Interviewees revealed information about activities “the dogs on the street” may have known about, but which were rarely discussed on the record.  

For Anthony McIntyre, the former republican prisoner and scholar who conducted interviews with fellow ex-combatants, the public announcement was a “symbolic washing of the hands” on the part of Boston College, a way to distance itself from criticism emerging about the project.  While not pleased at being cast adrift by college administrators, McIntyre and others closely associated with the project agree that the information on the recordings was not safeguarded well.

While the case has implications for a wide scope of scholarly research, oral historians in particular have been watching the situation closely since 2011, when information from the interviews was first subpoenaed on the basis of material that project co-director, journalist Ed Moloney, included in his book Voices from the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland  Moloney’s use of interviews by former IRA Belfast Brigade commander Brendan Hughes was in accordance with contracts signed by each interviewee forbidding access to interviews until after a participant’s death.  Hughes died in 2008; however, many of the people he discussed on the record remained very much alive.

An increasingly public and vitriolic disagreement has taken place about who is to blame for the exposure of paramilitary secrets, heating up over the past week when Northern Ireland’s republican community reacted to Adams’ arrest.  They slammed the Belfast Project as a vehicle for former republicans disgruntled by the way the peace process unfolded to air dirty laundry, lionize themselves and castigate their enemies within the movement. McIntyre has long been a vocal opponent of both Gerry Adams and post-1998 republicanism, fueling these suspicions. 

The project director, Moloney, and interviewers, McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, who have no professional experience with higher education institutions, say they took Boston College at its word that the material would remain confidential.  They believed the college would be an honest broker and that BC’s Burns Library Special Collections would not only process, catalogue and preserve the collection, but would keep the information it contained confidential.  College spokespeople say that project directors knew from the start that the information would only be protected as “far as American law will allow” and that Bob O’Neill, head of the Burns Library, specifically indicated that it was not clear the commitment to protect the information could withstand a federal court subpoena. 

The question remains: What can oral and public historians engaged in collecting and interpreting histories about controversial, divisive and difficult issues and events learn from the Belfast Project and its fallout? 

First, if you are serious about collecting and archiving sensitive historical material, put your publishing ambitions aside for the time being.  Ed Moloney’s use of information
provided in Hughes’ interview and his discussion about it it with a Boston Globe reporter in 2010 (Thomas Gagen, “Adams’ Secret, Now His Shame,” The Boston Globe, January  07, 2010) opened up this can of worms. 

Next, when addressing controversial histories, it is even more important to remember that interviews are not objective, disinterested, or omniscient sources.  We all know this, but in this case, the media keeps forgetting it.  Obsession with “what is on the tapes” obscures the larger issues around collecting histories in conflict and recent post-conflict zones, let alone the interpretative challenges of working with oral testimony. 

Third, in cases like this one, the institutional review board (IRB) is your friend.  Establishing protocols and taking the necessary precautions to locate control of materials with the interviewees, instead of with the institutions, probably would have made a difference in this case, where interviewees didn’t have final say on edits, redactions, deletions, pseudonyms or anonymity, etc.  They talked, and that was that.  Getting involved with high-stakes history means taking seriously that, well, the stakes are high.

Finally, the critical lesson I take away from this is an affirmation of our priorities as public and oral historians: Trust matters.  So does process.  All the players in the Boston College case got involved for different reasons and wanted different things from the project.  Understanding and identifying partners’ motivations is a necessary prerequisite for endeavors like this.  It is only through this process that those involved can gain a clear understanding of the stakes involved and the breaking point at which commitment to the project and to the relationships that sustain it might falter.  As this case proves, sharing authority is no simple proposition and the tools required to do with integrity are not reflexive or intuitive.  The fragile and failed relationships between project administrators, researchers and interviewees in this case should be a cautionary tale for us all.


Monday, May 5, 2014

The Politics of Remembrance in Northern Ireland

I have been thinking about the Troubles for fifteen years,  researching and trying to tell  histories of nationalists in Derry, Northern Ireland for ten.   As a result, many people have asked me what I think of the the recent news cycle, featuring Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams, murdered Belfast widow Jean McConville and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.   

My response has been a vague, "I think it's complicated."  There has been a rash of whataboutery out there, to which I am loathe to add even a syllable ( -- from Martin McGuinness's comment about the "dark forces" in the PSNI,  Northern Ireland's police force to the lachrymose recapitulations of the abduction and murder of McConville, a widowed mother of 10 accused of passing information to the British army whose body was missing until 2003 -- that sounds like "republicans are all evil" masquerading as sympathy for McConville's children.)


  There has also been intelligent and thoughtful discussion -- if you are interested in learning more or trying to understand issues of memory, victimhood and the Troubles, I recommend  Susan McKay's piece in The Guardian and Brian Walker's short op-ed on the Slugger O'Toole online journal.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Naming the Butterflies: On Discomfort Zones

I am generally blithely unaware of how much time I spend smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone.  People I know.  Places I know.  Experiences I know.

I tiptoe to the edges of it from time to time.  Get lost on purpose.  Walk into a room filled with strangers.  Teach unfamiliar material.  Add a new tool to my digital toolkit.  Ask a new question.  Sit with a new answer. Stretch. I even occasionally wear yellow.

Most of the time, I am comfortable. Even, dare I say it, staid.

But I study and write about Derry, Northern Ireland, a place far from home.  Its culture has been shaped by a history I have come to understand something of -- it often feels just enough to illuminate all that I do not and cannot claim to know.  Derry is simultaneously deeply familiar and quite literally foreign.

Photo by Marty McColgan
People say, "But, you're an historian of Derry.  You've spent years there. You love it. Plus, you are Irish-American and Ireland is really just the 51st state, perched off the Maine coast. You have a Ph.D. based on Derry's history. Surely you are comfortable there."