Showing posts with label dealing with the past. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dealing with the past. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Museum of Free Derry Needs to Keep the Names Up

The Museum of Free Derry has recently drawn fire from all sides for an exhibit that lists the names of all those killed in the area during the early Troubles.  On one hand, relatives of RUC officers killed during the Troubles "find it disgraceful" that their loved ones are identified in a space they consider a bastion of republicanism and which supports "terrorism."  On the other hand, some relatives of Bloody Sunday victims and others object to the full display of names of those killed on the grounds that it shows "complete disrespect for those on the list that have been murdered by the establishment" by having members of "the establishment" listed alongside the Bloody Sunday dead and other victims of state violence.  While the exhibit has been up for a decade, it has received attention recently because of the reopening of the museum after renovations.

I was so glad that the Museum of Free Derry received £2.4m to fund renovations and an extension for the simple reason that it does the best job in the city, really in the North (and for that matter on the entire island of Ireland,) of presenting the history of the civil rights movement and the early Troubles.  As an historian of Derry, I've been impressed by MoFD because it has struggled and persevered under the kinds of strains and challenges that would have sunk a less sturdy instituion and would have ripped apart less stalwart organizers.  

During the Troubles, the Bloody Sunday Trust maintained a countermemory, a version of the past diamterically opposed to the official version proclaimed by the Widgery Tribunal and adopted by the Northern State and mainstream press that blamed the victims of Bloody Sunday for state violence that killed 13 unarmed civil rights protestors.  It was not until the Good Friday Agreement authorized a new inquiry that the version of events almost unanimously held by Catholic nationalists in Derry and Northern Ireland (not to mention the Republic) was considered, evidence weighed.  (Lots of evidence -- the inquiry took 12 years, considered 20 million pages of testimony and produced a 5000 page report.)

From 1972 until 2010, when the British government apologized for Bloody Sunday calling it unjustified and unjustifiable, families of the victims, civil rights activists, scholars and republicans joined together to commemorate Bloody Sunday, to remember the victims, to bring the truth to light. It was an act of defiance -- standing up for truth.

It was out of this movement that the Museum of Free Derry came into being.  It started as all good things in Derry start, a DIY affair with a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, laughter and passion.  It started also with the need to create an archive.  Derry needed a repository, a safe place to hold and keep artifacts related to the civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday and the Troubles.  Nationalist Derry also needed a space to tell its story, a story that was discredited and oversimplified for so long.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

LIve on Grundy CountyTV with my Students

This was a really fun TV appearance with three of my best and most delightful students. There is so much I could say here about our Highlander efforts and about how hard these students work, but you should just watch the segment:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Erasing Labor Day?

A friend of mine posted this picture yesterday:

She took it at her dry cleaners.  It led to a very funny thread on her Facebook wall:

"Someone might need a tutorial on holidays?"

"Police?  Well, they are usually unionized, right?"

"Union organizers! They keep us strong and free."

"My shop steward definitely keeps me safe from management."

And it went on from there.  One person made the case that the dry cleaners' experience was directly connected to the events at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York and  made them, possibly, more amenable to learning the stories of America's labor organizing histories. "History is a weapon."


Several people mentioned American flags flying everywhere in honor of Labor Day.  Here in Tennessee, college classes ran on schedule and even the campus post office was open for half the day.

Labor Day seemed a non-event.

Are we erasing Labor Day from our national commemorative calendar?  Are we in danger of forgetting the importance of organized labor to our history?

It is a distinct possibility.

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.



Monday, March 28, 2016

1916: The Centenary of the Easter Rising

It is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  Events throughout the week, indeed throughout the year, are scheduled in Dublin.  It is an interesting moment of looking back and looking forward, as commemorations generally tend to be.  I, for one, think the Republic has only healed from its turbulent history in the wake of the Northern Ireland peace process.  Until then, there were still schisms and wounds.  What kind of nation is Ireland and what kind of nation will it be?  The centenary of the Rising is a good time to ask these questions, a good time to transcend post-colonial collective traumas and still, to carry the lessons of the past to continue to construct a democratic, progressive, welcoming nation that puts the wellbeing of its citizens before everything else.





At about 11:00 am on Easter Monday, 100 years ago today, the Irish Volunteers, along with the Irish Citizen Army, assembled at various prearranged meeting points in Dublin, and before noon ambushed and occupied seats of British and Ascendancy power in the city. These had been selected to command the main routes into the capital, and also because of their strategic position in relation to the major military barracks. They included the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacob’s Factory, Boland’s Bakery, the South Dublin Union, St. Stephen’s Green and later the College of Surgeons. The properties targeted were taken virtually without resistance and immediately the rebels set about making them defensible. The GPO was the nerve centre of the rebellion. It served as the rebels’ headquarters and the seat of the provisional government which they declared.”  

Here is an image of the General Post Office during the Rising: 




The rising was crushed almost immediately, its leaders executed and imprisoned.  All over Britain, and indeed in Ireland itself, the events were mocked and trivialized.  The Manchester Guardian  had this to say 100 years ago: “It is the nature of a riot rather than a rising,”  dubbing it “a show – for it cannot be regarded as more than this – of rebellion”.  Today, historians still consider the rebellion a failure, but the harsh and merciless treatment of its leaders by British forces changed public opinion and laid the foundation for a protracted war of independence --- Ireland's fight for sovereignty was the first crack in the facade of  Empire.

William Butler Yeats, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865, the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. Deeply involved in politics in Ireland, he wrote numerous poems like this one, giving voice to the struggles and price of Irish independence, the yearning and doubt so much a part of the movement.


I’ve only included about half this poem but you can find it in its entirety by clicking here 

Easter 1916 
W. B. Yeats


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terribly beauty is born…

…Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.