'A Race Bashed in the Face':
Imagining Ireland as a Damaged Child


Richard Haslam

St. Joseph's University, Pennsylvania

Copyright © 1999 by Richard Haslam, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S.Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. Thirty years ago, in his path-breaking book Anglo-Saxons and Celts, L.P. Curtis noted that there was a ‘striking parallel between the Anglo-Saxonists’ image of the Irish Celt in the later nineteenth century and the prevailing attitudes among middle and upper class males in Victorian England toward the two largest dependent and subordinate groups in the country, namely women and children’ (62). The political entailment of this image, Curtis argued, was that ‘the self-consciously mature and virile Anglo-Saxon had no intention of conferring his sophisticated institutions upon the child-like and feminine Irish Celt’ (62). In the ensuing decades, various scholars have built upon Curtis’s work, exploring the political and cultural effects of representing the Irish individually and collectively as feminine, and Irish feminist critics have cast a cold eye on the longstanding symbolic depiction of the country as a woman, a tradition (usually employed by male writers) that stretches from mythological tales of a sovereignty goddess to poems like Seamus Heaney’s ‘Act of Union’.[1]
  2. Because rather more attention has been paid to feminizing than infantilizing stereotypes of the Irish, I want in this essay to examine certain instances in post-independence Irish fiction, popular culture, and cultural theory in which a child implicitly or explicitly represents or is compared to Ireland.[2] Some verbal and visual representations of Irish people as childlike or childish, made in the period before Irish independence, will serve as a prelude. Mrs S.C. Hall was born and reared in Ireland, but moved to England in her teenage years; traveling through Ireland in the 1830s, she opined that the Irish were ‘the children of impulse: a single idea fixes itself upon their imagination and from that they act’ (cited in Curtis, 1968, 55). The grimmer repercussions of such conceptions of national character emerged in the years between 1845 and 1852, when a lethal combination of organic and political blight devastated the Irish population. In January 1846, in the opening phase of the Great Hunger, a contributor to the London Times warned his readers that the Irish people
    . . . in the mass, are almost uncivilized. Like children, they require governing with the hand of power. They require authority and will bear it. (Cited in Hazel Waters, 99)
    From the 1840s to the 1880s, this ideological stance also found visual form in illustrations by Sir John Tenniel and others for the British magazine Punch.

    Britain is depicted in its feminine aspect as the Athena-like Britannia (Figs. 1 and 4), and in its masculine aspect as the sometimes stern, sometimes avuncular John Bull (Figs. 2 and 3). The feminine aspect of Ireland is the delicate Hibernia, who needs the protection of her older, stronger sister (Fig. 1) or the medical advice of Dr. Bull (Fig. 3).[3] A revolting Land League ‘anarchist’ (Fig. 1) supplies one version of the masculine aspect of Ireland.[4] In two Tenniel cartoons from the 1860s, the masculinized emblematization of Ireland is infantilized (Figs. 3 and 4).[5] Rather than having (like Britain) two adult representatives, Ireland is here personified as both an adult woman and an unruly son. The child Ireland sometimes appears without his mother, as in a (non-Tenniel) 1851 cartoon that indirectly alludes to the Great Hunger and the Maynooth grants (Fig. 2).

  3. Such perspectives were still at work in the early twentieth century, in observations about the Irish made by travelers like Edith Balfour:
    They are like children still listening to old fairy stories while their bread has to be earned, they are like children who are afraid to walk alone, who play with fire, who are helpless; like children who will not grow up.

    But, like children too, they have a strange ancient wisdom and an innate purity, and they appeal to the love and the pity of all who come in contact with them.

    What would I not give . . . to help them? But the task is very difficult, and if you give children complete freedom they will certainly stray. (Cited in Curtis, 1968, 53)

    In 1914, Walter Long described the Irish as being ‘like naughty children’, who think ‘it is amusing to give way to their inclinations’, while in 1915, the Countess of Leitrim argued for compulsory recruitment of the Irish for the Great War, because in ‘so many ways they are like children & they don’t understand an invitation where they would quietly obey an order’ (both cited in Curtis, 1968, 54).
  4. However, Patrick Pearse and the other leaders of the Easter Rising radically reinterpreted this trope, when they declared in the 1916 ‘Proclamation of the Irish Republic’ that Ireland ‘through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom’. The leaders claimed that Ireland, who is ‘supported by her exiled children in America’, will as a republic cherish ‘all the children of the nation equally’, oblivious to ‘the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past’. They concluded that in ‘this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline, and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called’ (anthologized in Deane, 1991, III, 733-4). According to the Proclamation, Mother Ireland does not speak in her own voice, only ‘through’ her children. Thus, the children who summon and the children who are summoned must substitute for the mother: the children of the nation are also the children as the nation. In the following section, I want to examine several examples of post-independence Irish fiction that utilize this double perspective.
  5. James Plunkett’s short story ‘Weep For Our Pride’ (1955) is a vinegary vignette of post-independence Ireland. Its title is taken from ‘Lament for the Death of Eoghan Roe O’Neill’, Thomas Davis’s patriotic nineteenth-century ballad about a seventeenth-century Irish general. In the story, a class of schoolboys has been instructed by their teacher Mr. O’Rourke to memorize the ballad, which, as the narrator observes, ‘was very patriotic and dealt with the poisoning of Eoghan Roe by the accursed English…’ (40). However, the boys’ private feelings differ from those of their instructor: ‘The class hated the English for poisoning Eoghan Roe because the lines about it were so long’ (40). Peter Farrell has not learned the lines, having been distracted by a dispute with his mother and siblings, who insisted that, while Peter’s shoes were being resoled, he wear his father’s boots, despite their being too big for him. Although fearing ridicule, Peter reluctantly consented.
  6. Peter’s punishment for not knowing the lines from Davis’s poem is to receive ten blows from a leather strap wielded by O’Rourke, who also draws the class’s attention to Peter’s outsize boots. Persistently questioned about the boots by his fellow pupil Swaine, Peter eventually discloses their origin, but threatens Swaine with violence if he reveals the secret. In his commentary upon Davis’s poem, O’Rourke had referred to English ‘treachery’, but Peter experiences a complementary Irish betrayal when Swaine circulates his secret in the playground. Discovering that Peter attacked Swaine and broken his glasses, Brother Quinlan proceeds ‘to beat hell out of him [Peter], and charity and forbearance into him, in the same way as Mr O’Rourke earlier had hammered in patriotism and respect for Irish History’ (54). As Peter walks home after school, some of the boys make fun of his footwear, and he decides to drop the boots into the canal. He knows this action will increase the paternal beating he is already destined to receive, since Swaine’s parents will tell Peter’s parents about the broken glasses. The story’s closing lines encourage the reader to weep for Peter’s pride:
    Half regretfully he stared at the silty water. He could see his father rising from the table to reach for the belt which hung behind the door. The outlook was frightening; but it was better to walk in your bare feet. It was better to walk without shoes and barefooted than to walk without dignity. He took off his stockings and stuffed them into his pocket. His heart sank as he felt the cold wet mud of the path on his bare feet. (56)

