We are what we remember. Everyone is made up of what we have experienced, what we recall of it and what we choose to forget.
The choosing is often the critical part. What we edit out of our lives is as much a marker as what we decide to bring with us.
National memory is much the same and the modern State plays a huge part in shaping that conversation. The first generation of the newly independent Ireland, like the founding fathers in new nation states everywhere, were very conscious of how this could be achieved.
Ireland’s history might have been complex and multi-layered but the story we would be told was a simple and straightforward one.
Education played a primary role, one meekly handed over to the Catholic Church by Eoin MacNeill in the first Free State government.
The brothers and the nuns didn’t flinch when it came to the sins of the oppressor.
Eight hundred years of tyranny packed into overcrowded classrooms left an indelible mark.
But while the new Ireland was quick to mark out who we weren’t, it was equally eager to lay claim to who we thought we were.
In 1935, the Irish Folklore Commission was empowered by Eamon de Valera to go about the highways and byways to collect ‘the best of what remained’ of Irish folklore.
It was a brilliant initiative and a few years later it sent a booklet to national schools so that children could participate in the research. Crucially they would bring their queries and inquisitiveness home with them.
By the end of the 1940s, the Commission had gathered one of the greatest collections of folklore in Europe. A colossal achievement and an invaluable resource.
But, as Deidre Nuttall observes in her new book Different and the Same, the Irish State made a very deliberate decision about what it would choose to remember and what it wanted to forget.
For instance, schools in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford were allowed to opt out. Sullied by modernism and Anglo-cultural influences, they didn’t fulfil the de Valera vision of the Gaelic idol.
Even more tellingly, Protestant school children were not collected from as a cultural group. Their folk memory didn’t really fit. One boy in a rural school recalled being told by his teacher he was exempt from the project in the 1930s.
That is being corrected now. A fine body of such folk memory has been archived as part of the National Folklore Collection in UCD. Much, though, has been lost.
Amazing what a nation can remember when it tries hard enough.
Nuttall’s brilliant book about the Protestant experience in a confessional Catholic state should certainly jog our memories.
A paediatric psychologist on the radio stopped me in my tracks. Not because what she said was profound but glaringly obvious. The sort of obvious that hides in plain sight.
She simply made the point that four-year-old children have spent a quarter of their lives in lockdown.
More really, because in the first eighteen-months or so babies and toddlers exist in a mostly non-verbal world with little or no understanding of much beyond it.
So really it could be argued that four-year-olds have spent nearly half their conscious lives unnaturally cooped up.
Young children thrive on play and social interaction. Many – like my grandson – have mostly only had adults as company for close on a year now.
A much-loved, boisterous little vandal, there are no outward signs so far that Covid is holding him back. But you’d fret.
Let’s set them free. Sooner than soon.