Father Daly’s white hanky: survivor memories, collective memory, and the postmemory of Bloody Sunday in the Irish Troubles

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Abstract

This article contributes to debates about the theoretical coherence and historical utility of the conceptual couplet, personal memory/collective memory, with its implicit atomisation of 'the individual' as distinguished from 'society' or 'social groups'. It does so in the light of a concrete historical and cultural investigation of the processes of remembrance within the Irish nationalist community of Derry City in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday (1972). Taking as a starting point the involvement in local commemoration and the associated campaign for justice of young nationalists who 'weren't even born' at the time of the shootings, the article explores the kind of memory held by this 'successor' generation, its relation to the memories of the 'survivor' generation which experienced Bloody Sunday at first hand and has personal recollections of it, and the character and formation of that 'collective memory' which mediates the two. Drawing on Hirsch’s (1997) concept of 'postmemory,' the article argues the case for closer examination of the ways in which the personal remembering of individuals—from both the survivor and successor generations—is mediated through modes of cultural representation and exchange that make it an inherently social and collective process. It also demonstrates how, through practices of storytelling, the personal memories of individuals contribute to the formation of collective memory, now understood as a process producing fluid narratives, constantly shifting and evolving, that exist and take different forms within diverse social arenas. The investigation focuses on a particular motif, one of the most pervasive in memories of Bloody Sunday, that of Father Daly's white hanky. By tracing the appearance of this motif within the 'social life of stories' (Cruikshank cited in Thomson 1999), and of visual images, concerned with Bloody Sunday, the article investigates the interconnections between individual survivor testimonies, the production and reproduction of visual and public iconography, and the formation of 'postmemory.’ It concludes by reflecting on the similarities and differences between the memories of the generation with direct personal experience of Bloody Sunday, and the postmemories of those whose relation to the atrocity is entirely mediated through cultural representations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe politics of cultural memory
EditorsLucy Burke, Simon Faulkner, Jim Aulich
Place of PublicationNewcastle
PublisherCambridge Scholars
Pages230-252
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9781847189349
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

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  • Cite this

    Dawson, G. (2010). Father Daly’s white hanky: survivor memories, collective memory, and the postmemory of Bloody Sunday in the Irish Troubles. In L. Burke, S. Faulkner, & J. Aulich (Eds.), The politics of cultural memory (pp. 230-252). Cambridge Scholars.