Severed Heads and Floggings: The Undermining of Oblivion in Ulster in the Aftermath of 1798
2016, The Body in Pain in Irish Literature and Culture, edited by Fionnuala Dillane, Naomi McAreavey and Emilie Pine
In ‘Severed Heads and Floggings: The Undermining of Oblivion in Ulster in the Aftermath of 1798’, Guy Beiner traces the attempts via political amnesty to reshape ‘biographical and social memory’, most tellingly demonstrated, he suggests, by the spectacle of former United Irishmen joining the ranks of loyal Orange brigades. Other factors that resulted in what Beiner calls a ‘drain of memory’ include the deportation of rebel prisoners, and of course the execution of rebel leaders. However, he also shows social memory to be resilient, despite the social motivation for and sanction of its reconstruction; this resilience revolves around the body in pain, for instance the image of publicly displayed severed heads, and the persistence of the body as a totemic image exemplifying a general period of multiple shocking experiences. ... A considerable body of literature on 'transitional justice' has commented on the advocacy of forgetting that is inherent in amnesty settlements. The main focus has been on transitions from authoritarian states to democracies in the second half of the twentieth century, with regards to dispensations given to perpetrators of state violence under the former regime, but it should be acknowledged that many of these amnesties provided arrangements for the integration of former opponents of the state, including armed insurgents. A longer historical perspective exposes the inability of modern states to enforce uniform collective amnesia of their troubled and conflicted pasts. Official constructions of memory are constantly subject to contestations from counter-memories, defiantly upheld by oppositional groups. Less noticed perhaps is how rehabilitated loyal sectors of society, which seemingly had a vested interest in forgetting their previous political oppositional affiliations, would also cling on to memories of pain and suffering caused by the government to which they now professed allegiance.