  7. In Davis’s poem, the word ‘pride’ identifies O’Neill as Ireland’s pride and joy, rather than denoting a deadly sin; Plunkett’s story ironically disturbs the meaning of ‘pride’, so that Peter’s actions can be read as either foolishly proud or heroically defiant, or possibly both. In what way, then, might Peter be both a child of the nation and as the nation? While resisting the kind of mechanical allegoresis (or imposed allegorizing reading) that would collapse every aspect of a text into some political context, I want to suggest that the character of Peter may incorporate an allegorical dimension alluding to certain features of post-independence Ireland. For example, O’Rourke accuses Peter of preferring to spend time reading ‘English penny dreadful[s] about Public Schools or London crime’ rather than a poem ‘about the poor hunted martyrs and felons of your own unfortunate country by a patriot like Davis…’, and he claims that Peter has ‘the makings of a fine little Britisher’ (46). The implications of this taunt are clarified during the lunch-break, when Peter’s friend Dillon praises his classmate’s fortitude and then moves immediately from Peter’s particular plight to a general statement suggesting that Peter is a special representative of ‘the Irish race’:
    ‘The Irish’, he [Dillon] added sagaciously, ‘are an unfortunate bloody race. The father often says so.’

    ‘Don’t tell me’, Peter said with feeling.

    ‘I mean, look at us. First Cromwell knocks hell out of us for being too Irish and then Rorky slaughters us for not being Irish enough.’

    It was true. It was a pity they couldn’t make up their minds.’ (50)

