Bear in mind these dead…

As Ryan Gawn points out in his recent article, Still shackled by the Past-Truth and Recovery in Northern Ireland, one thing the Belfast Agreement held at arms length was the past, and how to deal with it. The only thing many share in common, is their individual trauma. He concludes: “…despite the efforts of governments and civil society, the process of dealing with Northern Ireland’s past can been seen to be as fraught, haphazard, political and painful as countless other examples around the world. Northern Ireland also shows us that there is no easy-fix solution – reconciliation is a process and not an event, and assuming it is the latter will only serve to impede the former”.

Susan McKay in the Irish Times:

Wilfred Owen wrote of “the old lie” that it was a fine and honourable thing to die for one’s country. We still don’t agree the name of the country under whose earth most of our dead lie. Many were carelessly sacrificed. Some are remembered with great ceremony, claimed as part of a great tradition, their dead voices allegedly clamouring for freedom for Ireland or for the faith of their Ulster forefathers to be upheld.

Others are ostentatiously forgotten. The “Disappeared” lie in bleakly unknown graves. A Protestant farmer planted a rose bush on her land in Fermanagh to mark the place where the body of an alleged IRA informer was dumped.

Paradoxically, memorials force us to remember but at the same time lay the past to rest. Some people are preoccupied for now with trying to find out the truth, and new and painful information is emerging about many of the killings.

Some people feel it is too soon to put up monuments, when the earth has hardly settled on the graves. Decades had to pass and Kilmainham Gaol had to be practically derelict before it was possible to address its legacy. Some think we should forget, even obliterate, the past. Others, as Edna Longley once put it, “remember at”. They use their dead to accuse.

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  • miss fitz

    Thanks for linking back to my previous post on the call for ideas. One area I haven’t linked to before is the Bloomfield Report, ‘We Will Remember Them’.

    One other thing, the Healing Through Remembering Group have 5 sub-groups and one of them is dealing with the idea of commemoration and links of same. I imagine the report will be available before Christmas, and should provide a new and useful forum for ideas on this very vital subject.

    All societies emerging from conflict are forced to face dealing with the past. We are no different in that regard, and how we cope with that issue is how we will be judeged by future generations. Some societies repress thought, history or education on emerging from conflict and this only leads to the creation of a new sub text for future conflict.

    It is healthier to get it out in the open and look at the past, and try to formulate a way for the future through it.

    I am travelling to Berlin at the moment, and am hoping to look at some of the Memorial sites in Berlin and do a little research on how Germany has coped with the traumas of its past.

    I will send a postcard from Berlin!

  • missfitz

    Just another note, as I am barely awake!

    Susan McKay is right about Kilmainham, but wrong in other aspects. A cenotaph was erected outside Leinster House about a year after the Irish Civil War, so there is not as strong an argument for the idea that remembrance did not happen. Collins Memorial was also built in about 1924.

    The point that has to be teased out is when a joint commemorative process was able to happen in the ROI, and arguably this did not happen until the 1980’s.

    Similarly, here we have single identity memorials, and rightly so. Remembering the dead is ‘a moral act’ (Mary Robinson)

  • DK

    Are there any joint memorials – i.e. ones remembering active combatants of both sides rather than civilians only?

  • Greenflag

    ‘All societies emerging from conflict are forced to face dealing with the past. We are no different in that regard, and how we cope with that issue is how we will be judeged by future generations.’

    Future generations will judge this generation not by how we ‘remember’ the dead but by how we found a permanent political solution to the innate sectarian and politcally divided society of Northern Ireland . And on that note after 40 years of farting around by NI politicians I imagine that future ‘judgement’ will be less than complementary .

    Susan McKay is right .

    ‘Some societies repress thought, history or education on emerging from conflict and this only leads to the creation of a new sub text for future conflict.’

    True and probably a fair reflection on how NI society ended up with the present 1969 to ?? conflict .

    The fact that the ‘conflict’ in NI has gone on for now almost 40 years has just made ‘reconciliation’ more difficult . That and the fact that NI although one State is not one society at least not in the political and constitutional sense . The harsh fact of life which most people in NI don’t yet want to believe is that as a 6 county unit it never can be .

    I’m not suggesting that people on both sides of the divide cannot feel sympathy for the victims on the other side or rise above narrow sectarian feeling – Gordon Wilson comes to mind but that it will be a long long time and probably never when you see IRA veterans and UDA veterans standing at the same memorial .

  • barnshee

    GF
    “it will be a long long time probably never when you see IRA veterans and UDA veterans standing at the same memorial . ”

    Never –how would they sneak up and shoot who in the back ?