The Garden of Remembrance is not the place for a memorial to abuse victimsImage

Many of us will express immense relief that an oversized memorial to victims of abuse is not to be constructed either inside or adjoining the city’s Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square (above). The proposal was completely inappropriate and the surprise is that it was allowed to proceed in the first place, before the decision was rejected by An Bord Pleanala. The provocative plan also split opinion among representatives of abuse victims, many of whom felt that such a memorial was premature, when compensation claims for such abuse are still outstanding.

All of us are for properly remembering the victims of State abuse, but this was not the way to do it. The Garden of Remembrance was specifically built to honour the memory of those who fought for Ireland’s independence. It is built in a cruciform shape, with an enclosed pool depicting images from Irish history and a huge inspirational sculpture of the mythical Children of Lir. It is not a generalised remembrance garden for different groups in Irish society and history, but specifically to honour the militant Republican tradition. This is why Queen Elizabeth visited it on her ground breaking visit and even laid a wreath there.

Indeed, after years of neglect this Garden is finally being treated properly – it was last week host to a ceremony to mark the centenary of the Irish Volunteers – and the whole of Parnell Square is getting a general uplift with a proposed new city library for the old Colaiste Mhuire building. It thus beggars belief that the Government could have given the go-ahead for a memorial, entitled The Journey of Light, that would have disrupted the whole point of the Garden as well as destroyed the physical and architectural integrity of the Garden, and square,.

One has to make a distinction here between the memory of those who are commemorated, even celebrated, for actively giving their lives in the independence struggle and those who were innocent victims of a heinous State neglect and who need to be remembered in a different way. Putting a memorial to the latter demeans the former, and vice versa. It gives the equally strange suggestion that the child victims were sacrificed in some cathartic process for modern Ireland. Veterans of nationalist families could certainly not have been happy with that.

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For it wasn’t as if the abuse memorial was to be a mere plague or memorial stone. The Journey into Light (above) involved building a tunnel in through the garden’s outer wall behind the Children of Lir, thereby creating a new entrance from Parnell Street. It would effectively be cutting open the park and ‘integrating’ with the existing memorial. The tunnel was then to be lit at night, with the State’s apology to abuse victims inscribed, which people walking through could read. The latter is an example of the direct literalism common to such memorials now, and also a reminder that the raw hurt of the abuse seems to prevent the survivors from coming up with a more subtle way of highlighting their struggle. Either way, one can see how it would have overwhelmed the existing garden.

We all want to see the victims of child sexual abuse properly and sensitively remembered, but this is certainly not the way to do it. One of those who opposed the memorial was Dublin city councillor Mannix Flynn, who himself also famously suffered abuse. ‘This was not going to make any child safer, or advance child protection’ he said. ‘We need truth and not memorials at this point.’

But there is a tendency to memorial mania now, across the culture, which often demeans the impact and power of the actual memorials, and what they are supposed to stand for. If you go to Merrion Square, for example, you will see countless memorials, sited in a disproportionate fashion, and quite honestly, dwindling in significance and meaning, as they clutter up the place. Nowhere is safe. A popular football pitch was removed from the famous Croppies Acre on Dublin’s Wolfe Tone quay to make way for a field of flat tombstones to mark the alleged graves of 1798 rebels. Was it not preferable to have children playing football in the inner city than butcher another green space for another nationalist memorial?

By contrast, the abuse victims fully deserve a memorial, but why not put it at the centre of the capital, where everyone can see it and it becomes a central part of our national narrative? Connecting it to an existing nationalist remembrance garden is intrusive and disrespectful, to both elements, and does not give the abuse victims a full memorial in their own right, which is more than what they deserve.

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Queen Elizabeth at the Garden of Remembrance

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