    The free indirect discourse of the final two sentences blends the perspectives of Peter and the narrator, underlining the boy’s possible status as a nation-child. Through the story’s prominent use of Davis’s poem, the defeat of a seventeenth-century hero is refracted through the idealizing lens of nineteenth-century patriotism only to illuminate the operation of new forms of internalized oppression in the twentieth century. What Eoghan Roe suffered at the hands of the British, Peter now suffers at the hands of his own people. ‘Oliver Cromwell read his Bible while he quartered infants at their mother’s breasts’, claimed the teacher, but this imputed religious hypocrisy is recapitulated when O’Rourke pauses to lead the class in the Angelus prior to strapping Peter excessively. Brother Quinlan is infuriated by Swaine’s ‘battered’ face, but can’t recognize that ‘deep inside him Peter felt battered too’ (54). Peter’s shame, the violence he suffers, the violence he inflicts, and his subsequent attempt to regain dignity by rejecting his ill-fitting paternal inheritance, allude in part to the political and psychological difficulties of finding one’s own feet in a newly independent country.
  8. Roddy Doyle’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993), explores similar terrain, particularly in a scene which employs, like ‘Weep For Our Pride’, both a classroom setting and a comparison of temporal perspectives.[6] The novel, told from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy, is set in the mid-1960s. In the fiftieth anniversary year of the 1916 Rising, Paddy Clarke’s teacher, Miss Watkin, pins to the blackboard a tea-towel which bears the text of the Proclamation of Independence and pictures of the seven signatories (20). The passages from the Proclamation quoted are those (cited above) which refer to the children of the nation. Having read out the Proclamation once, Miss Watkin gets the boys to march in step beside their desks, while she reads it again. Paddy meanwhile whispers to his classmates that Thomas J. Clarke, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation, is his grandfather.
  9. A supposed friend announces this claim to the teacher, who interrogates Paddy about his grandfather. When he reveals that Granda Clarke lives in Clontarf, she points out that Thomas Clarke was executed in 1916. Paddy’s punishment for pretending lineage from a leader of the Rising is to receive six blows from the strap. By the end of the novel, Paddy’s situation is even more painful than that of Peter Farrell: his parents’ marriage has broken up, his schoolmates have boycotted him, and he has lost respect for his father. Paddy’s progression from idealism and high spirits to isolation and a wrenching, proto-adult awareness identify the distance traveled from the 1960s to the 1990s as much as from 1916 to 1966.[7] Although Doyle’s novel seems less allegorically freighted than Plunkett’s short story, the 1916 tea-towel scene and various allusions to Irish neutrality, modernization and urbanization, the encroaching of British and American culture and sports, and the Vietnam and Arab-Israeli conflicts, suggest that Doyle is sketching a portrait of a nation as well as of a boy. In this respect, Plunkett and Doyle are inheritors of the example that James Joyce provided in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the childhood stories from Dubliners (especially ‘Counterparts’).[8]
  10. The intersection of pedagogical violence and the child-nation motif also occurs in Bernard Mac Laverty’s novel Lamb (1980), which includes an allegorical dimension engaging with the IRA campaign of the 1970s in the North of Ireland. Sebastian, a Christian Brother, decides to rescue his young pupil, Owen Kane, from the harsh reform school where they both live, but his attempt at salvation disintegrates as he runs out of funds and ideas. Eventually, he persuades himself that euthanasia is the only loving solution for the plight of the epileptic boy, who faces a return to the authoritarian school regime. But, almost immediately after drowning Owen in the sea, Brother Sebastian experiences a dark epiphany:
    He had started with a pure loving simple ideal but it had gone foul on him, turned inevitably into something evil. It had been like this all his life, with the Brothers, with the very country he came from. (152)
    This observation on the last page of the novel harks back to its opening pages: discussing the Provisional IRA campaign with Brother Benedict (the vicious, supercilious head of the reform school), Brother Sebastian had argued that anger and hatred ‘spoil the purity of the [IRA’s] vision and the result is evil’ (9). In Mac Laverty’s fable, Owen Kane may to some degree stand in for the Northern Irish catholics, salvaged from one set of evil circumstances only to fall victim to another.[9]
  11. In William Trevor’s novel Fools of Fortune (1983), Imelda, the child of an Irish father and an English mother, is manifestly a symbolic victim of political violence. Her position is akin to that described by one of the characters in Mac Laverty’s novel Cal, who observes that Ireland is ‘like a child…only concerned with the past and the present’, while ‘the future has ceased to exist for it’ (118). From servants’ stories, eavesdropped conversations, and hidden newspaper clippings, young Imelda pieces together the puzzle of her father Willie’s disappearance and her mother Marianne’s grief. She discovers that before she was born most of Willie’s family had been killed by a British Black and Tan soldier during the 1919-21 War of Independence, that Willie later traveled to England and stabbed the soldier to death in revenge, and that he then fled into exile. However, young Imelda’s mind becomes unhinged as she imaginatively relives the frenzied violence of her family history. At the close of the novel, the now elderly Willie returns to Ireland to live with Marianne and their daughter. The quietly deranged Imelda is viewed by the local populace as ‘gifted’ and able to help the ‘afflicted’ (192). In ‘the idyll of their daughter’s crazy thought’, Willie and Marianne are young again and the burnt-out Big House is restored to its pristine state (192). Imelda’s dementia has become both the tragic inheritance of Irish history and a means of partially and imperfectly healing that history.[10]
  12. The novel spans the period 1918 to 1983, and at its close Imelda is middle-aged. However, the filmed adaptation of Fools of Fortune ends with Imelda still a child. Through her traumatized perspective, the audience witnesses the killing of Willie’s family and Willie’s bloody murder of the ex-Black and Tan; through her ultimately serene insanity, we see the house restored, and Willie and Marianne once more appear as untroubled teenagers in love. In the closing images of the film, the potential child-nation equation is illuminated by a succession of close-ups, in which Imelda’s calm face fills the screen. In cinematic terms, Imelda and the film’s audience experience the violence of the past as a series of traumatic flashbacks.[11] The memory of brutality is gradually retrieved and reassembled, in a manner that is treated as both dangerous and necessary.
  13. I want to turn now to a piece of Irish popular music that performs a variation on the process at work in the film of Trevor’s novel. The child-nation motif is as audible in Sinéad O’Connor’s powerful rap song ‘Famine’ (1994), as it is visible in Fools of Fortune. The song’s lyrics identify the Great Hunger of 1845-52 as a crucial determinant of contemporary Ireland.[12] In order to explain why she believes so many Irish people in the 1990s refuse to acknowledge the psychological legacy of the catastrophe, O’Connor provides the following simile:
    See we’re like a child that’s been battered
    Has to drive itself out of its head because it’s frightened
    Still feels all the painful feelings
    But they lose contact with the memory
    In Fools of Fortune, Imelda was not battered, but she was driven out of her head by the painful feelings suffered when she made contact with the memory of her parents’ experiences. In O’Connor’s scenario, on the other hand, the child has had to shield herself psychologically from her own battering. In several interviews, O’Connor has acknowledged personal reasons for being drawn to this analogy, specifically the various forms of abuse she suffered as a child from her mother.[13] The ultimate blame for her mother’s actions she lays at the feet of the Roman Catholic Church, as she obliquely indicated in a controversial appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, when she tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II (see Cullingford, 1994, 57-61).
  14. Extrapolating from her childhood experiences, O’Connor’s song ‘Famine’ blames both the Great Hunger and inaccurate accounts of it given by Ireland’s clergy-controlled educational system, for what she calls the country’s ‘massive self-destruction’, its high rates of child abuse, its alcoholism and drug addiction, and for the conflict in Northern Ireland. According to O’Connor, the Irish people were the ‘most child-like trusting people in the Universe’ in the days when they ‘used to worship God as a mother’, but in the wake of both catholicization and conquests and catastrophes inflicted by the British, they are now suffering from ‘POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER’ (her capitals).[14]
  15. Describing ‘the Irish / As a race like a child / That got itself bashed in the face’, she points out in the song’s chorus what she sees as the only solution to the problem:
    And if there ever is gonna be healing
    There has to be remembering
    And then grieving
    So that there then can be FORGIVING
    There has to be KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING
    [her capitals]
    In O’Connor’s conception, the nineteenth-century infantilizing trope has been reworked: the Irish ‘race’ is still like a child, but a child who has been abused, by the Roman Catholic Church, by the British, and then by Irish authority figures. The actors are virtually the same as in Fig. 4 (although the figure of Pope John Paul II would need to be added behind Britannia), but our sympathy is now requested for the child rather than the adults. Whereas some Irish feminist critics have tended to criticize the woman-nation equation, O’Connor reclaims the stereotype:
    I have a friend who I argue about with this. And I say to him, ‘I am Ireland’. I was born and live here. I’ve seeped in all these feelings that come from generations and generations. I watch what’s going on and I see how it mirrors what’s going on in my own life. I grew up in that house, which was Ireland. There were four children there. I feel a connection with the story of the Children of Lir, which also represent the four provinces of Ireland. (Waters, 1995, 1)
    Connor thus reads her personal history as an allegory of Ireland over the centuries, and vice-versa. Whereas the speaker in Eavan Boland’s poem ‘Mise Eire [I am Ireland]’ declares that she ‘won’t go back / My roots are brutal…’ (1995a, 102), O’Connor does go back, to Patrick Pearse’s poem ‘I am Ireland’ (anthologized in Deane, 1991, II, 558), and to the sovereignty goddess tradition that lies behind it. She represents herself as both mother Ireland and battered child Ireland. According to O’Connor, this is why the album that contains the song ‘Famine’ is called Universal Mother: ‘…I wanted to mother people. But essentially it’s about mothering myself’ (Waters, 1995a, 2). Ireland could thus be said to be her ‘inner child’.[15]
  16. Having examined some imaginings of the child-nation motif in the creative arts, I want to turn to its use in the area of cultural theory concerning Ireland. The thesis expressed in the lyrics of ‘Famine’ found favor with the Irish journalist and cultural commentator John Waters, who argued that the Great Hunger was ‘the most powerful metaphor of life in modern Ireland…present as a hidden motif in much of our literature and music, for all that the creators of these works may deny its legitimacy’ (1994b, 9). Shortly before conducting an interview with O’Connor, Waters published Race of Angels: Ireland and the Genesis of U2, a combination of rock and roll biography, cultural history, and autobiography, in which the band U2 are pronounced both atypical and typical manifestations of ‘the Irish mind’, a phrase employed repeatedly in the text. Waters’s stream of interviews, reminiscences and speculations is channeled through a combination of Freudianism and the post-colonial theory of Frantz Fanon and Ashis Nandy.[16] Like O’Connor, Waters is drawn to the child-nation equation. In a paraphrase of Nandy’s essay ‘Reconstructing Childhood’, he argues that
    the ideology of colonialism is rooted in the Western concept of the child…who…needs to be guided, protected and educated as a ward. This metaphor is what drives the ideology of colonialism and modernity, a presumptuous paternalism which depicts the world of the colonised advancing dynamically towards the model of the coloniser as the human being ‘develops’ from childhood to adulthood. There is no other way it can achieve ‘progress’. In a colonised society, the warped colonial view is transmitted through the warped relationship between parents and children. (Waters, 1994a, 195)[17]
    In a series of opinion pieces published in The Irish Times between 1995 and 1997, and in his book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Ireland, Waters went on to assail what he termed ‘the post-colonial mindset’, which urges its bearer ‘to give voice to the coloniser’s version of history’ (1995e, 12).[18] He found a paradigm of this mind-set in revisionism, which, instead of ‘detailing a value-free, non-tribal version of Irish history’, supplied ‘the historiographical needs of a new tribe of amnesiac neurotics’ (1995b, 14).[19]
  17. As the above quotations suggest, O’Connor and Waters share a belief in the efficacy of applying psychotherapeutic techniques towards the healing of those questionable entities, ‘the Irish mind’ (Waters, 1994a, passim) and ‘the national psyche’ (Waters, 1994b, 9). However, what is an explicit artistic metaphor in ‘Famine’ (and an implicit artistic metaphor in ‘Weep for Our Pride’, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Lamb, and Fools of Fortune) becomes for Waters an incontrovertible algorithm of psychological and sociological analysis. He claims that any ‘psychiatrist worth the salt on his spuds will tell you about the concept of "inhibited experience", the repression of a painful episode in the past of the human person, the denial, often over many years, sometimes over entire lifetimes, of something too traumatic to face’ (1994b, 9). Whenever, Waters informs us, he has put it to psychiatrists ‘that what is true of individual people might also be true of peoples, of societies, of nations’, the answer ‘has invariably been yes’ (9). On the basis of this alleged isomorphism, Waters then asserts that the Irish are not only ‘reluctant to face the trauma of our own history’, but also ‘unwilling even to face the possibility that…an inhibited experience [of the Great Hunger] may exist in our own collective consciousness’ (9).
  18. Waters is not alone in his reliance on a psychoanalytical model for cultural theorization.[20] In the second paragraph of the first page of Terry Eagleton’s Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, Freud meets Yeats:
  19. A nation, like an individual, has to be able to recount a reasonable story of itself, one without either despair or presumption. As long as it veers between idealization on the one hand and disavowal on the other, it will behave exactly like Freud’s neurotic patient, afflicted by reminiscences. It will be incapable of working through the traumatic moments of its history, which must then either be jettisoned from the narrative in a strategy akin to what Freud calls ‘secondary revision’, or remain as a stone to trouble the living stream. (ix)
    Eagleton later employs Freud’s revisionist disciple, Jacques Lacan, and his ‘discourse of the Other’ to analogize the relationship between the British and the Irish in the nineteenth century:
    The British…may find themselves here in the situation of the Lacanian adult vis-à-vis the infant, who in catering to the child’s immediate needs fails to decipher the absolute demand for recognition obscurely coded within them, and so unwittingly crushes that demand in the very act of relieving the infant’s want. Since the infant can only express this impossibly general demand for recognition in narrowly specific terms, in gestures which at once reveal and conceal it, this misapprehension is built into its transactions with the parent. The infant may then, so to speak, shift ground and try again; but the same structural misprision is bound to occur; and in the rift between need and demand will germinate desire, that objectless, insatiable hankering which is born of the despair of one’s demand ever being fulfilled. (141-2)

