Dreams, Death, and the Irish Question

Matthew McCoy

Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles


This essay begins with a dream that continues to haunt me. In the dream, Ollie dies, and I am helpless to prevent it. I grew close to Ollie during my fieldwork, and many of his worrisome thoughts and utterances spill over into my own dreaming life. Ollie often talks about his own death and about the dreams that haunt him. Drawing upon anthropological theories of dream, I attempt to frame my dream alongside Ollie’s own dreams and fantasies to show the complexities and anxieties of being with others during fieldwork. I also juxtapose Ollie’s imaginary for a united Ireland alongside the Irish Question, the dream of Irish self-determination. Ollie is a former Provisional IRA volunteer who suffered a debilitating neck injury. He is slated to have a dangerous surgery to replace vertebrae in his neck and has been questioning his own mortality lately. This essay thus shows how dreams are crucial intersubjective ways in which ethnographers and their interlocutors organize cope with anxieties and organize their sense of self.


Dreams; Death; Irish Question; Auto-ethnography; Irish Republicanism

Author contact: mcy [at] ucla.edu

Citation: McCoy, M., 2019. “Dreams, Death, and the Irish Question”, Irish Journal of Anthropology, 22(1), 104-113.