Note: Kelly Batchelder is the 2018 recipient of the Krause Research Fellowship in Irish Studies. This month’s feature gives us a glimpse at the project she will undertake next year in Ireland with the help of the fellowship.
The Krause Research Fellowship in Irish Studies is not only an incredible honor to receive, but it allows me the funds to travel to Northern Ireland to make my dissertation project that much richer. My research focuses on female experience during the Troubles of Northern Ireland, more specifically during the prison protests of the early 1980s, a topic that has been significantly ignored or downplayed within historical, cultural, and theoretical accounts of the conflict. My dissertation will draw on an interdisciplinary focus: By considering the connections between lived experience, images, bodies, and texts, in solely communal and visual media — theatre, film, and public art — I argue that these media create the most ideal spaces for the female body of the Northern Irish Troubles to become an actor for political and social change. The most exciting part of my research is feminist recovery of undiscovered works. While selecting the specific texts I wanted to analyze for my dissertation, I learned of Northern Irish filmmaker Maeve Murphy’s Troubles film Silent Grace, which concerns female involvement in the Dirty Protests of the early 1980s. While researching, I discovered the film was based on a play, Now and At the Hour of Our Death, which Murphy co-wrote along with four others as part of the all-female Trouble & Strife Theatre Company. However, the play was nowhere to be found in any database or library within the U.S. or Northern Ireland. After a string of emails over the course of several months, I was put in touch with Abigail Morris, Murphy’s co-author and director of the play. During a Skype interview, she explained that while the play was performed in the late 1980s in London, Belfast, New York, and San Francisco, it was never published.
Once the play was located, Morris mailed me a copy of the unpublished typescript. On the one hand, I was astounded that such an important piece of literary history had never been published or studied; yet on the other, I was not surprised at all. Important experiences such as women breaking curfew to aid other women despite threats of violence by the British Army, or women smearing themselves in excrement to join the Dirty Protest are reserved for footnotes and parenthetical commentary within historical, cultural, and theoretical works on the Troubles. It is this omission that my project aims to rectify. While there are hundreds of literary works concerning the Troubles, Now and At the Hour of Our Death and Silent Grace are the only two attempts at capturing the female protestor’s experience, making them even more important to study. As a result of this discovery, the play and film are now the focus for my first dissertation chapter. Feminist recovery of unexamined and unpublished work such as this excites me to write the dissertation.
With the aid of the Krause Research Fellowship in Irish Studies, I can travel to Northern Ireland to conduct field research. Only accessible in Belfast, I can make use of hundreds of archives in the Linen Hall Library’s Northern Irish Political Collection. No other institution in a localized conflict has systematically collected material from all sides, materials culminating in over a quarter of a million items. In addition to archival research, I can gather an oral history by conducting personal interviews with women who experienced the Troubles, asking them questions about their experience and learning their thoughts on the state of the female body in Northern Ireland both during the conflict and presently, as well as its representation in theatre, film, and art. I am excited that the Krause Research Fellowship will help me bring attention to the importance of female experience, both actual and artistic, in Northern Ireland.