Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture

by Melania Gallego (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection XVI, 314 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 94


The last two centuries of Irish history have seen great traumas that continue to affect Irish society. Through constructing cultural trauma, Irish society can recognize human pain and its source/s and become receptive to the idea of taking significant and responsible measures to remedy it. The intention of this volume is to show the mediating role of the literature and film scholar, the archivist, the social media professional, the historian, the musician, the artist and the poet in identifying Irish cultural trauma past and present, in illuminating Irish national identity (which is shifting so much today), in paying tribute to the memory and suffering of others, in showing how to do things with words and, thus, how concrete action might be taken.
Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture makes a case for the value of trauma and memory studies as a means of casting new light on the meaning of Irish identity in a number of contemporary Irish cultural practices, and of illuminating present-day attitudes to the past. The critical approaches herein are of a very interdisciplinary nature, since they combine aspects of sociology, philosophy and anthropology, among other fields. This collection is intended to lead readers to reconsider the connections between trauma, Irish cultural memory, identity, famine, diaspora, gender, history, revolution, the Troubles, digital media, literature, film, music and art.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I Literature and Film
  • 1 From Undoing: Silence and the Challenge of Individual Trauma in John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies (2017)1
  • 2 Trauma and Irish Female Migration through Literature and Ethnography1
  • 3 Avenging the Famine: Lance Daly’s Black ’47, Genre and History
  • Part II Memory and Digital Archives
  • 4 Reflection of Trauma in the Prisons Memory Archive: How Information Literacy, Human Experience and Place Are Impacted by Conflict
  • 5 From the Maze to Social Media: Articulating the Trauma of “the Blanket Protest” in the Digital Space1
  • Part III History
  • 6 “The Women Who Had Been Straining Every Nerve”: Gender-Specific Medical Management of Trauma in the Irish Revolution (1916–1923)
  • 7 Personal Loss and the “Trauma of Internal War”: The Cases of W. T. Cosgrave and Seán Lemass
  • Part IV Music
  • 8 Di-rum-ditherum-dan-dee: Trauma and Prejudice, Conflict and Change as Reflections of Societal Transformation in the Modern-Day Consolidation of Irish Traditional Music
  • 9 Traumatic Childhood Memories and the Adult Political Visions of Sinéad O’Connor, Bono and Phil Lynott
  • Part V Creative Writing
  • 10 Hungry Ghosts: Trauma and Addiction in Irish Literature
  • 11 Fellow Travellers
  • 12 Trauma and Identity Issues in Pat Boran’s Work: An Interview
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


As Ireland commemorates the centennial anniversary of the foundation of the Free State, scholars, artists and commentators are asking a range of new questions about trauma and memory in a range of spheres. A violent, and invariably traumatic, internal civil war cast a long shadow after the state was established in 1922. Yet public analysis and acknowledgement of several aspects of the trauma experienced in such a divisive conflict were met with silence for decades. The impact of the Civil War on women, for example, was essentially ignored or dismissed as insignificant until very recently. The outbreak of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, followed by thirty years of violence, likewise marked an episode of protracted trauma in Irish society. Since the 1990s, emerging evidence of physical, sexual and human rights abuses perpetrated historically in religious institutions has also opened up a dynamic field of analysis in the domain of trauma and memory (Pine; Smith). A post-revisionist interpretation of Irish history is therefore often presented as a history of trauma.

Trauma is a much-used term in interdisciplinary Irish studies. But, in reality, it is a complex vehicle both for social commentary and academic analysis that is often riddled with ethical challenges. How does one narrate, record, represent or remember a trauma? As I have observed in my research on sexual trauma and the violence women experienced in the Irish Revolution, telling the stories of “victims” of traumatic events, in particular those who chose not to “tell” or report past crimes and did not give open consent for or want their trauma ever to be publicized, must be carefully considered in violence studies (Connolly 2019a, 2019b, forthcoming). Few victims of rape, in particular, ever consent to their stories being inscribed in a public archive or forum. The study of trauma is therefore in itself rife with moral ambiguity and those who do choose to narrate traumas, especially as an observer and not a survivor, have to resolve serious ethical questions. This potential for harm places a considerable onus on researchers of sexual ←xi | xii→violence to ensure that our projects are designed with care and rigour. Moreover, as David Fitzpatrick reminds us, trauma is multifaceted and not just about victims: “Historians’ … primary function is to explain what occurred by assessing events from the perspectives of victim, perpetrator and onlooker alike” (7). In addition to the issue of consent, intergenerational hurt can also underline the cyclical potential for re-traumatization of victims, families and secondary victims. According to Cheung: “Visual art is an especially tricky breeding ground for polymorphous representation, misinterpretation, and insensitivities … There is the challenge of combining honesty with dispassion, and at the very least, of avoiding exploitation” (n. pag.).

