Voices and memories

Our initial thoughts on creating 'Catching Stories' were that we would present material in a somewhat mechanistic way, matching oral testimony ‘of a disease’ with description of the disease and commentary on the history of its treatment in Ireland. We have, indeed, created separate pages that relate to particular diseases, as part of this resource.

However, it soon became apparent that human memory, experience and talk, and indeed the experience of following up on knowledge in the community, aren’t necessarily that clear-cut. Narratives of the ways in which a wide range of infectious diseases wiped out most members of a family, or how the death of a childhood friend stands out as a single salient memory from early childhood, tell us about the trajectories of family experience or the workings of memory and emotion in a way that deserves to be highlighted in its own right. In order to avoid this kind of material being unnecessarily shorn of its significance in a mechanistic ‘testimony plus disease plus commentary’ presentation structure, we have created pages to allow voices, objects and experiences to breathe, and to honour the broader contexts in which the testimony exists.

In Echoes and resonances, we foreground the different ways in which mention and memory of infectious disease rears up in life history interviews that were not explicitly targeting that theme.

In Intergenerational Memory sparked by COVID-19, we present reflection from our ‘Chronicles of COVID-19’ questionnaire, where contributors describe how their thoughts turned to past epidemics and pandemics.

In The Loss of Teddie and Charlie O’Shea of College Road, we tell the story of the circulation on social media of two memorial cards for brothers who died of Spanish Flu in Cork in 1918.

This is a live resource that will grow throughout 2021 and 2022.