  20. However, one problem with Waters and Eagleton’s approach stems from the rather limited number of ways in which—outside the realm of the political stereotype or the creative arts—a nation is in fact like an individual. There is no one Irish mind or psyche—there are and have been many Irish minds, and many of them didn’t and don’t agree with themselves, never mind with others.[21] To assert otherwise is to assign to an individual or group the patent on Irishness. A second and equally serious problem addressed by neither Waters nor Eagleton is the validity of the Freudian model. Although Freudian concepts and terminology have attained virtual ubiquity in Western popular culture, their knowledge claims have in recent years been increasingly and convincingly questioned.[22] Yet, despite the growing number of historical, philosophical and scientific studies implacably establishing the fraudulent origins and flawed procedures of psychoanalysis, widespread recognition of its pseudoscientific status has been long delayed within European and American intellectual communities whose various schools from the post-structural to the post-colonial remain heavily indebted to the idiom of Freud and his epigones. As Frederick Crews suggested, it may be that ‘psychoanalysis survives because it feeds extravagant intellectual hopes’ (1986, 35). In the quotations from Waters and Eagleton given above, Freudian terminology is introduced to lend a quasi-scientific pseudo-validity to what is already a tenuous proposition—the homology between an individual and a nation. [23]
  21. I have referred to Freudian psychoanalysis above, but it would be more accurate to say that the particular form of Freudianism utilized by Waters and Eagleton is that associated with the so-called ‘seduction theory’ of 1896, a theory rejected by Freud in September 1897 in favor of what became known as psychoanalysis. Whereas psychoanalysis claimed that neurosis derived from a child’s repression of forbidden sexual wishes, the earlier theory held that it derived from a child’s repression of memories of actual sexual abuse by an adult. As Frederick Crews has noted, the ‘seduction theory’ should more accurately be termed ‘molestation theory’ (1995, 114). Crews has also assembled compelling evidence that the procedures constructed by Freud for this earlier theory were as erroneous and deceptive as those used for psychoanalysis (56-62, 206-23). Although Sándor Ferenczi’s attempt to reinstate the molestation theory in the 1930s received little recognition, Jeffrey Masson’s The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory (1984) reignited the debate (Crews, 1995, 22-3). In 1988, the publication of Ellen Bass and Laura Davis’s handbook The Courage to Heal accompanied a dramatic upsurge in instances of a new manifestation of ‘molestation theory’, which became known as ‘Recovered Memory Therapy’ (RMT). In RMT, a psychotherapist guided a patient to the retrieval of memories of childhood sexual abuse that were supposed, due to the trauma of that abuse, to have been completely repressed or dissociated. Both the abuse and its repression/dissociation were held to be responsible for physical and/or mental distress in the patients’ adult lives. By the early 1990s, those who challenged the veracity of RMT referred to its findings as ‘False Memory Syndrome’ (FMS).[24] Neither side denied that child sexual abuse had been and still was a widespread and horrific problem. However, proponents of FMS argued, firstly, that there was no scientific evidence to confirm the existence and effectuation of the processes of repression/dissociation invoked in RMT, and, secondly, that RMT practitioners omitted consideration of the contaminating factor of therapeutic suggestion.[25]
  22. The dispute in Ireland over the last two decades between nationalist and revisionist ideologies does not duplicate the dispute between the RMT and FMS schools, but some illuminating comparisons can nonetheless be made, since both disputes involve the consequences of memory.[26] It is nonetheless important to note one important difference between cultural commentators about Ireland and the adherents of RMT and FMS: neither revisionist nor nationalist historians or critics deny that certain historical ‘abuses’, such as the Great Hunger, actually occurred; what they query are the precise details of such events, the relative proportions of ideology, fortuity and malignity which generated them, and—just as importantly—the way in which these past events should be viewed from the present perspective. With this caveat in mind, we can consider some examples of the politics of memory in Irish cultural debate, and its relationship to the representation of Ireland as a damaged child.
  23. On more than one occasion, while reasserting the need for Irish people to meditate upon the present impact of the Great Hunger, John Waters has quoted an injunction by the Native American artist Jimmie Durham:
  24. We, you and I, must remember everything. We must especially remember those things we never knew.[27]
    The percolation of such RMT themes into the debate about historical revisionism can also be seen in Waters’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Ireland, in which he argues that ‘[d]ifferent "versions" of Irish history do not arise out of confusion about what happened, but out of a desire to explain different sets of feelings arising out of the same sets of events’ (88). According to Waters, the ‘facts’ of history ‘depend on context and circumstance, on point-of-view’, whereas the ‘truth’ of history ‘is about feelings that will not disperse, no matter how you try to explain them away’ (88). Revisionists wanted to ‘debunk as much as possible of the nationalist version of history’, maintains Waters, simply because ‘the continuing consequences of our history made them feel bad’ (88). For Waters, truth is a feeling that must be recovered mnemonically from within:
    The guilt, pain, anger, fear and self-hatred which deeply infect society in the Republic, provided also the motivations of revisionists seeking to explain away their own pained experience and get on with living in the present. Revisionism is a form of forgetting. But our history lives within us. I do not mean metaphorically. Somewhere inside all Irish bodies is the pain of our history. If we could feel that pain, we would know the truth in a manner beyond versions or words. The only facts we really need is [sic] that the pain exists, and that there is a reason for it. We are the products of history, socially, politically, morally, psychologically. So a historiography that denies the validity of our feelings is not wholly trustworthy. (89)[28]
    In the last sentence of this quotation, Waters is making an argument similar to that previously advanced by Brendan Bradshaw in his pivotal anti-revisionist essay, ‘Nationalism and historical scholarship in modern Ireland’. Bradshaw criticizes the reliance of the supposedly ‘value-free’ school of historians on ‘a number of interpretative strategies which have the effect of filtering out the trauma’ (338; my italics). According to Bradshaw, whereas ‘the communal memory retains a keen sense of the tragic dimension of the national history’, revisionist historians have sought ‘to remove the pain…’ (341).[29] He argues that historians instead should display ‘empathy’ and ‘imagination’ when dealing with ‘the catastrophic dimension of Irish history’ (350).

