Person, Place and Culture An Irish Catholic Obituary Section Creative Encounters

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Patrick Quinlan

Abstract

Modern Irish history now records the exhumation of the remains of 155 ‘consecrates’ at High Park Convent in September 1993 as one of the first tremors in a quarter-century of scandals whose collective impact would shatter the nation’s deeply ingrained respect for and deference to the Roman Catholic Church. Belatedly, Irish society has sought to listen to and learn from the personal testimony of the individuals who lived under institutional regimes of varying levels of harshness. Their accounts held a mirror up to a society that continued to pathologise and warehouse social problems long after better solutions should have been available, but they also resonate in the fields of architectural history and material culture, forcing us to reckon with the meanings accorded to landscapes, buildings and spaces by those obliged to inhabit them.
Demography and the spectre of justice too-long denied made the task of recording the oral testimony of former laundry residents an urgent one, yet another equally finite source of lived experience continues to pass away mostly unremarked - the religious who operated them. Whether vilified as villains, exalted as pioneering and entrepreneurial proto-feminists, or cast as the superfluous siblings of a system of patrilineal, impartible inheritance, our understanding of the history of our times could only be enhanced by adding the personal reflections of those whose lived long enough to witness the disintegration of the system to which they voluntarily committed their own lives. This ‘obituary’ represents a creative act of reconstruction, but one firmly founded on documented fact and fragments personal memory. The goal is less to document a history than to recover an essence of a life, a place and a culture long-lived but now departed.

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