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Conflict Commeration in 20th Century Northern Ireland


Chapter 1: The Irish and International Contexts

1) The Irish Context:

Conflict between Protestant and Catholic communities has existed for many generations. Both sides wish to commemorate events in history in their own way.

2) The International Context:

The controversial issue of exactly who should be commemorated echoes that of other countries where only two sides have been involved in conflict.

Chapter 2: World War and Civil Wars I: Unionist commemorations of 1912-22

1) The Home Rule Crisis, 1912-14:

Protestants were opposed to the Home Rule Bill, resulting in many joining the UVF in order to prevent its implementation. The group's arms were illegally imported into Ireland.

2) The Great War, 1914-18:

The 36th Ulster Division consisted mainly of UVF recruits. The war dead were largely remembered by the Orange Order, featuring on arches and banners.

3) The 1916-22 Revolution:

Many of the survivors of World War I were, ironically, assassinated by the IRA after returning home to Ireland. They too featured on arches, banners and murals.

4) Minor IRA campaigns after 1922:

Most killed after this time are remembered by means of plaques, sporting trophies and memorial bands.

Chapter 3: World War and Civil Wars II: Nationalist commemorations of 1912-22

1) The Home Rule Campaign, 1912-14:

Catholics welcomed the Home Rule Bill and many joined the Irish Volunteers to safeguard its implementation. Its arms were also illegally imported into Ireland and AOH halls were used as training centres.

2) World War I and nationalist fraternities:

The AOH subscribed to war memorial projects in the Republic of Ireland. Their banners featured many prominent members who served in the war.

3) The Great War and Ulster Catholics:

Both Protestants and Catholics remembered the dead by inserting In Memoriam notices in newspapers but united acts of commemoration were very rare. In particular, Catholics felt alienated from Armistice Day as its rituals were influenced by unionists.

4) The 1916-22 Revolution: Hibernian commemorations:

Unlike the Orange Order, the AOH featured the living on their banners. With the rise of Sinn Fein, the banners were taken over, along with band instruments and halls, causing bitter struggles between the two organisations in many cases. Nevertheless, men associated with the Easter Rising do in fact appear on some AOH banners.

5) The 1916-22 Revolution: Republican commemorations:

The Stormont government greatly curtailed republican commemorations.

  1. Banners: Most were not commissioned from professional artists and some were painted by Sinn Fein members, depicting key leaders of the Easter Rising. The associated bands carried flags and small standards.
  2. Murals: Few republican murals existed between 1920-70, but if they did, featured slogans and leaders associated with the Rising. Recent murals commemorate republicans killed in the Troubles.
  3. Monuments: IRA monuments were banned by Stormont so republicans instead chose to name GAA teams and grounds after the leaders of the Easter Rising. Republicans readily subscribed to the erection of monuments in the Republic of Ireland.

6) Minor IRA campaigns after 1922:

Few monuments to IRA members killed during this time exist, with the exception of those within republican plots in cemeteries.

7) Irish republicans and the Spanish Civil War:

Nationalists served on both sides of the civil war but there has been little formal commemoration.

Chapter 4: Controversial commemorations During the Stormont Decades, 1922-69

1) Unionist monuments:

The Stormont government usually left the unionist commemorations to the loyal Orders. Direct involvement was only required when requesting the transfer of monuments associated with unionism from the Republic of Ireland. These requests were often denied and consequently many of the monuments were destroyed by republicans.

2) Unionist parades:

Only the proposed re-routing of parades brought about clashes between the government and unionists. Parades were rarely banned and full police protection was given.

3) Nationalist parades:

Easter Rising commemorations were banned from 1922-47 as were republican flags and emblems. Anyone who ignored the bans was arrested. Hibernian parades were rarely restricted until they endorsed republican issues.

4) Nationalist monuments:

These mainly existed within Catholic cemeteries. After partition, the erection of new or the replacement of existing monuments was forbidden.

5) Attacks on nationalist monuments:

Such attacks, thought to be carried out by loyalists or the B-Specials, were sanctioned under the ban on new memorials.

6) Southern commemorations:

They posed security problems in regard to the safety of nationalists crossing the border. Repatriations of the remains of republicans caused sectarian tension.

SINCE 1969

Chapter 5: How the Troubles are commemorated

1) Recording the memorials:

763 memorials commemorate 1334 individuals killed in the Troubles, including members of the security forces, loyalist and republican paramilitaries and civilians.

2) Outdoor sculptures:

Very few of these type of memorials exist in any section of the community.

