Abstracts


Nicholas Allen (Director of the Willson Center and Franklin Professor of English, University of Georgia) Sketches, Scrapbooks and Broadsides: Jack Yeats and the Assembly of Memory

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Jack Yeats remains one of Ireland’s most famous artists.  His practice included incessant sketching and the construction of scrapbooks that intertwined the public and private in aesthetic strands that stretch far beyond Ireland.  Yeats’s techniques owed something both to Victorian popular culture and to modernist innovation and this paper will explore the ways in which his representation of historical events made memory of a complex cultural inheritance.

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Guy Beiner (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) The Making of Authentic Vernacular Memory

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Material culture (and, for that matter, visual culture) does not have intrinsic memory, at least not in the neurobiological sense. That said, meaning is attached to certain objects, which can serve as aides memoire, and greater significance is given to objects that are considered authentic. An understanding of the making of memory, therefore, requires an inquiry into how authenticity is constructed. In folk culture this authenticity mostly relies on oral tradition. Let us then consider the lesser-known histories of vernacular commemoration of well-known events and examine how numinous artefacts are discovered and reinvented.

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Andres Besoli (Universitat de Barcelona) The public memory of The Troubles: opportunities and dilemmas from the perspective of the Didactics of Heritage

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The Troubles in Northern Ireland have left a singular material heritage that encompasses sites, buildings and memorials throughout the territory, including the well-known political murals and so-called “Peace Lines” of Belfast.

The pictorial landscape created by political murals form a real and unique open-air museum whose iconology and iconography are of great value from the perspective of the Didactics of Heritage and Public History to better know, understand, critically reflect and learn about the past. Also in the capital, the Peace Lines configure a peculiar architectural landscape that spreads throughout the city, although mainly along the neighbourhoods of West Belfast. These walls made of concrete, metal fences, wire mesh and barbed wire are still maintained for to prevent sectarian violence between the Republican-oriented and Loyalist-oriented communities. In fact, since 1998 new barriers have been built so we can hold reasonably that they are an ongoing heritage, is the conflict itself. The Peace Lines are “difficult” legacies in a double sense. Firstly, surely because they recall a violent and painful past —with some sporadic tensions still in the present, but also because they are difficult to conceptualise as heritage, study and manage due to strong political, social and ideological issues.

The debate about the preservation, valorisation and dissemination of this unusual urban heritage —both murals and walls— is already present in Northern Irish society. The purpose of this work is to contribute to the debate by suggesting how Didactics of Heritage can be a theoretical and methodological resource for dealing with difficult pasts through their controversial legacies in the best interest of promoting a culture of peace. In this regard, interdisciplinary research approaches based on Didactics of Heritage, Public History, Digital Humanities, Museum Studies and Cultural Tourism can play a crucial role in making the public memory of The Troubles and engaging with the digital society of the twenty-first century.

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Mary Ann Bolger (Lecturer in History of Design, DIT) When words are not enough: meaning and materiality in commemorative lettering

Maya Lin’s decision to eschew representation and instead to simply inscribe the names of the fallen on her 1982 Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C. has been read as “a distinctly modern form of commemoration.” James C. Scott contrasted Lin’s memorial to that commemorating the World War II battle of Iwo Jima, a three-dimensional version of a famous photograph. Scott saw the latter as a “canned” or determinist representation while suggesting that the Vietnam memorial was “open”: its abstract quality allowed for personal interpretation and engagement. The scholarship of modern commemoration where listing the names of the dead is the central motif, however, tends to take words –the names themselves–as purely functional, undecorated, unambiguous signs. Yet the form that these words take is crucial to understanding the symbolic power of the monument as a whole.

This paper examines the role of the material word in Irish commemoration since the late 1950s. It traces some of the controversies over text-based memorials, including that surrounding the plaques carved in 1961 by Michael Biggs for the G.P.O. and, more recently, the “typo” on the 1916 commemorative wall at Glasnevin Cemetery. In doing so, it examines the close relationship between language, national identity and letterform, which connect to wider discourses about typography and identity. The paper will also examine lettering on more mundane commemorations of the dead (such as on memorial cards and headstones, both home made and commercially produced) arguing that at the level of the everyday, the potency of the visual form of words can also help us understand the relationship between individual expressions and larger discourses of identity.