  25. The following passage, in which John Waters recounts and comments upon an observation by the Irish painter Patrick Graham, displays one form of such empathetic imagining:
    ‘Walking in certain areas in Ireland, there is an ache that is not part of consciousness. I cannot walk in some graveyards in this country, or in some parts of the country, without feeling this kind of liquid sense of being absolutely lost. And then of anger. And this aching for a people I don’t personally know, but whom I feel in my bones somehow. And that’s what I paint…What I’m talking about is being born with a sense of abuse. But a sense of being abused historically.’ [Graham]

    What he [Graham] was saying is that there is such a thing as societal feelings, societal pain, societal hurt, and that these feelings have an integrity of their own. He was also saying that we are stuck with our history, that we cannot escape it no matter how hard we try, and that sooner or later we must face the truth of it. (89)[30]

    Graham’s testimony and Waters’s commentary are akin to Sinéad O’Connor’s description in ‘Famine’ of the nation-child who still ‘feels all the painful feelings’, but has lost ‘contact with the memory’. This prioritization of feeling reinforces Terry Eagleton’s claim that although nationalism is ‘a complex, contradictory social phenomenon, by no means reducible to the verities of the heart…it is the kind of politics for which, as with feminism, feeling bulks remarkably large’ (1998, 84).[31] According to Eagleton, the ‘cult of feeling in the eighteenth century was certainly to issue in one dissident movement in the subsequent century, that of nationalism’ (84). Which feelings, then, are most strongly evoked by nationalism? According to the editors of the volume Nationalisms and Sexualities, wherever ‘the power of the nation is invoked…we are more likely than not to find it couched as a love of country: an eroticized nationalism’ (Parker et al 1). However, the song ‘Famine’ and the quotations from Waters and Graham suggest that under certain historical circumstances pathos may be just as important as eros.[32] For example, the ‘young girl’ with ‘the walk of a queen’ is only described at the end of Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan, but the stage has been dominated by her principal avatar, the piteous Poor Old Woman, who grieves for her losses, and who ‘never set out the bed’ for any of her lovers (Deane, II, 602, 600).[33] In the feeling tones of Irish nationalism, pathos is usually filial, inspiring empathy with the mourning mother, but as Plunkett, Trevor, and O’Connor demonstrate, it can also be parental, inspiring empathy with the damaged child. Such pathos provides a style: as Benedict Anderson notes, communities ‘are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined’ (6).[34] It also modulates particular narrative forms: as Luke Gibbons notes, memory involves ‘not just a matter of retention or recollection but of finding the narrative forms that will do justice to this troubled inheritance [Irish history] without sanitising it, but also without succumbing to it’ (1997, 269).
  26. Although the style and narrative form of John Waters’s postcolonial theory resemble aspects of RMT, he has also appropriated the terminology of FMS. Reflecting on the death of the sports commentator Mícheál O’Hehir, Waters argues that the ‘social memory’ is ‘a strange mechanism’ that tends to divide twentieth-century Irish history into eras named after successive Taoiseachs (or Prime Ministers). According to Waters, ‘the dominant discourse of modern Ireland’ demonizes in particular the de Valera years, which also coincided with O’Hehir’s prevalence on the airwaves:
    Mícheál O’Hehir’s voice is perhaps the last evocation truly capable of protecting those ‘pre-modern’ decades from the strange false memory syndrome afflicting social and political analysis in Ireland. His voice transcended history, fiction and propaganda, because it was full of life.

    We are blessed that it remains on tape for us to hear again, a truth capsule to use as an antidote to the cultural disinformation with which we are besieged. It is not what he said that matters, but the way he said it, which evokes in us all a truthful memory of what it was really like at the time.

  27. That voice may remain the most useful commentary on those years because it was not possible to hear it and remember those times for anything other than what they were: less prosperous, certainly, less enlightened, possibly, but kinder, more ethical and far less brutalising than the age in which we now live. (1997c, 16; my italics)[35] Here, the language of FMS is utilized to support an inverted form of the RMT thesis, in which for once the past is better than the present. In this same article, Waters also shows how he envisions the difference between ‘truth’ and ‘facts’. He acknowledges that the labeling of what was known in neutral Ireland as ‘the Emergency’ (1939-45) ‘as a black and white existence in which the generality of people were lorded over by political and religious leaders’, of the Lemass era as ‘a time of prosperity and abandon’, and the FitzGerald years as ‘more enlightened than those that followed’ may ‘have a certain academic truth’ (1997c, 16). However, he claims that this ‘truth’ will be ‘unconnected to the meaning of such times for mere citizens, for whom the truth is vested in things like family, relationships, a stretch of road or street, a football pitch, a chip shop, a dancehall, a pub’ (16).

  28. Waters’s prioritization of personal and local narratives over panoramic and historical ones is echoed in the introduction to the final text that I wish to consider, Luke Gibbons’s Transformations in Irish Culture, which contains a multitude of dexterous and sometimes dazzling readings, and traverses an impressive range of Irish cultural phenomena. Gibbons challenges Roy Foster’s thesis that popular nineteenth-century history books like A.M. Sullivan’s The Story of Ireland (1867) ‘constructed (often by careful exclusion) the accepted Irish national memory…[and] supplied the canon for Irish history as taught for generations by orders like the Christian Brothers…’ (Foster 5). While Foster maintains that Sullivan’s book contributed to what could be termed a false memory syndrome (the analogy is mine, not his), Gibbons argues that the book was instead ‘an attempt to co-opt and control the more unruly and refractory narratives of vernacular history, in which the past was embossed in material form on the landscape and worked into the very texture of social experience’ (1996b, 15). According to Gibbons, Foster confines the operations of the narrative mode in Irish history to print culture ‘as against the lived experience of popular memory’, thus diminishing ‘the importance of popular celebrations, such as the street demonstrations and expressions of collective memory that accompanied the centenary of the 1798 rebellion’ (15-6).
  29. [36]

  30. The equal weighting of ‘popular memory’ and ‘collective memory’ with print history is a recurrent concern in Gibbons’s book (although he does not really register the significance of the fact that most of his pre-twentieth-century examples of non-print memory are to be found, of necessity, in printed accounts).[37] He approvingly quotes Mikhail Bakhtin’s claim that ‘cultural and literary traditions are preserved and continue to live, not in the subjective memory of the individual nor in some collective "psyche", but in the objective forms of culture itself’, and then comments that cultural identity ‘does not pre-exist its representations or material expressions, but is in fact generated and transformed by them—whether they take the form of the mass media, literary genres such as the novel and drama, visual representations, or other cultural or symbolic practices’ (10). But Gibbons later quotes and comments on the following observation by Miroslav Hroch:
    ‘…[I]n conditions of acute stress’…the experience of the body politic ‘comes to be lived as part of the individual memory of each citizen, and its defeats resented as failures that touch them. One result of such personalization is that people will regard their nation—that is, themselves—as a single body in a more than metaphorical sense.’ [Hroch] This blurring of the boundaries between the personal and the political, inscribing the physicality of the body in public space, may not be at all to the detriment of feminist politics, or at least that project which calls for an entire transformation of the public sphere to allow women to participate in it as ‘real women’.

