Intimate Power: Autobiography of a City


In 2019, I had the great pleasure of welcoming President Higgins to Central Library Liverpool to view the original human rights archives relating to the  Irish in Liverpool that I had drawn on in my recently finished memoir Intimate Power: Autobiography of a City My memoir is a walk through Liverpool, a return journey from a long exile, a recovery of voice through collective solidarity of conversation and the city’s archives of lost lives and forgotten voices. Paris, Ireland, Liverpool, Africa are the routes my thoughts took in writing this book. It is structured through 21 chapters that hold the titles of 21 Revolutions (beginning with the French Revolution); in between each chapter is an interlude of Walking in which we hear the voices of people living in the city today and of people’s voices heard in the archives. The manuscript is described below by Declan Kiberd:

“I really liked and admired this text: its openness at once to European historical moments and to personal insights, at that point where the two might merge. The citations and quotations also bring out the sense in which each of the “historical” quotations was once an individual history, with the pressure of felt experience, before becoming a social truth. The I\she bifurcation helped to bring out the dichotomy but also the hope of some underlying unity knotting all of these disparate experiences together. The same could be said of the various parent/child meditations. The images come at exactly the appropriate moment. The different texts, taken together, seemed to offer an analysis of the city as a sort of urban-peasant-place—a point of convergence for modernity, yes, but also a holding-centre for the multiple experiences of those who fetched up there.”

Together we looked at some of the Workhouse Records showing how the Famine Refugees were taken in from Clarence Dock and admitted to the Workhouse after being held on quarantine vessels on the River Mersey. The records for April 1847 that we looked at showed a Michael Higgins aged 9 who was admitted to the workhouse along with his mother and several members of his family only to have ‘escaped over the wall’. We showed the President an original letter by William Roscoe in which he campaigned for the ending of Slavery in Liverpool. This Human Rights work that began at the Liverpool Docks was later acknowledged by Roger Casement a century later when he began his campaign in Liverpool against slavery and torture in the Congo. I am grateful to David Stoker, Helena Smart, Carl Kenealy, Jan Grace, Denise Jones, and to all of the wonderful team at Central Library for making the archives that I had inspired my memoir available for us to explore on the day.  I am grateful to President Higgins and Sabina Higgins, the Irish Ambassador to to the UK, to Minister of State and to all the advisors and security team who visited the Central Library in Liverpool.