EAST Clare historian Dr Tomás Mac Conmara has been invited to deliver the annual lecture of the Oral History Network of Ireland.
The lecture entitled Always in the Human Consciousness will explore the memory and oral history associated with the Revolutionary Period, with audio samples from recordings of interviews he conducted across the country.
Tomás said he was delighted to have been approached to deliver the 2022 lecture.
“The Oral History Network is a national body and they do one annual lecture. They’ve brought people from other parts of the world previously and obviously I’m honoured.
“Whenever you are asked to do a lecture you try and do your best, and take it as an opportunity to talk about what’s important to you and why you feel the research you’re doing may be important, or the material you found is important. I’m treating this the same way, but it is a great honour to be asked to deliver the lecture.”
Oral history has always been his focus, since he became active in recording history as a very young man, and he feels it is finally being recognised as an important means of understanding times past.
“I’ve been at this for well over 20 years, since I was in a teenager, and in the last 15 years there has been a huge increase in the attention given to oral history, both in the community, which is the most important thing; but also in universities and academia it’s being taken more and more seriously.
“That has been gratifying to see because there were a lot of years when you felt like you were banging your head against a brick wall to some extent, but now people are beginning to see the value of it.
“There may be an attitude in some circles where it wouldn’t be taken as seriously as it should be. But they are seeing that the community responds very positively to memory-based, oral history-based material, because they can relate to it, because it’s the human story and it’s about the emotion involved in an incident.”
Speaking about the upcoming lecture, he says, “I’ll be talking broadly about the memory of the Revolutionary period, that will include the War of Independence and the Civil War.
“I’ll be looking at the value of it, to make the case broadly of why it is important, reflecting back on the memory that has been gathered and collected both by myself and others and what it can do for us as a public looking back.
“The whole thing for me is about understanding the past. Over the years and decades historians have focused on knowledge through data and analysis of data, but for me it’s about understanding the past.
“And if you’re trying to understand the past, if you look through the pathway of memory you’ll arrive at a better understanding.”
He also says he will be looking at what influences memory, what can shape historical narratives, while he says it is very important “where the silences are” in relation to the period.
“I’ve said it many times that the most important aspect if you’re trying to understand memory is silence; it’s the first thing you should look at.
“If you’re looking at the War of Independence across Clare and the memory associated with it, the memorials that are there are hugely important and there’s a reason for them, but they don’t encapsulate the entirety of the story.
“So there’s inevitably gaps in terms of public memory for example. If you’re talking to an individual there’ll be aspects that a person won’t speak about.
“It might be that they didn’t hear that narrative, they didn’t hear aspects of history, or it might be too painful for them to discuss it, or it might be that they recall a silence.”
He says that often people tell him their loved ones wouldn’t talk about certain things, but that in itself can be important information.
“If you can understand the silences and detect them, you can try to gently explore and find the stories and get beyond the silences.
“Sometimes you can’t; sometimes something is lost and nothing can be done about it. But certainly silence is absolutely critical if you’re trying to explore memory.”
His lecture entitled Always in the Human Consciousness will be at the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland at Society House, 63 Merrion Square, Dublin on December 1 from 7-9pm. It will include audio recordings from people who experienced the period and who felt its legacy deeply.
While it is a free event registration is required and information on it is available at www.oralhistorynetworkireland.ie/.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.