INNOCENT LANDSCAPES REVISITED: 30 / JUL / 2010
COLGAGH - 29/07/2011
Posted by David Farrell
"Also verifying memory does not amount to overlaying images of the past on the present, the present on the past. For starters, I think of memory not as the reproduction of images that rise up nostalgically from within oneself, but rather as the territory of the heart that faces and is deeply engaged with the vast time that stretches into the distant before and after, with the present as the divide." (Daido Moriyama, Memories of a Dog.)
Charlie Armstrong disappeared on his way to mass on the 16th August 1981 - he was 55 years old. Along with Gerard Evans he was not on the official list of the acknowledged ‘disappeared’ released by the IRA in 1999 as part of the ongoing Peace Process. As mentioned in the Attempt at Reading a Landscape posting last December a short search was carried out for him in 2002 at a location approximately one mile from the current site, which was, up until today, being physically searched for the last six weeks. Up until today. As it appears that finally and hopefully he is being returned to his family. A long and painful wait, over. Full and formal confirmation will take a number of weeks and it would be a cruelty beyond belief if the recovered remains were not his.
In relative terms it has been a short physical search over difficult ground and I had decided to keep this one quiet. I’m not sure why, a feeling that maybe this one should be a mirror of these silent searches. Photographed but not written about until later which I sensed would not be too long. All week I have woken from dreams about a discovery at this place. Something I had put down to a combination of going back jogging and possibly my brain needing to file thoughts that I wasn’t writing and strangely for me to do so in an optimistic way. The topography of this place made sense as a possible location. You climbed over a temporary fence and descended a track into a field that was obscured from the road by a mound that made you disappear from the any passing traffic, which in itself was rare. In the few times I was there sometimes for an hour or two, not a single car would pass. Off in the distance I could hear children playing in the garden of a distant house and boy racers tearing down other roads but this small slip of a road, which is part of a proscribed country walk perhaps somewhat ironically named the ‘Monaghan Way’ remained undisturbed.
At this Colgagh there is a sense of two durations of time almost coming full circle, in that this Colgagh is across the road from the other Colgagh where the remains of Bryan McKinney and John McClory were found in 1999 right at the beginning of all this exhumation of landscape and time that stretched in to the distant before and after. A weaving thread connected both sites last autumn in the form of a drainage ditch that ran under the road and cut right through the previous Colgagh rupturing its reclamation by nature and off into the distance and allowing in time the newer Colgagh to be approached and searched. Both landscapes share in part the "stony grey soil of Monaghan", as described in anguished terms by the poet Patrick Kavanagh whose birthplace Inishkeen is just a few miles away.I am often asked by people to explain why such an effort would be exerted to recover people from what appears to be a slightly distant past and I try to explain how important that simple word closure is for those involved and that a Christian burial and a formal grave are a greater consolation and aid to healing and remembering than a road shrine in a putative location. Last weekend as I photographed the meticulous progression across this confused terrain of soft bog that offered up the occasional tree stump and hard unyielding stone, I had a strong sensation of an end in sight and that the ghost of this place would be liberated from what might be a bog hole or a shallow grey grave.
At times like this one also remembers the ongoing searches at Carrickrobbin (nine months) and Wilkinstown (fourteen months) and one retrieves a little hope from a deep well.