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Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture


Edited By Melania Terrazas Gallego

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.

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6 “The Women Who Had Been Straining Every Nerve”: Gender-Specific Medical Management of Trauma in the Irish Revolution (1916–1923)


Síobhra Aiken

6“The Women Who Had Been Straining Every Nerve”: Gender-Specific Medical Management of Trauma in the Irish Revolution (1916–1923)


Female revolutionaries suffered various traumas – including sexual trauma – during Ireland’s revolutionary period (1916–1923). This chapter draws on files from the Military Service Pensions Collection, personal accounts and literary narratives in order to consider the various medical treatments prescribed to women for “exhausted nerves” in the early decades of the Irish Free State. Contemporary understandings of what is now recognized as PTSD were strongly informed by gender ideologies, and women’s mental welfare was routinely connected to the female reproductive system. In contrast to men’s treatment, which aimed to swiftly return the patient to the warzone or workforce, traumatized female revolutionaries were frequently recommended prolonged “rest” treatments which emphasized domestication and re-feminization. These costly therapies reflect the social privilege of many female republicans. Women lacking such familial or financial supports, however, could find themselves committed to the country’s overcrowded mental institutions, while a significant number of female revolutionaries emigrated for medical reasons.

In her memoir The Hope and the Sadness: Personal Recollections of Troubled Times in Ireland (1980), Siobhán Lankford, née Creedon, provides a stark insight into the “extreme nervous exhaustion” she endured as an active revolutionary during Ireland’s War of Independence (1919–21) and Civil War (1922–23). After confiding in her Cumann na mBan [The Women’s League] colleague Margaret Mackin that her “health was not...

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