Carnoustie, Scotland 2010
In the middle of the university Summer holidays, I decided to take a week off to travel back home to Carnoustie and visit my parents. My research had been developing increasingly with main focus upon family stories of migration, with the narrative connecting my family to Ireland becoming central. What had started as a way for me to personally connect to narratives of migration and peripheral landscapes, through relating through my own family history and diasporic identity, had emerged as solely driving the work forward.
In the back of my mind I recalled that my father still had some copies of letters, which had been written in correspondence between my grandmother and the family who had stayed in Ireland. For a long time I had been hesitant to ask my dad to see them, worried that it may upset him to see them again. Engagement with the memories wrapped up in these narratives involved revisiting things with my father of which I could only imagine were heart-breaking. I decided to talk to my mother about this, asking her opinion on how my dad may feel about bringing the letters down from the attic and if she felt talking about the contents of them would upset him. Her response was that she was sure he would be glad to share things which may help both my research, and inform my creative practice, and that she knew I would handle it all with sensitivity.
When I first sat down with the various letters I came across an envelope, which was thick with various correspondences regarding the death of Agnes’ seven-year-old son Stephen. After spending some time with them I asked my father about them - who had been nine at the time of Stephen’s death – and asked if he had read them. He hadn’t but he told me he remembered my grandmother sitting by the window reading them. He recalled her occasionally turning outwards, facing the view out of the window, trying to hide from the rest of the room the tears which they were causing. On several of the pages I could see the marks of these tears where the ink had run.