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John Borgonovo (University College Cork) The Exile, Death, and Repatriation of Father Dominic O’Connor, 1922-1958

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For Irish republicans the death of Capuchin friar Father Dominic O’Connor in the United States in 1935 symbolised both the Catholic Hierarchy’s hostility to the Republican cause during the Irish Civil War and the forced emigration that followed its military defeat. This paper will examine the twenty-three year campaign to retrieve Father Dominic’s body following his 1935 death in the lonely high desert of Eastern Oregon, along with that of his fellow Capuchin republican, Father Albert Bibby who died in California during 1924. The effort involved scattered Irish-American communities and different elements of the American Catholic Church. However, its ultimate success can be attributed to robust IRA veteran networks in Ireland and the United States that dated back to the Revolution. Aging republicans discreetly overcame state hostility, clerical caution, and public indifference to celebrate the patriotic sacrifice of two colleagues. Their campaign fused three major themes in independent Ireland: physical force Republicanism; emigration; and role of the Catholic Church in public life. The commemorative event that occurred in 1958 was a republican spectacle that used religion to cloak deeper implications about the legitimacy of the IRA campaign of 1922-23. Bridging civil war divisions among War of Independence veterans and connecting diverse strands of the Republican Diaspora in America, the repatriation itself became a national celebration of Republican ritual and remembrance that foreshadowed the 1966 Easter Rising 50th Anniversary commemoration. It was a clear triumph for what this paper terms ‘the Old IRA movement’, a much-neglected force in independent Ireland that wielded the weapon of commemoration to construct an alternative memory of revolutionary Ireland.

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Dominic Bryan (Director of Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University Belfast) The Politics of Commemoration: History, Ritual and Symbol in Northern Ireland

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Ireland is in the middle of what has been described as the ‘Decade of Centenaries’. This paper will examine the relationship between history and identity through commemorative practice. It will examine that the role of ritual and symbol in constructing views of the past. I will argue that the key problem is the modelling of transmission and that the concept of ‘memory’ is not only inadequate for the task but is actually an ideological disguise for what is, in practice, politics. I want to explore the ‘diachronic’, or push factors, that predominate models for commemoration, examine the ‘synchronic’, or pull factors, which I will argue are the key to understanding transmission, and then examine anthropological understanding of ritual and symbols in Belfast as an example of these processes at work. In conclusion, with reference to the event of 1916, I will argue that ritual acts as a ‘time machine’ for politics allowing the past to legitimise contemporary political practice and identity.

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Verena Commins (Lecturer in Irish Studies, NUI Galway) ‘Stone mad for trad’: monumentalising Irish traditional music

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The Irish music tradition is replete with commemorative tools which inform and interleave processes of learning, performing, collecting and remembering music. Such tools of commemoration operate at both conscious and subconscious levels; however, most of them occur within the community of practice of Irish traditional musicians. Appositely, the monumentalisation of Irish traditional music, that is the stones, statues and monuments dedicated to Irish traditional musicians, conveys this musical commemoration into a wider public sphere. Engraved stones and plaques solidify the intangibility of performed utterances, emplacing a permanent, visible and therefore less ephemeral record. This paper discusses the onset of monuments raised to Irish traditional musicians which begin to appear in civic spaces from the 1970s onwards. From small engraved stones to life-sized bronze statues, tracking the geographical and chronological spread of monuments reveals changing perspectives and practices within Irish traditional music. Re-embedding music in place through monumentalisation has currency as an agent of re-territorialisation with implications for constructions of authenticity and collective memory, and thereby the fixing of authenticity and memory to place.

