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.
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Acronyms
1. (Re)theorising Commemoration
2. ‘What does it mean to follow a ghost?’: Locating ‘the field’ and the ethics of empathy
3. Policy, peacebuilding and ‘the past’ during the Decade of Centenaries
4. Peace as Defeat: Loyalism and ‘culture war’ in the ‘new’ Northern Ireland
5. ‘Our culture is their bravery’: Commemoration and the ‘culture war’
6. The Golden Age: Memory work and Loyalism’s conflicted hauntology
7. Dupes no more? Loyalist commemoration and the politics of peacebuilding
Postscript: All changed, changed utterly?
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
"The author draws on a theoretical framework strongly influenced by Jacques Derrida and locates his work in debates about memory . . . most of the book is centered around interviews with those invoived in loyalist commemoration and the author's own experience of these. . . . Evershed's book provides a template that other scholars should follow as they interrogate the diverse commemorative agendas of our centenary decade." —History Ireland
"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
“. . . a thoughtful and provocative exploration of Loyalist discourses of memory in the new (post-Belfast Agreement) Northern Ireland. . . there is no denying that Evershed has written something introspective and unique.” —Irish Political Studies
“For Evershed, it is important to understand what commemoration means to people who feel left behind, people who feel that the past was far better than an uncertain future. . . . The result is a book well-worth reading.” —Slugger O’Toole
In ways determined variously by its hostility, intolerance and even criminality, but also its socio-economic vulnerability and political marginalisation, ‘Loyalism’ as a label or ethnographic category represents particular forms of ‘deviance’ (Hobbs 2001). This, in turn, has rendered at least some of my research what Raymond Lee (1993) has termed ‘sensitive’, in that it has involved (and in a sense continues to involve) particular ‘intrusive’ and ‘political’ threats, as well as threats of sanction for both myself as researcher and certain of my participants. In all instances it is the ethical duty of the ethnographer, as far as possible, to protect their respondents, and this duty is all the more acute in instances where a failure to do so could result in sanctions. For instance, even to claim membership of the UVF or the UDA is proscribed under UK law and to be revealed to be a current member of either organisation carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years (Home Office 2015). As far as I am aware, none of my respondents were active or current members of a proscribed organisation, but this represents only one particular form of the ‘guilty knowledge’ I have risked acquiring over the course of my research. Much of this knowledge is, on the face of it, fairly innocuous – who does or does not like whom and for what reasons – but in a close-knit community this kind of information can be extremely sensitive, with potentially damaging consequences when ‘they’ can read what ‘we’ write (cf. Lee 1993: 5; See also Brettell ed. 1996).
Becker (1967, cited in Fielding 1982: 91) has suggested that “one should refrain from publishing items of fact or conclusions that are not necessary to one’s argument or would cause suffering out of proportion to the scientific gain of making them public”. I went one step further than this by choosing not to ask questions about expressly illegal activity in the first place. These questions were, in any case, unlikely to be answered by respondents fully aware of the legal issues raised by the so-called and ongoing Boston Tapes controversy. For each of my respondents, the specific boundaries of the research were clearly laid out, and lines drawn as to what information I was prepared to be privy, what activities I was prepared to observe and in which I was prepared to participate (cf. Polsky 1971). Complete anonymity can never be guaranteed, particularly in a context where crucial clues to identity can inhere in information as seemingly innocuous as a street name (Lee 1993: 186). However, all reasonable steps to protect the identity of my respondents has been taken. To this end – and in consultation with respondents – names have been changed and the biographical information pertaining to each interlocutor has been kept to a minimum.
In sum, this research has involved complex ethical and moral negotiations and some compromises on my part which have at times been quite emotionally challenging. The problem of balancing the will to speak out against or challenge forms of intolerance and prejudice versus maintaining good relationships with my respondents has often been difficult to negotiate. Cassell (1988) has argued that in order to gain access to the field it is possible and even desirable to temporarily adopt the views of respondents, and at the very least, it is often not for the anthropologist to openly condemn particular ideas or actions where they are encountered in their setting. Particularly in the early stages of my fieldwork, building relationships with ‘gate-keepers’ to gain ‘access’ (Reed 2012: 209), I found it difficult to judge what I ought or ought not to say, how to respond to certain kinds of provocative questioning or how much of myself – my own views, beliefs and opinions – I ought to reveal. In the end, however, building and maintaining relationships with respondents or interlocutors ‘in the field’ is really no different to building relationships more generally, even where those interlocutors hold views and engage in forms of behaviour which are at odds with or jar with one’s own. Honesty (with the exception of a few white lies which are the stuff of social grace), integrity, flexibility and importantly, a good sense of humour and the capacity to both give and take a good ‘slaggin’’ (cf. Rodham 1998) have all been fundamental to developing reciprocal relationships based on trust, openness and mutual respect. While I have not come to share the worldview of my respondents, I will always have a profound and enduring respect for their opinions, and gratitude for the patience, kindness and generosity they have shown me.