Ghosts of the Somme
Commemoration and Culture War in Northern Ireland
314 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Hardcover | 9780268103859 | May 2018
eBook | 9780268103873 | May 2018
eBook | 9780268103880 | May 2018
Once assumed to be a driver or even cause of conflict, commemoration during Ireland's Decade of Centenaries came to occupy a central place in peacebuilding efforts. The inclusive and cross-communal reorientation of commemoration, particularly of the First World War, has been widely heralded as signifying new forms of reconciliation and a greater "maturity" in relationships between Ireland and the UK and between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland. In this study, Jonathan Evershed interrogates the particular and implicitly political claims about the nature of history, memory, and commemoration that define and sustain these assertions, and explores some of the hidden and countervailing transcripts that underwrite and disrupt them. Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Belfast, Evershed explores Ulster Loyalist commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, its conflicted politics, and its confrontation with official commemorative discourse and practice during the Decade of Centenaries. He investigates how and why the myriad social, political, cultural, and economic changes that have defined postconflict Northern Ireland have been experienced by Loyalists as a culture war, and how commemoration is the means by which they confront and challenge the perceived erosion of their identity. He reveals the ways in which this brings Loyalists into conflict not only with the politics of Irish Nationalism, but with the "peacebuilding" state and, crucially, with each other. He demonstrates how commemoration works to reproduce the intracommunal conflicts that it claims to have overcome and interrogates its nuanced (and perhaps counterintuitive) function in conflict transformation.
Jonathan Evershed is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Government and Politics, University College Cork and a visiting fellow at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University Belfast.
"In providing an incisive thick description of the centennial commemorations of the decimation of the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of the Somme—a foundation myth of Ulster unionism—Jonathan Evershed deftly reveals how grassroots remodeling of Protestant-Loyalist social remembrance feeds into a culture war, which continues to unsettle Northern Ireland in a charged political climate that has too-readily been hailed as ‘post-conflict.'" ~Guy Beiner, author of Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory
"Jonathan Evershed’s work demonstrates the value of an ethnographical study of commemorative practices in a divided society. Significantly, he engages with Loyalist social memory on its own terms, bringing intellectual curiosity and openness to his subject. This allows Evershed to provide a deeper understanding of the role of commemoration in the construction and assertion of Protestant, Unionist, and Loyalist identity and illustrates the multiple ways in which recourse to the past is freighted with the politics and economics of the present." ~Roisín Higgins, Teesside University
"A rich, vivid, complex analysis, at once both empathetic and critical, that provides real insight into the contradictions of working-class loyalism, the invented tradition of the Somme commemorations as a central element of the 'culture war' of 'post-conflict' Northern Ireland, and the difficulties and possibilities of social transformation in the landscape of the post-industrial city." ~Mark McGovern, Edge Hill University