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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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2 Archives in Irish Studies: Locating Memory and the Archival Space1



On an early summer morning in May 2009, plastic sacks of confidential medical records were discovered buried in a former landfill site, near the village of Glounthaune in Co. Cork. The site was being unearthed as part of the then works to reopen the Cork-Midleton railway line. The medical records dated back to the 1970s and early 1980s, and contained sensitive personal information including patient names and addresses, of both adults and children, as well as detailed accounts of illness, treatments and other confidential information. The custodians of the records, the Health Service Executive (HSE) South, confirmed that the records originated from Cork University Hospital and St Finbarr’s Hospital in the city. The act of such careless disposal of records was shocking, but it was not surprising. Fintan O’Toole wrote about the crisis of archives and archiving in Ireland in the wake of the records’ discovery in the landfill. In such cases where personal and sensitive materials are discarded from the preserved record, ‘the records of government and high diplomacy will probably survive. What gets lost are the vestiges of the lives of the ordinary, the anonymous and the vulnerable’.2 As historian Margaret M. Scull points out: ‘Modern Irish history, at times, ←39 | 40→remains trapped in the political, only surveying high politics through government archives’.3

This chapter will look at examples within contemporary Ireland and outline the risk of memory and the archival space as it pertains to Irish Studies broadly, and specifically...

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