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.