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Elizabeth Crooke (Professor of Heritage and Museum Studies at Ulster University) The intertwining of material culture with the political processes of conflict commemoration

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Ten years ago ‘Healing Through Remembering’ began a process of documenting existing collections relating to the Troubles period. They reviewed the contents of national and local museums, but it was the collections in private ownership that far exceeded their expectations. As Northern Ireland seeks ways to deal with the legacy of conflict, material culture of the period provides a tangible reference point to life changing events and periods now consigned to our memory. With the creation of an archive there is an obligation for those surviving to remember. The authentic object is a touchstone to the past and a tangible reminder of past sacrifices. When placed on public display, maybe to mark anniversaries or as part of ongoing political campaigns, the objects give substance to associated political rhetoric. This paper considers a number of artefact-based initiatives organised by the independent groups. One such is In Their Footsteps, a memorial exhibition with objects, text and imagery acting as material evidence in the appeal for justice. By critically investigating the methods employed, insights are given to the use, meaning, symbolism and contribution of artefact display to the political processes of conflict commemoration.

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Brian Crowley (Curator of the Pearse Museum, Chair of the Irish Museums Association)

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Museums throughout Ireland have played a central role in this years’ commemoration of the 1916 Rising, primarily through the creation of dedicated exhibitions and events programmes. For so many Irish museums  to mount an exhibition on the same subject at the same time is practically unprecedented. Indeed, nearly three quarters of Irish museums did not exist at the time of the last major commemoration of the Rising in 1966. This paper will present a survey of some of the museum exhibitions mounted this year, the interpretative approaches taken and will examine how museums have often functioned as the physical locus for the commemoration of the Rising within their local community.

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Brian Hand and Orla Ryan (Lecturers in Fine Art, IT Carlow) Commemoration and reverse engineering – a visual performance lecture about the controversial invention of the Irish Wolfhound

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This visual presentation explores the relatively unknown narrative concerning the ‘creation’ of the Giant Irish Wolfhound in the mid 19th century. The wolfhound is a complex cultural artifact and commodity that appears much older than its invention by gentlemen dog breeders in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, 1847. The multiple registers shaping this iconic symbol during one of the world’s worst famines, poses a number of questions in relation to commemorating this unacknowledged history. The designing of the Irish Wolfhound breed as an example of reverse bio- engineering, makes it a living symbol, kitsch, anachronistic and shades of a colonial freak show. The instant popularity of the new dogs emerges hand in glove with the expanding capitalist networks of modern consumerism and travel. This controversial breed is now an unquestioned participant of any Irish commemorative event, embedded in military and state theatre as well as more domestic romanticized narratives of Ireland. This research is presented as a performative lecture using video sound and live feed images. It has been performed once before, at the CCA Derry in 2015.

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Annie Fletcher (Head of Exhibitions, Van Abbemuseum) Historicity and memory in contemporary art

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In his recent ‘Freeportism as Style and Ideology’(e- flux Journal #71) Stefan Heidenreich remarked that creating an awareness of time and history requires great intellectual and institutional efforts.  From c.1800, the big time machines of the art world used to be museums. But over the last twenty years something very different has happened in the expanded field.  The absence of history becomes most visible in the institutional focus on the “contemporary.” Caught in the ever-changing presence of the now, museums have lost their function of developing a historical reserve. Curators don’t do this. Biennials don’t do this. And museums no longer do this either.

This paper will address how the institutions of contemporary art (its artworks, buildings, programmes, spaces and bodies) work counter-intuitively to the creation and maintenance of public and private memory. Starting with a series of examples located in Ireland over the last 20 years such as The International Language (Belfast, 2001) and After the Future (EVA, 2012) and specific examples from contemporary museum practice in Europe today, I will look at curatorial modes and practices which actively try and refute this presentism. In addressing how the art institution has been released from the production of progressive or modernist time, a series of possibilities emerge.

The second part of the paper will focus on the museum and its repository of cultural heritage or collection.  To think about the potential of what is in effect a ‘shell’ or ‘zombie’ institution, the museum of contemporary art as a relevant civic space remains a very productive but also very pragmatic activity, because it is intrinsically linked to the past through collections and archives. Focusing on recent curatorial experiments and projects which actively question the operation of maintaining art as cultural heritage (as the kind of hard core ‘asset’ of the museum), the paper will explore how curating in relation to the idea of public memory can provide a productive field of tension between the two extremes art institutions find themselves in: a balance between a de-materialised digital space of cultural transaction and an increasingly fetishised and monetized market for unique art objects. By looking at a series of examples, I would like to suggest a series of operations that might at least open up the space between the two extremes and continue in the light of current and future artistic social and political developments  (both intellectually and structurally) to produce a relevant, engaged, civically owned and used archive of the present.

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Catherine Harper (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Chichester) Bloody Sunday’s Bloody Flag

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Father Edward Daly with the body of Jackie Duddy, Bloody Sunday 1972 (Image: copyright Fulvio Grimaldi, courtesy Museum of Free Derry)

On 30 January 1972, British soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed civilians (another dying of wounds weeks later) during a Civil Rights Association march in Derry. 17-year old Jackie Duddy was the first fatality, shot in the back while fleeing near Rossville Flats. Father Edward Daly was running beside him, and used his own mother-monogrammed and blood-spattered handkerchief as a ‘truce flag’ to allow removal of the corpse as shooting continued. In that space, in “unjustified and unjustifiable” circumstances (Cameron, 2010), a humble hankie became an historical, locational, cultural and political artifact, preserved in the iconic, much reproduced, photographic image, and protected in Duddy’s family home and subsequently in the Museum of Free Derry’s archives of Bloody Sunday.

That artifact embodies both personal tragedy and political transformation in the social imagination of Northern Ireland, a flag of humanity providing an alternative to those traditional flags marking sectarian affiliation or heraldic triumphalism.

As an object, it makes memory by materializing recollections, documentations and representations of the moment when it moved from the ordinary and nondescript to the monumental and public. As an image, it makes concrete a moment of horror and humanity that was beamed around the world then and since. As a cloth, it draws on the complex and charged textile traditions in the North of Ireland, the fabrics of shrouds and wound-dressings, of comforters and blankets that wrapped infant and hunger striking bodies alike.

Applying Breward’s ‘intimate method’ of empirical study, Taylor’s scholarly methods of dress research, and Barthes’ concept of photographic ‘punctum’, this analysis considers the authenticity, provenance and implications of both image and object in physically and symbolically illuminating social, cultural and material constructions of identity, and in making meaning in this context.

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Marguerite Helmers (Professor of English, University of Wisconsin) Autograph Albums of Irish Republican Prisoners, 1916-1923

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This presentation will focus on Irish republican autograph books from the period of 1916-1923, drawn from books held at Kilmainham Gaol, the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Kansas. These albums are typically small, inexpensive books made of cheap wood-pulp paper containing autographs of prisoners who were detained in one of the many British or Irish Free State internment camps and prisons. Conservatively, there are hundreds of these books, likely most of them still held in private family collections. Placing the books within the context of the prison and internment camp, my presentation will explore the role that these artefacts play in private familial and curated public memory of the times.

Johanna Brück has extensively documented the amount of material produced by internees in internment camps, and she points out that crafts such as bone harps and macramé were ‘often brought home after the prisoner was released’ (2015:155). Writing about the autograph album kept by Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh (now at the Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin) Molly O’Hagan Hardy argues that autograph books allowed the owners to absorb something of the aura of the “national heroes” who may have signed the books: ‘original or authentic selves were imbued with a new affective value’ during the revolutionary period” (2010:47). Yet O’Hagan Hardy is not clear about the function of Nic Shiubhlaigh’s autograph album, wondering whether it was a political instrument for collecting names of the interned or a personal collection of verse. She also is unclear about the book’s origin, which isn’t surprising, as the provenance of many of the books is difficult to ascertain.

As no comprehensive critical study of the books exists, my extended project (of which this presentation is a part) is to examine the books for their literary and artistic content, as they are filled with doggerel, verse, and quotations from well-known Irish republican leaders and martyrs. Since some internees were learning Irish in their internment camps’ language and history classes, lettering in Gaelic script appears, and pages are often signed in Irish, many in a faltering and uneven hand. The books also often contain full-color images, typically fanciful imaginings of scenes outside the walls of the prisons, such as castles, streams and stone bridges, and lakes, and certain talented artists were sought out for their contributions. Were the books a pastime, a way of building a community of sacrifice, a souvenir, a mnemonic device for telling stories to the family, or some combination of all these? This presentation will explore these questions and work to define how the autograph albums became memory objects.