    …The figuration of Ireland as a woman intensified under a system of cultural apartheid in which the entire native population, both male and female, shared the condition of women in the metropolitan centre. In these circumstances, the recourse to female imagery in poetry and popular protest turns the colonial stereotype against itself, positing an alternative ‘feminized’ public sphere (imagined as the nation) against the official patriarchal order of the state. (21)

    This quotation from Hroch suggests that, despite citing Bakhtin, Gibbons is still drawn to the concept of a national ‘psyche’.[38] This can be seen not only in the above quotation, but also in the opening sentence of his book’s first chapter: ‘Ireland is a First World country, but with a Third World memory’ (3). In this deceptively simple sentence is encoded the child-nation motif: threaded through Transformations in Irish Culture is the implicit narrative that the Third World child Ireland has grown up into a First World adult, that its memories of Third World experiences have been repressed, and that they can only be recovered through the analysis of vernacular, popular, collective social practices.
  31. Gibbons’s maxim ingeniously sidesteps the objections of critics like Liam Kennedy, who have attacked naïve invocations of Ireland’s supposed Third-World status.[39] Yet this rhetorical maneuver has an impact on the discourse of ‘open-ended and heterogeneous’ identity Gibbons invokes in the closing pages of the book (179).[40] A few pages earlier, Gibbons describes Philip Napier’s art exhibit, Ballad, in which an expanding and contracting accordion ‘double[s] up as an artificial lung attached to the barely decipherable image of the republican hunger-striker, Bobby Sands’ (172). He declares that by ‘linking the famished body with mourning and collective memory, the off-key image becomes, in effect, a living monument for the Famine and the dark shadow which it cast on the lung of the Irish body politic’ (174). In this sentence, the 1981 Hunger Strike is conflated with the Great Hunger to form a single text of collective memory—the Great Hunger Strike—thereby explicating what was implicit in the opening pages (‘Ireland is a First World country, but with a Third World memory’). The unavoidable implication is that there is, after all, only one Irish body politic whose disease must be diagnosed, only one Irish psyche whose memory must be recovered.[41]
  32. At best, such personification of Ireland is a manifestation of the pathos that Francis Mulhern has termed ‘postcolonial melancholy’ (1995, 32).[42] At worst, it could be read as exhibiting some of the ‘exclusivism’ Gibbons elsewhere deprecates eloquently (1996b, 179). [43] As the work of Plunkett, Doyle, O’Connor and others shows, personifications of Ireland (infantilizing or feminizing) still retain some creative force in literary and pop cultural ‘narrative forms’. But the use of such personification in current critical discourse is distorting and reductive. As we near a new millennium, other forms and styles are needed to do justice to the complexities, conflicts, and catastrophes that have contributed to the formation of the lives of multifarious Irish peoples, past and present.[44]


  1. For an overview of the gendering of Ireland from the mythological background to the twentieth-century, see Cairns and Richards (1988a and b), Lebow, and Valente. For feminist critiques, see Boland (1995b), Coughlan, Cullingford (1990), Dalsimer and Kreilkamp (1997a), Innes, Longley, Meaney, Wills. Back

  2. Declan Kiberd, drawing upon Curtis, does refer to both forms (1996; 30, 104). See also Bartlett (36-7). On the use of the infantilizing (and feminizing) stereotype in other parts of the British Empire, see Nandy (1983 and 1987), to whom Kiberd also refers. Back

  3. In Apes and Angels, L.P. Curtis discusses some of these cartoons; however, his argument concentrates more on simianized than infantilized representations of the Irish. See also Liz Curtis. My source for many of the infantilizing images is Martin Weimer’s detailed survey, Das Bild der Iren (especially 539-49). An interesting undergraduate analysis of selected cartoons from Punch (including some on Irish subjects), as well as the essay ‘Punch and Prejudice’ by Professor Anthony Wohl, can be found at http://vassun.vassar.edu/~victstud/punchpage1.html. Back

  4. Curtis identifies four types of emblematic Irish male in British Victorian caricature: (i) the northern protestant; (ii) ‘Pat’, who is buffoonish, ingratiating, but not nationalist; (iii) ‘Paddy’, who is a nationalist, but not of the physical force variety; (iv) the simianized or Calibanized version of ‘Paddy’, who represents physical-force nationalism (1997, xxi-xxiv). Fig. 1 is an example of the fourth category. When this essay was first presented as a paper at the 1998 MLA conference in San Francisco, an audience member suggested that in these cartoons the Irish and British males may embody an interpretation of the national character, while the females embody an interpretation of the national soul. Joep Leerssen has traced allegorical personifications of facets of Ireland as a man to the poetry of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (c.1630-1691), in which the Irish natives as a group receive the name ‘Tadhg’ and the English colonists the name ‘John’ (224). Back

  5. Further examples can be found in Weimer (539-49). Back

  6. Pedagogical insistence on the use and importance of the Irish language is also a feature in both Plunkett’s story and many of the classroom scenes in Doyle’s novel. Back

  7. On the significance of both 1916 and 1966 for the younger Irish generation, see the contributions by Dermot Bolger, Philip Casey, Ferdia Mac Anna, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Michael O’Loughlin and Fintan O’Toole to the anthology ’16 on 16’ in Bolger. Back

  8. J.M Synge’s play The Playboy of the Western World (1907) is also relevant in terms of the father-son-nation dynamic. For an arresting female perspective on the mother-daughter-nation dynamic, see Rita Duffy’s paintings ‘Becoming’, ‘Scullery’, ‘Dancer’, and ‘Awakening’, in Grinnell and Conley, 18, 89, 107, 120; for discussion of Duffy’s work, see Dalsimer and Kreilkamp (1997a, 39; and 1997b); for an interview with Duffy, see Conley and Armstrong. Back

  9. A more detailed analysis of Lamb can be found in my forthcoming essay ‘The pose arranged and lingered over’. For what could be read as a visual counterclaim to the imagery of Mac Laverty, see the mural of a boy with gas mask and petrol bomb in Rossville St. Derry in the 1990s (in Rolston, 33). In the film Nothing Personal (1996), and Daniel Mornin’s novel All Our Fault (1991) from which it was adapted, the accidental killing of a child in Belfast in 1975 also takes on a similar emblematic aura. Back

