Speaking personally, I’ve often thought that there is a paradox in my instincts as a historian. On one hand, there is the sense than every scrap of historical information is fascinating, no matter what the subject. On the other hand, there can be an impatience with inquiries that do not attempt to see a bigger picture. Somewhere between these two poles there are bound to be undervalued perspectives that belittle my belief in my capacity to assume a panoramic view.
Historical memoirs appeal to me for their immediacy. Yet, as an example, I often saw no connection between what Michael Davitt wrote about the Land League and what historians, including myself, did, but why is that the case? It is hard to pinpoint. In trying to get a perspective, surely one that comes “straight from the horse’s mouth” is the most valuable? Why, then, does that perspective not also shine through in a historical narrative, even if one tries?
A recent project, which I have only just discovered the existence of, has sought to collect memoirs not of long-deceased participants but of descendants of participants in the Irish independence struggle. An idea behind the project has evidently been that the civil war, which broke out a century ago this month, left so much trauma in its wake that it is still a part of society and that speaking of that trauma can bring a healing process. In short, “it is good to talk”.
That is not the first of perspectives that is likely to come to my mind as a historian, but it is perhaps an interesting or valuable one. Witnessing some of its productions this last week has led me to discover, not for the first time, that a historical figure I wrote about does, contrary to what I had thought from my research, have living descendants, which goes to show, perhaps, that mistakes will always be made. But enough about me…
If one would like to hear unique interviews with descendants of Irish historical figures such as Cathal Brugha, Harry Boland, Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, Fintan Lynch & Erskine Childers, you can do so at the following links: Descendants Interviews 1 and Descendants Interviews 2. Details of related publications and events can be found on their remarkable website, which has been duly bookmarked by yours truly.