INSTITUTE OF IRISH STUDIES
THE QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY OF BELFAST
RELATIONS UNIT, OCTOBER 1997
I am grateful to the Central Community Relations Unit for funding
this research during the period from January 1996 until March
1997. Many of my friends and colleagues in the Institute of Irish
Studies and the Department of Politics at the Queen's University
of Belfast were generous in providing sources and encouragement.
I am grateful to Professor Brian Walker, Director of the Institute
for his support and enthusiasm during my years in Fitzwilliam
Street. I wish also to thank Angelique Day, Martin Dowling, Gordon
Gillespie, John Fairleigh, Margaret McNulty, Caroline Maguire.
Patrick Maume and Mario Sughi. I am also grateful to the officials
and members of the various organisations who provided details
on commemorations and to those individuals who responded to letters
I placed in newspapers and journals. During my travels around
the monuments and along the parade routes of Ireland, north and
south, countless individuals volunteered information and hospitality.
I have particularly warm memories of the friendliness and courtesy
which I experienced at AGH parades in Ballybofey and Carnlough
and at the RBP parade in Killyleagh. Among those in the South
who monitored newspapers and unveilings, I wish to thank Proinsias
O'Drisceoil in Kilkenny and Una Leonard in Dublin. I am grateful
to David Fitzpatrick for his comments on this first draft. I owe
a particular debt to my grandfather who provided first-hand memories
of commemorations during the 1920s.
How have the fatalities of twentieth century conflict been commemorated in Northern Ireland? Three principal conflicts are considered in this report: the Great War, 1914-18, the decade of civil unrest and revolution in Ireland between 1912 and 1922 and the conflict in Northern Ireland since 1969. Apart from these, this report also notes some controversial or unusual aspects of public remembrance of Northern Irish fatalities in other conflicts which receive less attention in both nationalist and unionist culture. These include the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, the Second World War, 1939-45 and the minor IRA campaigns from the 1930s to the 1960s.
This report has two objectives. Firstly, it seeks to classify the physical forms of twentieth century conflict commemoration. It offers a typology of both conventional monuments (including figurative sculptures, plaques and stained glass windows) and forms of fraternal and communal remembrance which have endured in Northern Ireland but have lapsed elsewhere in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. These include banners, arches and murals. In general, this report is concerned with physical and permanent forms of remembrance rather that with commemorative parades, assemblies and religious services. It does, however, include an analysis of mobile memorials which feature in republican and loyalist parades. These include banners, Lambeg drums, band names and tunes dedicated to particular fatalities of twentieth century wars.
Secondly, this report aims to explain why controversy surrounds so many commemorative projects in Northern Ireland. It considers the commissioning process for various monuments and the delays or prohibitions they are subjected to; the various objections raised to the location, design, inscription or omission of an inscription on a monument; the boycotting or non-attendance of various political and religious leaders at the unveiling of memorials which are perceived to be partisan; the subsequent controversies relating to the upkeep, restoration or alteration; and the recurrent attacks which often result in the eventual destruction or removal of a monument.
Most recent studies of commemorative culture in Northern Ireland concentrate on present-day political and religious identities and parading rituals which are rooted in the mythology and martyrology of seventeenth century wars in Ireland. While such studies acknowledge the sectarian conflict that characterised parading in the nineteenth century, they by-pass the disputes which marred parades and commemorative gatherings from the 1920s to the 1960s. A fuller consideration of commemorations in this period can also yield unexpected precedents of tolerance. In 1921, the Armagh Royal Black Preceptorv voluntarily shortened and altered the route of a parade in order not to clash with a rally addressed by the new MP for the county. The politician concerned was Michael Collins.
The Williamite wars, like the mid-nineteenth century Irish famine, are too remote for genuine folk memories to endure. In analysing why such ritual observance of distant anniversaries persists in Northern Ireland, it should be remembered that the secondary associations of local commemorations often provide more immediate and recent folk memories. Media analvis of recent parading disputes in Drumcree and Rosslea omitted the resonance both places hold in loyalist folk memories of the 1920s. Since the nineteenth century, Orangemen have paraded to Drumcree each year on the Sunday preceding the 12 July. However, much of Drumcree's sanctity in Orange culture derives from its twentieth century associations. Among those buried there are the Stormont MP, William Twaddell, whose headstone records that he was foully murdered in Belfast' by the IRA in 1922. In Rosslea, a feeder parade by the Nixon and Gordon Royal Black Preceptory en route to the main Fermanagh RBP parade each August has been the subject of mediation and dispute in recent years. This preceptory's name and its banner honour two members of the Ulster Special Constabulary killed by the IRA in 1922. They are also commemorated on a plaque in a local church.
Creative artists and writers and those working in the area of
community relations are already addressing the issue of commemorating
those killed in Northern Ireland since 1969. Historians, anthropologists,
journalists and civil servants have yet to consider how the physical
forms of commemorating the Troubles and this century's earlier
conflicts in and beyond Ireland have deepened community divisions
just as have the routes and rhetoric of mobile commemorations
such as parades. This report, in classifying the physical forms
of conflict commemoration and their associated controversies,
aims to inform this discussion.
This report offers a detailed analysis of the physical forms used in commemorating wars and conflicts in Northern Ireland this century. In particular, it surveys the similarities and differences in how nationalist and unionist communities formally mark their losses in the world wars and internal conflicts that have dominated the seventy five years between the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and the inauguration of political negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland in 1997.
The sheer volume of monuments erected in recent decades in Northern Ireland bear witness to this society's desire for public recognition of its losses through political violence. At the same time, the increase since the cease-fires in the number of community tributes elsewhere in the United Kingdom which remember British servicemen killed in the Troubles suggest that society there, as with recent French gestures on commemorating the casualties of the Algerian War, is now ready to acknowledge its losses in Northern Ireland (which account for the highest number of deaths on active service since 1945). Recent posthumous civic tributes to civilians killed outside Northern Ireland, including those in Birmingham and Dublin in 1974, are another indication of how the cease-fires have facilitated remembrance.
At the same time, partisan commemorations remain among the most divisive aspects of popular culture in Northern Ireland. This is equally true of monuments erected or parades staged without consulting the wishes of local residents. The siting of new monuments, in terms of their impact on cultural identity and community relations, should perhaps be included within the remit of forthcoming legislation on parades.
Cross-community and cross-border participation in recent commemorations of the Irish Famine and of Irish participation in the Great War have offered some recent examples of how shared remembrance of trauma, upheaval. loss and courage can enrich society. The imminent bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion offers another opportunity for constructive commemoration.
Anniversaries and shrines could be shared rather than contested. The 11 November which marks the ending of the Great War in 1918 is also the anniversary of the original establishment of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. Similarly, Ballykinlar barracks in County Down, where the 36th (Ulster) Division trained before the Somme, has an equal emotive resonance for the descendants of nationalists interned there in 1921.
Commemorations, in the festering impact they frequently have on community relations in Northern Ireland, are as damaging as state-sponsored amnesias concerning the Holocaust have been in other European societies. A society has only matured when it can acknowledge that no side in any earlier conflict had a monopoly on heroism or honesty. Michael Longley expressed this hope in a poem written during the cease-fires:
Who was it that suggested that the opposite of war