3. A River of Memory – PhD Work

A River of Memory: Landscape, Narrative, and Identity in the Lee Valley, Co. Cork, Ireland

 Kieran McCarthy, B.A., M.Phil.

Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Cork

Thesis submitted to the National University of Ireland for the degree of PhD.


In moments of rapid social changes, as has been witnessed in Ireland in the last decade, the conditions through which people engage with their localities though memory, individually and collectively, remains an important cultural issue with key implications for questions of heritage, preservation and civic identity.

In recent decades, cultural geographers have argued that landscape is more than just a view or a static text of something symbolic. The emphasis seems to be on landscape as a dynamic cultural process – an ever-evolving process being constructed and re-constructed. Hence, landscape seems to be a highly complex term that carries many different meanings. Material, form, relationships or actions have different meanings in different settings.

Drawing upon recent and continuing scholarly debates in cultural landscapes and collective memory, this thesis sets out to examine the generation of collective memory and how it is employed as a cultural tool in the production of memory in the landscape. More specifically, the research considers the relationships between landscape and memory, investigating the ways in which places are produced, appropriated, experienced, sensed, acknowledged, imagined, yearned for, appropriated, re-appropriated, contested and identified with.

A polyvocal-bricoleur approach aims to get below the surface of a cultural landscape, inject historical research and temporal depth into cultural landscape studies and instil a genuine sense of inclusivity of a wide variety of voices (role of monuments and rituals and voices of people) from the past and present.

The polyvocal-bricoleur approach inspires a mixed method methodology approach to fieldsites through archival research, fieldwork and filmed interviews. Using a mixture of mini-vignettes of place narratives in the River Lee valley in the south of Ireland, the thesis explores a number of questions on the fluid nature of narrative in representing the story and role of the landscape in memory-making.

The case studies in the Lee Valley are harnessed to investigate the role of the above questions/ themes/ debates in the act of memory making at sites ranging from an Irish War of Independence memorial to the River Lee’s hydroelectric scheme to the valley’s key religious pilgrimage site.

The thesis investigates the idea that that the process of landscape extends not only across space but also across time – that the concept of historical continuity and the individual and collective human engagement and experience of this continuity are central to the processes of remembering on the landscape.

In addition the thesis debates the idea that the production of landscape is conditioned by several social frames of memory – that individuals remember according to several social frames that give emphasis to different aspects of the reality of human experience. The thesis also reflects on how the process of landscape is represented by those who re-produce its narratives in various media.