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Contested commemoration in Northern Ireland


The AHRC have supported several projects in Northern Ireland (NI), and about Northern Ireland, that have helped support developing approached to organising and managing  commemorative practices in Northern Ireland and in building strong links between researchers of World War One and Ireland and government and community organisations.  The Northern Ireland Executive’s May 2013 'Together Building a United Community' (TBaUC) strategy envisages a community, ‘strengthened by its diversity, where cultural expression is celebrated and embraced and where everyone can live, learn, work and socialise together, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance.' AHRC-funded research has contributed to achieving these aims whilst enabling sensitive and significant historical events to be commemorated.

1924 Newtownards Snow Memorial. Credit: Newtownards Chronicle, 1924

Dr Marie Coleman (Queen’s University Belfast) leads the AHRC Research Networking project ‘Northern Ireland's 2016: Approaching the contested commemoration of the Easter Rising and the Somme’ bringing together key WW1/Ireland researchers together with representatives of the Community Relations Council. The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure, Belfast City Council Good Relations Unit, Healing Through Remembering, Co-operation Ireland, the Department of Education (NI), providing a forum for civil servants to discuss their projects and to ensure these are sensitive to current research. The network members have had key roles in the organisation of commemoration events, ensuring they are organised in alignment with the TBaUC strategy. The network also hosted a major public briefing in Northern Ireland on the Irish government’s 2016 commemoration plans.  It also facilitated contacts that led to Belfast City Council organising a trip to Dublin for Unionist Councillors to learn more about the Easter Rising and Dr Coleman serves on a committee advising the council’s Good Relations Unit on its planned 1916 exhibition for Belfast City Hall.

The network worked closely with ‘Living Legacies’ (the AHRC-funded First World War Engagement Centre based at QUB), in organising the ‘Creative Centenaries Resources Fair’ (March 2015) and ‘1916: What’s it all about?’ (October 2015). Both events were aimed at informing community groups about the significance of historic centenaries and highlighting the resources available to assist in holding commemorative events.

The network project stemmed partly from a collaborative project with BBC NI as part of the larger AHRC/BBC World War One at Home project and led by Professor Fran Brearton (Queen’s University Belfast) in collaboration with Coleman.  The project helped to shape  BBC NI broadcasts and the relevant BBC online archive, including contributing to the selection and recording of material. The project also worked with in-house BBC researchers advising them on how to locate appropriate sources for the broadcast material and to develop new areas of exploration, thereby supporting the BBC NI in offering a deliberately balanced and inclusive approach.  Michael Tumelty – Editor, Factual, of BBC Radio Ulster highlighted the importance of the AHRC researchers saying they ‘have been indispensable to ensuring the success and rigour of this flagship BBC project.’ Brearton and Coleman have also worked with the Community Relations Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund with a focus on stimulating public discussion surrounding 1916 centennial commemoration.

The researchers’ contribution to these discussions are enabling these organisations to present multiple narratives of a shared history which remains sensitive to the fact and the problems of contested memories.

This case study featured in the 2014/15 AHRC impact report. (PDF, 7.7MB)

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