Broken Memories or Shards of the Past? Ruins and Identity in an Irish Pilgrimage Site


  • Kieran McCarthy Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Cork


Memories can be made visible on the landscape resulting from people’s commemorative decisions. Remembering is a thoroughly social and political process, a realm of contestation and controversy. The past tends to be constantly selected, filtered and restructured in terms set by the questions and necessities of the present. Hence each landscape can raise questions about the political aesthetics and organisational forms utilised in their construction, and about the inclusions and exclusions of social groups and modes of memory, which each permits. The connection of the nature of ruins to the collective memory debate provides further opportunities to analyse the processes of landscape formation. Duncan and Duncan (2010, p.231) asserts that the landscape serves as a vast repository of symbolism, iconography and ideology, as symbols of order and social relationships, such as ruins, can be interpreted by those who know the language of built forms. Edensor (2005b, p.4) writes that ruins comprise human-made parts and parts that nature is taking back through overgrowth. Ruins have their own time, place, space and life. Diverse rates of decay mean that some spaces and objects are erased whilst others remain. These processes create a particularly dense and disorganised ‘temporal collage’ of memory. Hence according to scholars such as Edensor (2005b, p.4) memory is narrated and conceived of as an unfolding succession of stories the produce a plenitude of fragmented stories, omitted memories, fantasies and inexplicable objects. This paper investigates the question of the role of ruins in the production of memory in the land- scape. In particular, it uses the pilgrimage site of Gougane Barra at the source of the river Lee, County Cork, Ireland to investigate meanings and the human experience associated with that meaning in ruins as part of the landscape.