Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony & The Irish Civil War; Síobhra Aiken

Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony & The Irish Civil War; Síobhra Aiken

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‘A path-breaking study, which brilliantly exposes the blind spots of historical scholarship on the legacies of the Irish Civil War… Síobhra Aiken’s compelling exploration of how reticence was confronted by a tenacious unwillingness to forget is an innovative historiographical intervention that stands out among the publications of the Decade of Centenaries.’ Guy Beiner

Spiritual Wounds challenges the widespread belief that the contentious events of the Irish Civil War (1922–23) were covered in a total blanket of silence. The book uncovers an alternative archive of published testimonies by pro- and anti-treaty men and women, written in both English and Irish. Most of the testimonies discussed were produced in the 1920s and 1930s and nearly all have been overlooked in historical study to date. This is despite the fact that many of these writings were bestsellers in their own time.

This book explores the lengths taken by veterans to testify to their civil war experiences in light of the emphasis on silence in official discourses: they adopted fictionalised disguises, located their writings in other places or in other periods of time, and found shelter behind pen names. For many, the urge to tell about these difficult experiences was motivated by a therapeutic aim to ‘heal’ the ‘spiritual wounds’ of civil war.

The retreat to these less conventional forms of life writing also enabled veterans to testify to experiences that were sidelined in mainstream commemoration: the suffering of women during war, revolutionaries’ frequenting of brothels, the realities of Irish-on-Irish violence, sexual violence against men and women, and the discomfort of post-civil war demographic displacement due to emigration or partition. Furthermore, the mask of fiction enabled veterans to testify not only to the suffering they had endured, but also to the violence they had committed themselves.

Ultimately this book reveals that the silence of the Irish Civil War was not necessarily a result of revolutionaries’ reluctance to speak. Rather it reflects the unwillingness of the architects of official memory – journalists, historians, politicians – to listen to the testimony of civil war veterans.

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