3) Churches:

Plaques dedicated to members of the security forces are predominantly found in Protestant churches. Other memorials presented to churches include lecterns, bibles, hymnbooks and stained-glass windows. Memorials are seldom located in and around Catholic churches.

4) Workplace:

Memorials here are usually only found in police stations, army barracks and prisons.

5) Schools and colleges:

Prizes have been established and plaques erected to remember members of staff or pupils killed in the Troubles. Exchange trips also aim to enable youths from the two communities to jointly participate in organised activities.

6) Sport and youth memorials:

Policemen and soldiers are remembered on various rugby, soccer, golfing and angling trophies, while IRA casualties are perpetuated by GAA competitions.

7) Loyalist banners and bands:

Brethren killed in the Troubles feature alongside those who died in the battles of the Boyne and the Somme on loyal order banners and on some band instruments. In hostile areas, these are compared to the standards carried by soldiers.

8) Republican banners and bands:

Banners commemorate deceased paramilitaries but facial portraits on instruments are rare. The AOH generally distances itself from paramilitary violence.

9) Loyalist murals:

Commissioned by the UDA, UVF or RHC, they honour those who fought in the Somme and World War I. Dead paramilitaries also feature prominently, but rarely civilians.

10) Republican murals:

These mostly feature the 1981 hunger strikes and motifs associated with the Easter Rising.

11) Street plaques:

These are usually erected in Republican areas recording IRA casualties. An exception, listing local paramilitaries, civilians and security force members killed in the Troubles, was found in a loyalist area.

12) Inscriptions:

These are found mostly on memorials dedicated to policemen, British soldiers and civilians, stressing their status when killed. Others conceal the circumstances of death or the identity of the killers.

13) Locations:

584 out of 763 memorials are found in N. Ireland. British soldiers are commemorated throughout the UK while IRA memorials outside Ireland are erected by republican groups.

Chapter 6: Controversial memorials to the Troubles

1) Recording casualties on War Memorials in Great Britain:

As a general rule, only those who were killed in World Wars I and II are recorded on memorials. Numerous campaigns have sought to have the names of servicemen killed in N. Ireland included.

2) A Survey of Local Government Initiatives in Northern Ireland on Commemorating the Troubles:

Half of N. Ireland local councils have neither erected new memorials to those killed in the Troubles nor added names to ones already in existence.

3) Recording casualties on existing war memorials in Northern Ireland:

Under legislation, names of servicemen can only be added if fighting involved a formal British declaration of war but these guidelines are sometimes ignored.

4) Adding names to memorials in the Republic:

Few security force fatalities have occurred in the Republic and the marking of civilian and republican fatalities has been limited.

5) Controversial civilian memorials:

  1. Enniskillen: A memorial dedicated to the war dead was unveiled in 1922 but was largely resented by republicans because of its unionist connections. In 1987, the IRA bombed the memorial on Remembrance Sunday, killing 11 civilians.
  2. Dublin: A granite stone, omitting the names of civilians killed by a loyalist bomb 20 years earlier, was unacceptable to the families concerned and a new monument had to be erected.
  3. Birmingham and London: 20 years passed before a memorial to those killed in an IRA bomb in Birmingham, 1974, was erected. The issue of whether or not to restore a church badly damaged in the 1993 IRA bomb in Bishopsgate, London, caused controversy.

6) IRA monuments at Crossmaglen and Brookeborough:

A Celtic warrior honouring unnamed republicans was erected in 1979 causing upset in the unionist community of Crossmaglen. A monument in Brookeborough, featuring figures of IRA volunteers, provoked outrage from unionists particularly when it was compared to the Enniskillen cenotaph.

7) Wars of commemoration:

Memorabilia belonging to both sections of the community since the Troubles began, has been and still is attacked by loyalist and republican groups. The wearing of poppies is another area of dispute.

Chapter 7: The Impact of the Cease-fires on Commemorative Culture, 1994-97

1) Peace memorials:

Numerous suggestions have been made in relation to peace memorials and most have attracted hostility from either one side or the other of the two communities.

2) Taboo commemorations:

Previously, such commemorations were not marked in order to avoid adding to community tensions. Some are still controversial.

3) Remembering earlier wars and national traumas:

The cease-fires have brought about a certain respect for each community's commemoration of war, which has led to joint participation in many cases. Memorials once attacked have been restored and left alone.


Despite the past and present differences in commemorations of wars between the two communities, this report shows that there is great desire for public recognition of their losses. Partisan commemorations, such as parades and monuments, cause division in society. Consulting with local residents in advance could perhaps lead to a solution, or at least a compromise. The eventual hope is that the differences could be set aside to prevent memorials of war developing into reasons for war.

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