Silence in the aftermath of trauma: golden or grim?

Diarmuid Ferriter, the Irish historian who has become a campaigner for history itself as much as anything that history might tell us, was speaking to Ryan Tubridy on RTE Radio One on Tuesday morning.

Ferriter is unbelievably prolific.

As well as being a university professor, it seems that he has a book out every other year — and no slim books either. The Transformation of Ireland checked in at almost 900 pages (and it’s not exactly large print) while A Nation and Not a Rabble was comparatively slim at 528.

He was speaking to Tubridy about another project he has been involved in, a documentary called Keepers of the Flame about the generation who survived the most tumultuous period in Irish history, spanning the Rising of 1916 and in particular the War of Independence and Civil War from 1919 to 1923.

Keepers of the Flame explores the impact of these events on the collective and personal memories of the Irish state and its people, using as its source the vast archive of personal accounts, Irish Military Pensions files and rare and precious archive film footage.

It was a fascinating interview, and Ferriter’s thoughts on the stony silence that many people would have carried with them were interesting.

I firmly believe that honest two-way conversation is a powerful combatant against trauma, but the historian makes a valid point that silence in the aftermath of such trauma can also be noble.

There’s an awful lot of trauma that I think was internalised. One of the things we’re trying to do with this documentary is provide an antidote to the silences.

An awful lot of people did not talk about that period, and these letters [from the archives] are now speaking to us. They didn’t talk about it for reasons that were often noble. Silence is not always ignoble, or not always something that needs to be seen in a negative way.

There were good reasons why they would want to have remained quiet. There was a dignified silence, and they might not have wanted to pass on whatever prejudices they might be carrying to the next generation.

The full interview can be accessed here