The Darkness Echoing: How the past is politicised and marketed

Gillian O’Brien casts a sceptical eye on the packaging of historical human misery

A difficulty in representing those who perished or left during the Famine is that  “the poor leave little behind”. Photograph: Frank Miller

A difficulty in representing those who perished or left during the Famine is that “the poor leave little behind”. Photograph: Frank Miller

In January 2015, some 20,000 outraged signatories endorsed a petition against a sitcom announced by Channel 4 that would be set during the Great Famine. Many found the notion that modern Ireland’s greatest tragedy would provide fodder for comedy hard to stomach, and Channel 4 quietly shelved the project. Yet three years later the film Black ‘47, which uses the Famine as background for a gory tale of revenge, was received enthusiastically.

Why the one but not the other? What are the ethics of representing troubled histories, particularly if your purpose is to monetise them? Gillian O’Brien’s The Darkness Echoing explores this question by investigating the phenomenon of dark tourism, “travel to places associated with suffering or death”.

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