In this volume, Melania Terrazas and the other authors address these sensitive questions as they relate to Ireland in a deeply ethical and multifaceted way. A new comprehensive text that seeks to interrogate further the concept and ethics of trauma research is a timely intervention in Irish studies. Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture achieves a strong balance between conducting ethical research and providing a detailed exploration of silenced traumas in a number of domains. Terrazas, in the Introduction, provides an essential review of key theoretical debates in the field of trauma and memory studies, thereby laying out a framework for the chapters that follow on substantive questions (covering gender, war, revolution, music, film and literature). Internationally, a body of psychological research into the effects of various traumatic events (such as assault, rape, war, famine, incarceration) was developed in the 1980s and led to the official recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder. Since the 1990s, an interdisciplinary field of study involving literature, psychology, history and philosophy has consolidated and concentrated on questions of memory, forgetting and narrative. A number of subsequent critical writings applied trauma theory to the memoirs of Holocaust survivors and war veterans and to other topics such as sexual violence in women’s fiction (see Whitehead). Terrazas’s integrated Introduction will be an indispensable reference point both in this field and for future studies of trauma and memory in the interdisciplinary arena of Irish studies.

Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture interrogates the meaning of Irish identity through the lens of trauma and memory, in a ←xii | xiii→number of contemporary Irish literary and visual works and other cultural practices. A sustained interdisciplinary approach provides a ground-breaking reassessment of received constructions of Irish identity by centralizing the place of trauma and memory studies in Irish society. Each chapter provides detailed and sustained analysis of how trauma is/was both experienced and remembered. The common connection between silence and trauma in numerous literary works by John Boyne, Edna O’Brien, Sebastian Barry, Colm Tóibín and Kevin Barry is explored in the opening chapters. An exploration of trauma and memory in the genre of film- and documentary-making, including in the context of prisons, highlights the potential for activism and empowerment in cultural production. The potential for state archives to illustrate the trauma experienced by men and women in the Irish Revolution is also demonstrated in chapters that document the psychological and gendered impact of the violence. The last two parts of the volume also contribute to our understanding of how trauma has influenced the thematic direction of Irish popular music and explores the consequences of addiction in Irish culture, including in the work of Emer Martin and Pat Boran. The application of the body of work classified as the trauma paradigm to Irish history, culture and society in this collection represents an important contribution to knowledge that will be of relevance to scholars in Irish studies, history, sociology, psychology, medical humanities, cultural studies, gender studies and literary criticism.

Linda Connolly


Cheung, Ysabelle. “Art after Auschwitz: The Problem with Depicting the Holocaust.” Vice Newsletter, 15 September 2015.

Connolly, Linda. “Towards a Further Understanding of the Violence Experienced by Women in the Irish revolution.” MUSSI Working Paper Series, no. 7, 10 January 2019a, <http://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/10416/>.

←xiii | xiv→

——. “Sexual Violence and the Irish Revolution: An Inconvenient Truth?” History Ireland, November 2019b.

——, ed. Women and the Irish Revolution: Feminism, Activism, Violence. Indiana University Press, 2020, forthcoming.

Fitzpatrick, David, ed. Terror in Ireland 1916–1923. Lilliput Press, 2012, p. 7.

Pine, Emilie. The Politics of Irish Memory: Performing Remembrance in Contemporary Irish Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Smith, James. Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment. Notre Dame University Press, 2007.

Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh University Press, 2004.


Working on this book has been a truly life-changing experience for me and it would not have been possible without the support and guidance that I received from many people. I want to thank the Spanish government, who provided a Salvador de Madariaga Visiting Scholarship which funded my research at NUI Galway two years ago. The research on which this volume is based was also funded by research projects REGI 2018/36, EICOD 19/18 and AOCYRC 19/23 (Vice-Rectorate for Research, University of La Rioja). I am also grateful to EMYDUR (School of Master and Doctorate Studies, University of La Rioja) for their support. This research is also in line with the objectives of the Centre of Irish Studies Banna/Bond (EFACIS), which I lead at the University of La Rioja.

I would like to say a very big thank you to the General Editor of Peter Lang’s Reimagining Series, Eamon Maher, and to Senior Commissioning Editor Anthony Mason, for trusting me to carry out this project and for all the support and encouragement they gave me during the months I spent editing this volume. Without their guidance and constant feedback, this volume would not exist. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions in the above list and would be grateful for notification of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book. My deep appreciation also goes out to Seán Crosson and Daniel Carey for their help at NUI Galway, to Eunan O’Halpin and Ruth Barton for editorial discussions at TCD, to Linda Connolly for her kindness in writing the preface to this book and, finally, to Irish writers Emer Martin and Pat Boran for their huge generosity, friendship and support.

