Unruly remembering: Great War anti-heroes and national narratives in Northern Ireland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Processes of historical revisionism within the commemoration of the Decade of Centenaries have led to an extension of narratives of masculine heroic self-sacrifice on the part of those who served in World War 1 beyond that idealized white, heterosexual male English private soldier, the Tommy. Across the island of Ireland as part of the ongoing peace processes since the 1990s, this has included formal acknowledgement by both the British and Irish states and leading political actors of the role of soldiers who identified (or have been identified) as Irish nationalist (Graff-McRae 2010). Yet that extension has been less able to take account of the kinds of experience that resist or confound this heroic paradigm.

This essay argues that within a wider ecology of commemoration, theatre has had a particular role in the embodied staging of fictionalised experiences of British soldiers from the island of Ireland that are unruly, unable to be accommodated easily within heroic nationalist paradigms. Comparing two plays, Martin Lynch's Holding Hands at Paschendale (2006) and the 2016 revival of Frank McGuinness's Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme (1985), this essay traces how these make-believe accounts confound both dominant nationalist mythologies and historical concerns with 'the real' and authenticity. While exposing their iconoclastic potency, the essay argues that their efficacy in bridging the gap between the represented past and the experience of the present is situationally-dependent, rather than a formal property.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheatre, Performance and Commemoration
Subtitle of host publication Staging Crisis, Memory and Nationhood.
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
ISBN (Print)9781350306769
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 May 2023


  • Irish Drama
  • Commemoration
  • First World War


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