Ripples from the Irish Famine – Remembering the Forgotten

Stories are important. 

They weave through our families and our communities from our ancestors as well as through commonly held knowledge in the collective field. Constellation, as a tool, is a way to access the hidden stories and the silenced voices of the ancestors behind these stories. 

When we share or tell stories from a collective the narrative can be shaped according to the teller and become the commonly held narrative, in some cases the stories might not even be remembered, or told.

One of the collective memories that I am seeing showing up in my work, in different ways, in individual and group sessions at the moment is memories relating to the Irish Hunger or Irish Famine as it is better known. 

Entanglements around ‘lack’ and fear of ‘lack’, betrayal, persecution, displacement and fractured belonging are showing up in connection to this historical period. The Irish Famine isn’t the only animated collective historical memory of trauma in the present moment, but it is a significant and often unseen one. I wanted to share some moments from recent group and individual sessions exploring this from the last few months.

The first time I knowingly stepped into a group constellation to explore collective memories of the Irish famine it had a very specific focus. It was part of a series of workshops exploring the roots of racism and slavery within the US. In attempting to explore the unseen and unacknowledged trauma potentially impacted the ability of an individual in the present to ‘see’ enslavement and racism we chose to explore the possible collective memories from historical European migration into the USA. One of those was the Irish Famine in the 1840s. 

It turned out to be a deeply moving and highly emotive experience. 

The weight of the trauma within the created constellation field was immediate and the representatives for the Irish ancestors were quickly overwhelmed by it. One person representing the ‘mothers’ screamed “NO!” and it seemed to echo around the room. It was an embodiment of an ‘un-screamed scream’ and a breaking of an ancestral silence. It was spontaneous and came directly from her entangled state within the constellation. She was looking for her children but couldn’t see them. 

The representatives for the children were at the edge of the constellation space, she had no awareness of them and they could not move towards her.

This inability to see the children within the constellation was constant for the majority of representatives within the created field. It has also showed up repeatedly in other constellations on this topic I have facilitated since then.

Some of the representatives for the Irish ancestors within the constellation had completely fractured all belonging for themselves with ‘Ireland’ and would not look at the dead, nor the children, the innocents or their own responsibilities. Stating:

I lost all that I have

I lost all that I was

I need to escape the pain

I can’t look at you

I can’t see you

It is killing me too

I need to survive

The children called out to them:

Please don’t leave

Please don’t go

It was deeply painful to witness but the value of the children’s trauma being so unseen and unacknowledged is huge within a constellation field space. Seeing the entanglement, really witnessing it, can begin the process of disentangling it. This is particularly so within a collective memory constellation, once we have ‘seen’ from this different perspective, we can’t go back to not seeing. It simply isn’t possible. On some level our awareness of the stories, told and untold, has been altered.

The representatives for ‘descendants in the present’ were weeping and holding the ancestors’ grief within themselves, however they too could not see the children. The children in the constellation were still unseen and felt very unsafe. 

The mother’s grief was overwhelming and yet she too could not see the children, she was isolated within her own pain and the field itself remained fractured.

The ‘descendants in the present’ were overwhelmed with the grief and the weight of the unacknowledged dead and death, the impossible choices. 

It was incredibly heavy with the weight of such grief.

The ‘descendants in the present’ spoke to the ancestors:

I’m lost

I don’t know what to do

I don’t know who to be for you

I’m lost

I have to be here because you left

This shows how entangled the belonging of descendants can have with unacknowledged grief. At this point a representative for ‘betrayal’ moved towards the father who had left Ireland.