I would like to thank all the contributors, with whom it has been a pleasure to work during this project. Each of them has taught me a great deal about their subject. I gratefully acknowledge all the contributions – thank you very much for your good humour throughout the whole process. ←xv | xvi→I am extremely grateful to all the members of the magnificent editorial committee of the journal Estudios Irlandeses who read and refereed all the contributions to this volume – many thanks for your time, unstinting commitment and invaluable comments and suggestions on the essays submitted. Many thanks also for the support I received from other academics who were willing to read the papers and to offer valuable and generous feedback for the authors. My most sincere gratitude goes to Carolina Amador, Guy Beiner, Constanza del Río, Barry Devine, José F. Fernández, Anne Fogarty, Rosa González, Miriam Haughton, Cahal McLaughlin, Angus Mitchell, Eve Morrison, Bill Mulligan, Hedwig Schwall, Laura Watson, Feargal Wheelan and last, but not least, Alwyn Harrison. Thank you all very much for your help. Finally, I would also like to say a heartfelt thank you to my family and loved ones for always believing in me and encouraging me.

Melania Terrazas

Melania Terrazas


According to Jeffrey C. Alexander, “Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways” (1). The study of cultural identity, for its part, emerges out of a sense of belonging to a group and, at the same time, because of all the aspects that make that group different from others. It is also possible to examine identity as an effect of social dynamics in which other determining factors, such as class, nation, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion, play an important role. Identity is at stake in questions and problematics to do with all these issues. Thus, the study of cultural identity is “multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, with roots in social/personality psychology, microsociology, and anthropology” (Grayman-Simpson 2).

The analysis of culture from a combined aesthetic-ethical perspective is intrinsic to various critical approaches that emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century, “the ethical turn” that took place “in the related fields of literary theory and moral philosophy, the most relevant of which are Trauma Studies, Memory Studies and the Theory of Affects” (Onega et al. 1). The multiple nature of trauma and memory studies, which combines aspects of history, anthropology and sociology, among other disciplines, is also extremely valuable as a means of casting new light on the notion of identity, because it is dynamic, located in time and subject to continuous renegotiation, and it implies a process.

Identity – especially national identity – is a social and historical construct. Identity, or the image of who one is, “may be either a self-composed image” or “imposed from the outside” (Buchanan 242). In the particular ←1 | 2→case of Irish women’s identity, for example, the personal and the social were closely linked and it is widely acknowledged that “women in the post-famine period were offered the role said to be the most important in society – bringing up children in the Catholic faith” (Horgan n. pag.). The Church’s social role was crucial. As O’Toole (n. pag.) argues: “the church that became such a dominant force in the State and which was largely constructed after the Famine, gave order to a traumatised society”. It is also widely accepted that literature has had a significant role in this relegation of women to invisibility in the domestic sphere since the last decades of the nineteenth century, “as the various familiar Irish Writers’ posters” show, with their lack of “even a token woman among their 12 featured writers” (Doyle n. pag.).1 Yet, since “the famous Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing affair in 1990, which was so bereft of female writers that an extra volume had to be commissioned to atone” (Doyle n. pag.), with recent decades’ increasing “confidence in female voices” (Enright, qtd in Lavan n. pag.) and the last few years’ referendums to legalize divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage and to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, we have witnessed “the death of 19th-century Irish Catholicism” (O’Toole n. pag.) – Ireland is becoming more culturally liberal in many respects, and Irish women’s lives have attracted great attention.

The idea of “cultural memory” in Ireland has been investigated in great detail by Frawley in the second volume of Memory Ireland: “cultural memory can be analyzed not only […] through groups of people – like those in the diaspora […] – but also through particular forms: organizations of individuals, cultural mediums such as photography, architecture, music, literature” (Diaspora xxii). As far as “memory practices” are concerned, Frawley argues:


XVI, 314
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (January)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XVI, 314 pp., 2 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Melania Gallego (Volume editor)

Melania Terrazas Gallego is on the Executive Board of AEDEI (The Spanish Association for Irish Studies), Head of the Centre of Irish Studies BANNA/BOND (European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies) and Senior Lecturer in English Studies at the University of La Rioja (Spain). She is the author of Relational Structures in Wyndham Lewis’s Fiction: Complexity and Value (Lincom Europa, 2005), the editor of Journal of English Studies, vol. 8. (2010) and guest editor of Gender Issues in Contemporary Irish Literature (Estudios Irlandeses, vol. 13, no. 2, 2018). She helped set up the Wyndham Lewis Project websites through grants from the AHRC and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Competitiveness. She has published extensively on a number of British and Irish modernist and contemporary authors and film directors, and on applied linguistics. Her work has been recognized by positive reviews in international journals, grants and awards received to date.


Title: Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture