Voices of commemoration: The discourse of celebration and confrontation in Northern Ireland

J Wilson, K Stapleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Anniversaries and commemorations are commonly sources of group solidarity and identity reaffirmation. In particular, the communal marking of historical anniversaries can be seen as a mode of community celebration, commemoration, and display. Such events play a significant role in reinforcing the history, culture, and identity of the group, as well as strengthening feelings of commonality and solidarity between community members. In this paper, however, we want to look at situations in which community commemorations also function as sources of exclusion and division. In Northern Ireland, historical anniversaries and displays (particularly Protestant Orange marches) are both a central means of cultural/communal expression, and a source of division, sectarianism, and sporadic violence (Bryan 2000; Jarman 1997). Moreover, notwithstanding constitutional devolution and the ongoing peace process, research suggests that attitudes to symbolic community displays remain strongly partisan. Here, we apply an empirical discursive framework to better understand the meaning of such commemorations at the level of grass-roots community identification in Northern Ireland. Drawing on focus group data from working-class urban groupings (both Protestant/unionist and Catholic/nationalist), we examine how such anniversaries are constructed and negotiated in `real-life' talk and interaction; and hence how they come to function simultaneously as points of solidarity and division within the community as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-664
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2005


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