Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony and the Irish Civil War


Síobhra Aiken

March 2022

Spiritual Wounds challenges the widespread belief that the Irish Civil War (1922–23) was followed by a ‘traumatic silence’ by uncovering an archive of previously overlooked testimonies by pro- and anti-treaty men and women.

Winner of the ACIS Michael J. Durkan Prize for best Irish Studies book on Language & Culture, 2022

Winner of the Royal Historical Society Whitfield Book Prize, 2023

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Spiritual Wounds challenges the widespread belief that the contentious events of the Irish Civil War (1922–23) were covered in a total blanket of silence. The book uncovers an archive of published testimonies by pro- and anti-treaty men and women, written in both English and Irish. Most of the testimonies discussed were produced in the 1920s and 1930s, and nearly all have been overlooked in historical study to date.

Revolutionaries went to great lengths to testify to the ‘spiritual wounds’ of civil war: they adopted fictionalised disguises, located their writings in other places or periods of time, and found shelter behind pen names. This wealth of published testimony reveals that the silence of the Irish Civil War was not necessarily a result of revolutionaries’ inability to speak, but rather reflects the unwillingness of official memory makers to listen to the stories of civil war veterans.




Introduction: The Unspeakable Irish Civil War?
1. ‘Ridding Ourselves of the Past’: Therapeutic Testimony
2. From Rest to Writing Cures: Testifying to Women’s Pain
3. Hidden in Plain Sight: Witnesses to Sexual Violence
4. ‘A Dispossessed People’: Spiritual Exiles and Exiled Emigrants
5. ‘I Killed at Least a Dozen Fellow Irishmen’: Perpetrator Testimony
Afterword: Acts of Reparation


Síobhra Aiken is a lecturer in Queen’s University Belfast. A former Fulbright Scholar, her publications include The Men Will Talk to Me: Ernie O’Malley’s Interviews with the Northern Divisions (Merrion Press, 2018) and An Chuid Eile Díom Féin: Aistí le Máirtín Ó Direáin (Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2018). Spiritual Wounds is based on her doctoral research at NUI Galway, which was awarded the American Conference for Irish Studies Adele Dalsimer Prize for Distinguished Dissertation 2021. She is a regular contributor to centenary debates on television and radio.

Praise for Spiritual Wounds

‘A deeply interesting and revelatory work…an exciting work of literary excavation…possibly a key turning point in Irish studies’ – ACIS, on awarding Spiritual Wounds the Michael J. Durkan Prize for best Irish Studies book on Language & Culture

‘This is an original, timely, fresh and significant work.’ – Brian Hanley, Assistant Professor in Twentieth-Century Irish History, Trinity College Dublin

Spiritual Wounds is a brilliant book that unsettles the notion of silence about the Irish Civil War…The analysis is sharp and insightful, resulting in a vividly written study that challenges critics to reconsider the relationships between literature, memory and history.’ – Oona Frawley, editor of Women and the Decade of Commemorations and author of Flight

‘An excellent literary and historical review of our responses to the civil war.’ – Alan Titley, Emeritus Professor of Modern Irish, University College Cork

‘A path-breaking study, which brilliantly exposes the blind spots of historical scholarship on the legacies of the Irish Civil War…Síobhra Aiken’s compelling exploration of how reticence was confronted by a tenacious unwillingness to forget is an innovative historiographical intervention that stands out among the publications of the Decade of Centenaries.’ – Guy Beiner, author of Remembering the Year of the French and Forgetful Remembrance

Books of the Year 2022 – ‘Síobhra Aiken’s Spiritual Wounds recovers a mass of prose fiction and memoirs written by survivors of the Civil War. She demonstrates that the trauma of conflict did not, as is often asserted, suppress discussion, but encouraged it, creating richer deposit of testimony (notably about the experience of women) than historians have assumed. – John Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement 

‘What struck me most upon completing Spiritual Wounds was how Aiken generously offers up her own lexicon and approaches to Irish Studies as an interdisciplinary field more broadly. Her study provides a bilingual model for researchers, at any stage of their career, to query truisms, destabilise silos, and infuse a deep ethic of care towards both the practices that create, and the subjects of, academic investigation.’ – Gabrielle Kathleen Machnik-Kekesi, Journal of Irish Studies

‘It is a powerful contribution to our understanding of the legacy of war and of historical practice and the role of the historian.’ – Royal Historical Society