Brackenridge Introduction–Ryleigh Lord

Hi! My name is Ryleigh Lord. I’m a rising sophomore at Pitt majoring in History and English Writing and minoring in Irish. Something unique about me is that I’ve been to six Taylor Swift concerts–I haven’t missed one in my city since 2011 and I am very proud of this fact.

My Brackenridge research is focused on the Northern Irish Troubles, a political and sectarian conflict that lasted over 30 years in the late 20th century. I’m researching paramilitary members, specifically on the republican (majority Catholic) side in the IRA. My original intent for my topic was the impact of female paramilitary imprisonment and the effects it had/has on both the family unit and society at large, but as I read more and delve further into the information I think I may end up focusing on how formerly imprisoned paramilitary members who killed, bombed, and tortured are oftentimes living in the same neighborhood as the family of the people they hurt. The unique aspect of the Troubles is that it took place in an incredibly small country, and most of the people murdered knew or at least knew of the people who murdered them. This leads to a troubling and fascinating dynamic between the perpetrators and the victims that still remains today.

I’d like to look into how this legacy has impacted Northern Irish neighborhoods and communities in the present, because many people who participated in the violence are still alive and doing normal jobs like driving taxis where they pick up family members of the people they killed (this isn’t hyperbole–it was actually in one of the first books I read about the conflict). There is a pervasive culture of silence that still exists in the country, which in turn leads to psychological phenomenons like intergenerational trauma and PTSD. My mentor for this research is Dr. Rachel Oppenheimer, who did her PhD on Northern Irish republican paramilitaries. I feel so passionately about this research because I think it’s easy to look at the Troubles, shudder, and turn away. People (both Northern Irish and in general around the world) have a hard time getting up close and personal with the reality of the history and the present day because it is so brutally grim and upsetting. More people have died from suicide since the end of the Troubles than those who died from the violence. It’s clear that there is a psychological impact of this pseudo-war that needs to be addressed.

Both as a historian and as a regular human being, I feel like it’s important to give the people of Northern Ireland the respect and attention that they deserve. Oftentimes narratives of the Troubles are simplified by the mainstream voices, but that does a disservice to victims, families of victims, and to paramilitary members. Historians and psychologists can also use Northern Ireland to learn about the broader impact of intergenerational trauma and the trauma of partaking in and living through violence. The majority of those who research Northern Ireland are Irish themselves, and I think it’s time more historians around the world take a look at a conflict that is recent enough to still have eyewitness and living people to interview and document.

My undergraduate goal is to attain my BPhil, and my thesis is going to be about Northern Ireland. Since I’m only just going into my sophomore year, I want to use this summer to hone in on exactly what I want my BPhil topic to be–so many facets of the Troubles interest me, but my topic needs to be focused for my thesis. I hope to have a career as a journalist and in general a writer, and I really want to tell peoples’ stories. To do that I need to develop a level of impartialness in order to report correctly, and with something like the Troubles it’s really hard to not judge the people who committed heinous acts of violence, so a more overall goal of mine for the summer is to develop my ability to research and report on topics without imprinting my judgement onto my writing. The Brackenridge is so helpful in both of these goals because it allows me to devote my time to researching my BPhil topic early on so that when it comes time to write it, I won’t be trying to divide my time between regular classwork and this. I am so fortunate to have the time and money to devote myself to my research as early as possible, and by nature of the fact that this is how I’m spending my summer, I can also train myself to be more impartial as I read and research and learn more.

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