The ‘descendants in the present’ and the Irish ancestors who were still standing within the constellation field spoke to him:

I am still waiting

You have forgotten your children

However, this was all spoken without actually looking at, or witnessing, the children. No one was looking at them. There was some movement within the field from the Irish ancestors who began to see the unacknowledged dead and were able to say:

I see you

At this point the children became more withdrawn and spoke:

You’ve forgotten me

You’ve forgotten me

This entanglement appeared again in an online group class looking again at collective memories of the Irish famine. Our focus was the plight of one family in particular and the influence of their experience on the descendants in the present. In 1847 the children in the family were left at a workhouse in Cork. The mother had died of fever and the father pretended that the children were orphans. He emigrated to the US in the hope of eventually being able to come back for the children. But he never did. This story is certainly not unique and was a common occurrence at the time. This echoed the earlier example found in the previous group constellation.

The dominant entanglement within the created constellation was the grief of the mother not being able to keep her children safe. The descendants in the present were holding the grief and pain with her.

There was a shift in the holding of the grief for the mothers and the children when the descendants in the present were able to say:

I see you 

This wasn’t your fault

They took everything from you

And then they blamed you

This wasn’t your fault

I honour your unlived years

I honour your unlived dreams

Your love still has a place

This allowed the descendants in the present, and our group as a whole, to say:

I am not living a stolen life

I have my own place on the land

In my individual sessions at the moment I have also repeatedly observed aspects of the collective themes of persecution, famine and conflict trauma  which appear as the root entanglement. The individual response to COVID 19 and the experience of the current trauma and threat is entangled with and experienced through the dislocated collective historical memories from the past. 

One client in particular, Sophie, an American with Irish ancestry, was deeply distressed by the unfolding pandemic. Though she herself was not impacted physically or economically her fear was very real. 

On exploration during a session she experienced relief at being able to disentangle her ancestors’ migration trauma relating to the famine and working with a representative for ‘fear’ in the present and the directive narrative of the following shifted the influent field for her:

I refuse to meet you in the panic

I refuse to meet you in the fear

I refuse to meet you in the distraction

You are not being hunted in this

You are running from yourself

You are running from memories of guilt

You are holding their stories within yours

I feel your ancestors behind you

I feel my ancestors behind me

You haven’t lost your place

You are not living their story

I haven’t lost my place

I am not living their story

You/I don’t owe anyone a painful death

My/your ancestors were worthy of a gentle death

I am/you are worthy of a gentle life

You can let go, no one needs to hold what they have been carrying

You can let go

I can let go too

This did not make the threat of COVID 19 disappear but she no longer was experiencing it through the weight of her ancestors trauma. 

The historical trauma that occurs within aspects of the collective, flows to the country and then the community that lives within that land. If this trauma is a result of migration or forced displacement it can also be held by the individual within their family of origin within their place in the collective. By exploring the collective historical trauma, there is the same potential to disentangle the entangled memories from the collective as there is for each individual that forms part of the collective. 

Taking the time to honour and witness the stories of our ancestors is so important and choosing to see makes a very real difference.

When missing and unseen children are present within the close generations, or the historical narrative, of an individual or collective field it leaves it will leave a mark on those generations who come after. 

There can be entanglements within the individual family field relating to unseen children. 

Unseen children, for the most part, are real souls. Some of them have lived and breathed and played, some for a short period of time. Others were miscarriages, abortions and children that were perhaps a dream in the heart of their mother or father. 

The collective energy of ‘unseen children’ represent and carry the weight of the unacknowledged grief and pain of generation upon generation of parents and children. They often wait in silence to be seen, loved, accepted, and given place. If the waiting that typifies them is in resonance with your own personal entanglements, then the connection with the unseen children within your field is even more important.

There are more forgotten dead than there are people within our fields of influence. 

Shifting our focus there and allowing ourselves to step into the grief and sacrifice is an important step, but we can also tend to the forgotten dead in other ways. Whether we light a candle in their honour, visit a gravesite or battlefield, speak the names of the dead.

Next time you visit such a place, take the time to think about them and simply set the intention:

I remember you.

You are not forgotten.

I remember you.

I am not the only one.

I remember your place as I take my place.

I am choosing to see.

It is a small act of honouring that we can do, a ritual of grief, to recognise where we’ve come from, who we are and, ultimately, the legacy we choose to leave for the generations still to come.

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