  10. For an analysis of the child-nation motif in Trevor’s 1988 novel The Silence in the Garden and Mary Leland’s 1985 novel The Killeen, see Morrison (for more on Leland’s novel, see Smith). Mary Morrissy’s magical realist novel Mother of Pearl (1996) distorts Irish geography to produce a child-nation parable about the ideological phantoms haunting both the post-independence Free State / Republic and the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Back

  11. A theatrical form of this structure can be found in Tom Murphy’s play Bailegangaire (1985), in which buried traumas from the past (encapsulated in the death of a child) are unearthed and largely dissipated through storytelling, so that new possibilities can be glimpsed through the imminent birth of another child. Back

  12. During the song, O’Connor notes that ‘there never really was’ a famine: the potato crop had failed in Ireland, but other unaffected foodstuffs were shipped out of Ireland to pay rents and as part of trade deals, while vast numbers of people starved. For a forceful recent examination of the Great Hunger, see Kinealy; for an overview of historical debates about the event, see Donnelly. For a Web page that explores images of the Great Hunger, see http://www.people.Virginia.edu/~eas5e/Irish/Famine.html Back

  13. See Waters (1995a) and O’Brien. For articles about and interviews with O’Connor on the Web, see http://www.sinead-oconnor.com and http://www.sessionsatwest54th.com/oct11/INSESS/ARTINV/art1intv.html. Back

  14. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the essential feature of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is ‘the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor’; some of its characteristic symptoms include ‘persistent reexperiencing of the traumatic event’ and ‘persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness’ (424). Back

  15. On the development of theories of the ‘inner child’ from the writings of Carl Jung in the 1940s to a widespread therapeutic industry in the 1980s, see Abrams. O’Connor’s own reference to her ‘inner child’ was made in an anguished poem-plea published as a full-page ad in The Irish Times, in which she also declared that she represented a group of people called ‘Adult Children…/ Those of us who have lost our childhoods’ (1993, 9). Presumably, O’Connor took a part in Neil Jordan’s film The Butcher Boy (1997) because the narrative accorded with some of her own beliefs. Adapted from Patrick McCabe’s novel, the film depicts the journey into violence of Francie Brady, an emotionally deprived child living in a small Irish town in the 1960s. O’Connor plays the Virgin Mary, who appears to Francie in visions. According to O’Connor, the film is ‘an exploration of how a terrorist is formed by the family, the church, the state, the country…The repression and brutality of Francie’s life, the atmosphere of terror he grows up in; to me, that’s the story of Ireland’ (cited in Travers 90). On her recent album Gospel Oak, O’Connor plays the role of an eirenic Eire, addressing the IRA in ‘4 My Love’, and England in ‘This IS a Rebel Song’. See http://www.gospel-oak.com for samples from the album, as well as a link to the film The Butcher Boy. On the role of the ‘Great Mother’ theme in the work of O’Connor and in various Irish plays and films, see Cleary. Back

  16. Nandy and Fanon are also important for the post-colonial readings undertaken by Declan Kiberd in Inventing Ireland. Back

  17. Nandy’s essay can be found in Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias. Back

  18. In ‘Padraic Pearse was an Irish hero’, Waters switches to the term ‘neo-colonial mindset’ (1996a, 12). Back issues of The Irish Times from 1996 can be accessed at http://www.irish-times.com. Back

  19. See also Waters 1995c, 1995d, 1996b, 1997a. Back

  20. See also Barre Fitzpatrick’s essay ‘Freud and Ireland’. Back

  21. Some of the epistemological difficulties stemming from the use of terms like ‘the Irish psyche’ or ‘the Irish mind’ can be seen in several essays in the Irish Journal of Psychology’s special issue on ‘The Irish Psyche’. Joseph Lee spends the first four paragraphs of his contribution, ‘The Irish Psyche: An historical perspective’, querying the existence of any such entity, then blithely proceeds to invoke it throughout the rest of the essay. A similar strategy can be seen in the contributions by Ciarán Benson, William Duncan. and (to some degree) by Geraldine Moane. A cogent critique of the essays in the special issue of the Irish Journal of Psychology can be found in Bruce Stewart’s essay ‘Inside Nationalism’. Many of the cultural nationalist assumptions and linguistic problems associated with the phrase ‘the Irish mind’ were noted by Conor Cruise O’Brien in his 1985 review of Richard Kearney’s edited collection of essays, The Irish Mind (O’Brien, 192-8). Back

  22. For a literary critic’s probe into the shortcomings of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic criticism, see Crews (1986 and 1995); the most devastating epistemological critiques are by Grünbaum (1984 and 1993). Further anatomizations can be found in the essays by various writers contained in Crews’s anthology (1998), and in Esterson, MacMillan, Webster and Wilcock. L.P. Curtis’s use in Anglo-Saxons and Celts (64-5) of Freud’s theory of projection—also utilized by Declan Kiberd (29-32)—has been cogently critiqued by Richard Ned Lebow (13-5). Back

  23. Although Vincent Kenny, in his essay ‘The Post-Colonial Personality’, relies on the psychological theories of Gregory Bateson, R.D. Laing, and George Kelly rather than Freud, he bases his whole argument on the child-adult postulate: ‘A continually defeated people may be constructed as being stuck in their national development and growth, just as a child would be if it were to be severely oppressed by domineering parents’ (76; see also 70-1, 77-8). In Desmond Fennell’s ‘Choosing our self-image (The Problem of Irish Identity)’, the Irish nation is equated with a teenager ‘emerging from a condition of tutelage and dependence’, who finds himself ‘confronted with the problem of identity’ (192). In an intriguing analysis of child-nation equations, Kathryn Conrad has argued that the terms in which the relationship between mother and fetus were discussed in Ireland during the early 1990s at the time of the ‘X’ Case reiterated in many ways the terms in which the relationship between Ireland and Europe was discussed in the context of the Maastricht agreement. Back

  24. See Crews (1995, 159ff.). Back

  25. See Crews (1995, 159ff.). Although O’Connor’s song ‘Famine’ uses imagery associated with RMT, it seems that in her own personal experience she has always been aware of having suffered abuse, but that some type of therapy helped her to augment incomplete but not repressed memories; she has also referred to the ‘Twelve Step’ program for the treatment of addiction, and—in ‘Famine’—to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is different from recovered memory (Waters, 1995a, 1-2). See also note 14. For a dynamic, though sometimes debatable, analysis of intersections between PTSD and RMT in the cultural contexts of Britain in the 1890s and the U.S. in the 1990s, see Farrell (1-33, 192-215). Back

  26. For reasons of space, I can cite only a handful of representatives from the revisionist and nationalist camps. A much wider range of examples can be found in Brady. Back

