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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, June 22, 2008
    Murder of Memory
    Places have particular psychic memories, reckons psychologist Dav Devalle. And these memories 'can serve to shape the ways in which people can be entrapped in places'.

    Sometimes these memories may be about murder; and sometimes memories might be 'murdered' (buried, forgotten, marginalised). And repeatedly in its history, Dav asserts, Manchester has murdered memory.

    In his talk at TRIP 2008 Dav focussed on the story of William Allen, Michael Larkin, and William O'Brien, Irish nationalists executed for killing a policeman during a prison escape, who were hanged on November 23, 1867. The men had been imprisoned for rescuing two leading Irish Republicans, Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy. Kelly had been declared the chief executive of the Irish Republic at a secret Republican convention, and Deasy commanded a Fenian brigade in County Cork. Wanted men throughout Britain and Ireland, both had been arrested (in Shudehill, Dav told us) for loitering, and later charged with more serious offenses.

    The execution of Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien enlivened the Republican movement and they became known as the Manchester Martyrs. In Dav's account the authorities' decision to bury their bodies in quicklime in Strangeways Prison, was for Irish people the final indignity and an example of the murder of memory. Many decades later, under pressure from the men's families and the Republican movement, and with the help of Canon Noel Proctor, the former Anglican Chaplain of Strangeways, their cremated remains were exhumed and reburied in a mass grave in Blackley Cemetery. Still peripheral to the city's memory there though, still 'murdered'.

    This story is particularly poignant for Dav for it has come to him with his psychic need to interrogate Manchester-Irish history in a search for his own roots. And at this point in Dav's talk (which followed on from mine) I realised that if I'd heard this a year ago then my walk (with Phil Smith on 12 October) from Blackley into Manchester city centre, to the epicentre of the 1996 IRA bomb, could have taken on a very different theme.

    If I'd known then that there's a crumbling Martyr's memorial in St Joseph's Cemetery, Moston, I would not have passed it by unknowingly as we did on our walk. And if I'd heard then that the IRA planted the bomb in the very same area where Kelly and Deasy were arrested over a century earlier, I'd have walked with a very different set of connections, a far more vibrant, more scandalous, more vigorous, sense of the city's psychic memory than I had at the time. Powerful stuff.