Monthly Archives: September 2009

On the Steps of The Holy Name Church, Oxford Road, Manchester, 11 September, 2009


Paris Match, 2 June 1962, and Stone from Donegal, Photographed 30 September, 2009

Departure (3), 7 September, 2009

Before we meet, John’s last email also asks me to ponder an expression in French that I shared with him when we met to exchange the case. When discussing my current joint research project, I talk about our interest in how the population known as pieds-noirs (colonial settlers of European origin in French Algeria) have been represented since almost one million of them fled from North Africa at the end of the Algerian War in 1962. I mention that the choice for pieds-noirs at the time – or at least the choice that clearly many metropolitan French and pieds-noirs themselves felt they had – was summarised pithily as ‘la valise ou le cercueil’ (‘the suitcase or the coffin’).

When you study the iconography of this particular historical moment, one of the key images is a June 1962 cover of the news weekly Paris-Match, showing a pied-noir couple and their young child onboard a ship looking back as they leave Algeria behind with the emotive headline: ‘La France nous aime-t-elle toujours?’ (‘Does France still love us?’). I place a copy of this in the case for John to keep and it strikes me that I have managed to spend most of my time with the case and my reflections on it as an academic; using research and work as a convenient smoke screen. I now realise – or perhaps admit to myself – that this has enabled me to avoid discussing more personal details of my own life and family’s migration in greater detail. But is the division between academic research and one’s personal life ever neat or complete? A wise woman once said to me that, no matter how esoteric or abstract your research might seem, you are effectively writing your own autobiography through it. How could one’s research not be overdetermined by the life experiences your identities might bring you?

So I also place within the case a smooth dappled stone plucked from a beach in Donegal that must have rolled miles along the seabed. As a dual symbol of both land and the sea, it seems strangely appropriate. Perhaps it wasn’t, after all, such a coincidence that I was drawn to an object from an in-between space.

Finally, I place within the case the Polaroids that had accompanied me on my travels and two postcards. Before departing the UK, I had noticed that John’s father’s Canadian passport was issued at Bône (now known as Annaba) in Algeria, and so whilst in Algiers I returned to visit a stamp and postcard seller whose stock of both is unsurpassed. I choose two colonial postcards of Bône for John, both of which in some ways seem to chime with the project. With that I close both the locks on the case: it’s time for it to return to its owner.

Text © Joseph McGonagle, 2009

Joseph McGonagle, The Holy Name Church, Oxford Road, Manchester, 11 September, 2009

The Holy Name Church, Oxford Road, Manchester, 23 April, 1973

Departure (2), 7 September, 2009

John phones me to discuss where to meet up. I have been musing about this during the last week but hadn’t reached a definitive decision. But I do know that it has to be Manchester. Why? In the past I had escaped to spend periods in France, and I had also lived in London over two years, but my ties with the city are too strong to suggest anywhere else. I narrow down my choice of location to two places.

First, I suggest Piccadilly train station, where we eventually make the opening image of our collaboration. I have regularly commuted into the city by train since childhood and Piccadilly has constantly been my point of arrival and departure. I’ve always been attracted to places of daily transit and as the city’s main train station it is one of the key arteries linking Manchester to the rest of the UK. Like many of the major English train stations, it has changed considerably over the last two decades. Gone are the days of old leaking roofs and flocks of pigeons nesting in dark and filthy upper recesses: now a parade of gleaming shops and bars fill two floors and light floods in through large glass windows and fine mesh roofing high above the platforms. This can present a challenge to memory: can your recollections of your past in a place remain the same when so much of its fabric has changed? The station’s transformation seems to have effaced many of my recollections from childhood and adolescence passing through here but it will always be more than a mere stop on my daily commute between home and work.

The second location I propose is Holy Name Church on Oxford Road. This is where my parents married in 1973, and where my favourite photograph of them was taken, but also because it reminds me of my father’s migration to the city. When he first arrived here, he used to live on Dover Street behind the Church, and the Holy Name was where he attended Mass. Further down the same side of Oxford Road, I was born in St Mary’s Hospital in 1978, and now work opposite the Holy Name at the University. So when I am on campus I pass by it at least twice a day, yet seldom catch people climbing or descending its steps: how many students and staff have ever ventured inside? Every time I see it, it also reminds me of my own return back to my alma mater after living in London and working in Wales and thus to an area that has played a pivotal role in my parents’ lives. This unplanned and oddly circular journey never fails to surprise me and despite myself seems to root me irrevocably here.

Image & Text © Joseph McGonagle, 2009

Doagh Island, Donegal, 11 August, 2009

© Joseph McGonagle, 2009

Doagh Island, Donegal, 11 August, 2009

© Joseph McGonagle, 2009

Joe e-mails me to observe that, on leaving Doagh Island, a forlorn yellow advertisement trailer reminds him of how, every December, the famine village is transformed into a Yuletide Lapland.

Doagh Famine Village, Doagh Island, Donegal, 11 August, 2009

© Joseph McGonagle, 2009