  27. Cited in Waters, 1994b, 9 and 1997c, 16. Back

  28. Waters’s argument can be compared with that contained in some of the sub-chapters in Bass and Davis’s The Courage to Heal, such as ‘But I Don’t Remember’ (22), ‘The Body Remembers What the Mind Chooses to Forget’ (74-5), and ‘But I Don’t Have Any Memories’ (81-3). For a critique of the assumptions and methods used by Bass and Davis in these sections, see Crews (1995, 192-9). Back

  29. With regard to ‘removing the pain’, Chris Morash has noted that the phrase ‘the demographic holocaust’, which occurred on page 343 in the chapter on the Great Hunger in the first Allen Lane hardback edition of Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland: 1600-1972 (1988), was altered to ‘the demographic contraction’ in subsequent editions (Morash 138). Liam Kennedy’s attempt to explode what he calls the MOPE reading of Irish history (Most Oppressed People Ever) becomes evasive when he ever so briefly refers to the Great Hunger. Although Kennedy admits that in ‘terms of duration and intensity’ the Great Hunger was ‘an ecological disaster outside of European experience’, he neglects to consider how this admission largely undermines the rest of his argument (200). Back

  30. Waters repeats Graham’s observation in ‘Troubled People’ (1997e, 108). Compare Graham’s testimony with the ‘inner child’ therapist Cathryn Taylor’s definition of ‘Inherited Grief’: ‘Unresolved grief that is passed on from generation to generation until someone finally breaks the cycle and resolves the feelings of loss’ (243). Back

  31. Eagleton later links this claim to the Irish debate about revisionism and nationalism (1998, 315-18). Back

  32. For reasons of space, I am omitting consideration of the other ‘musketeers’, logos, mythos, thanatos, and (sometimes) bathos; they are, of course, mercenaries, who also fight on the side of revisionism. Back

  33. A complex blend of eros and pathos is exhibited in the poetry Yeats directs towards Maud Gonne, who personified Ireland for him both on-stage (in Cathleen Ni Houlihan) and off-stage. Some perceptive insights about Pearse’s use of pathos in the Rising and its aftermath (326-8) surface with a struggle from beneath a welter of psychoanalytic jargon in Stephen Tifft’s ‘The Parricidal Phantasm’. Back

  34. Lack of space prevents me from elaborating the significance for my argument of Anderson’s chapter ‘Memory and Forgetting’ (187-206), one of two added to Imagined Comunities in the 1991 revised edition. Of especial relevance are Anderson’s reflections on the inherent paradoxes of Ernest Renan’s claim, in Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (1882), that ‘l’essence d’une nation est que tous les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun et aussi que tous aient oublié bien des choses…Tout citoyen français doit avoir oublié la Saint-Barthélemy, les massacres du Midi au XIIIe siècle’ (Anderson 199; see 199-206). Back

  35. The article is also included in An Intelligent Person’s Guide (58-60). Back

  36. Compare David Lloyd’s argument that ‘the processes of hybridization active in the Irish street ballads or in Ulysses are at every level recalcitrant to the aesthetic politics of nationalism and…imperialism. Hybridization or adulteration resist identification both in the sense that they cannot be subordinated to a narrative of representation and in the sense that they play out the unevenness of knowledge which, against assimilation, foregrounds the political and cultural positioning of the audience or reader’ (1993, 114). See also Eavan Boland’s distinction between ‘the past’ and ‘history’, in her essay ‘Famine Roads’ (Hayden, 218). Back

  37. Compare the emphasis on ‘the communal memory’ and ‘the popular memory’ by Bradshaw (341). Back

  38. Compare John Waters, in Race of Angels, who accepts the claim of one interviewee, Professor Ivor Browne, that culture is ‘only one generation thick’ and not transmitted through a genetic ‘race memory bank’ (226-7), but also cites approvingly the following claim by Professor Mike Cooley:
    There are basic movements and body rhythms and images that are deeply rooted in our psyche. When a particular rhythm is played by people from a particular culture, that will call up that kind of morphic resonance in a particular culture. (283)

  39. Kennedy lists the social and economic indicators that place Ireland among the world’s richest countries (167-81). His critique of representing Ireland as a Third World country is revisited in O’Toole (18-20). Back

  40. Gibbons admits that because ‘the accretions of conquest—the English language, the inscriptions of the Protestant Ascendancy on the landscape and material culture’ cannot be removed, ‘there is no prospect of restoring a pristine, pre-colonial identity’; nonetheless, he continues, ‘the lack of historical closure…is bound up with a similar incompleteness in the culture itself, so that instead of being based on narrow ideals of racial purity and exclusivism, identity is open-ended and heterogeneous’ (179). Back

  41. Gibbons’s interpretation of Ireland has also been advanced by a member of the Irish political establishment. In a 1995 speech at the opening of a festival in London of new Irish cinema, the politician and poet Michael D. Higgins (then the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht) described Ireland as ‘a first-world country with a third-world memory…a land of broken stories’ (Doyle, ‘Calling the shots’, 1). Back

  42. Mulhern coined the phrase during a critical exchange with Luke Gibbons about the Field Day Anthology; see also Mulhern (1993) and Gibbons (1994). Bruce Stewart, in a critique of Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland, has used the term ‘post-colonial depression’ (15). Back

  43. Gibbons’s axiom has been endorsed by David Lloyd, who calls it an ‘apt formulation’ (1997, 87). Lloyd has also endorsed Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Famine’, describing its thesis as an insistence that there is ‘a repression of the memory of the Famine in subsequent Irish culture’, connected with ‘our deeply embedded habit of disavowing the personal and cultural damage that is in part the legacy of our colonial past’, and requiring that ‘we learn to grieve in order to heal’ (in Hayden, 32). It is to some degree puzzling that Lloyd has endorsed Gibbons and O’Connor, since he has elsewhere deprecated what he sees as the fetishistic maneuver that appropriates traditional figures of the nation, such as Kathleen Ni Houlihan (‘which, in the metonymic manner of popular/nonmodern culture, made no hard and fast distinctions between the actual and the figurative’) and ‘reduces them to a metaphor for national identity and a powerful interpellative figure in the nationalist struggle for the state’ (1997b, 192). Both Gibbons and O’Connor are clearly using metaphor rather than the cherished metonymy of postcolonial analysis. On metaphor, metonymy, and post-colonial aesthetics, see Barry.

    The burden of Gibbons’s axiom has been expressed in less nuanced form by Declan Kiberd, who asserts that Ireland today oscillates between First and Third World status (1994, 108-9; see also 1995, 4); by Seamus Deane, who refers to ‘Ireland’s curious status as, simultaneously, a Third World and First World culture’ (1995, 28); and by Joseph Lee, who claims that ‘recent Irish historical experience cannot be encompassed within conventional categories of either European or Third World historiography’ (1989, xiii). None of these critics acknowledge the astringent critique of ‘Third World’ theorization in Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory (although Gibbons briefly refers to Ahmad on national allegory, in 1996a, 263). For an informed overview of the theoretical challenges facing post-colonial analyses of Ireland, see Graham, and Livesy and Murray. Back

  44. Thanks to Patricia Haslam and Jim Smith for their feedback on an earlier draft of this essay, and to Fiona Walsh for obtaining the images from Punch.


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