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Lar Joye (Curator, National Museum of Ireland) World War 1 at the National Museum of Ireland

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Photograph, 7th Battalion, R.D.F. 1915 (for use on a graphics panel in Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History)

Since the commencement of the ‘Decade of Commemorations’ in 2012, the National Museum has engaged in a series of exhibitions and public programming to highlight this controversial period of Irish History.  In particular, we wanted to discuss Ireland’s role in World War I and  the 1916 Easter Rising.  For many years the National Museum focused on one story (the 1916 Rising), avoided World War I and did not delve into the complex War of Independence (1919-21) and Civil War (1922-23).    With limited budgets and staff a key question for us was  ‘what can we do that is different and unique to explain the Irish aspect of World War One to our visitors?’ There are many exhibitions, Television series and new books about the war, but we were concerned with what would have an impact on our visitors at the museum and make them think in particular about the horrors of the war.

Our feeling was that the barracks where the museum is located was part of the story, and we set out to bring that story to life by engaging a theatre company in a cross-disciplinary approach.  In particular we wanted to tell the story of one particular battle and what happened to the Irish Soldiers there and bring the emotion and horror of this war to life.  This eventually became Pals, the Irish at Gallipoli production, which was seen by 9000 visitors and was booked out in one week.

I would like to explain how we created this project and the importance of the cross-disciplinary approach, and in addition to discuss how museums can be leaders of change in the  Decade of Commemorations and what we can expect from the next stage of that decade of commemorations (2017-2022).  Finally, I would argue that for museums in Ireland to survive in the 21st Century there is a need for them to move to a more visitor-centered approach in their exhibitions and in particular with their engagement with their visitors.

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Gerry Kearns (Professor of Human Geography, Maynooth University) Commodification and Postcolonial Memory

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Woodcut frontispiece to Jonathan Swift, Battel of the Books, in A Tale of a Tub (1710).

One of the many contradictions of the commodity is that its use value is both socially and individually constituted. In social terms, objects have a value recognised by others, but in individual terms, they have a value determined by how their owner choses to use them. In social terms, heritage and history may adhere to an object by convention and repute, but absolute property rights admit no external claims after purchase. By denying the social claims of memory, commodification deranges society.

Colonialism actively tries to detach a society from its memory with attacks on language, mores, rituals, and artefacts. Colonialism colludes with capitalism and in systematic acts of dispossession it turns denizens into refugees. This attack on the social bearings of a colonised society was apprehended by some as an assault on the meaningfulness of local lives and as provoking a sort of madness. Postcolonial memory registers the legacy of this rootshock.

Some memory work addresses the relations between commodification, colonialism and madness. I examine this set of issues by considering the work, It for others, by Duncan Campbell.

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Bernard Kelly (Fellow, University of Edinburgh) The Cult of Collecting: Militaria and Material Culture of conflict in Ireland

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Militaria, and those who collect it, exist at the nexus between material culture of conflict and public understanding of war through physical objects. Private collections of uniforms, weapons, badges, buttons or photographs often form the basis for public displays; for instance, during 2015-16, county councils all over Ireland called on the public to donate family items relating to the revolutionary period. The objects collected at these ‘memorabilia days’ then formed the basis of exhibitions and displays relating to 1916 and therefore how the period was explained to the public.

This paper will examine the complex interplays between private collections of militaria and the material culture of 20th century conflict in Ireland. Focussing on the ‘decade of commemoration’ and the Second World War, it will explore how and why collections of militaria in private hands have increasingly come to be relied upon for commemorative and display purposes in Ireland, and how this shapes public perceptions of war and conflict. It will draw upon an investigation of 1916-related ‘memorabilia days’ (some of which the author helped to organise) and case studies of Second World War veterans who either returned home with war trophies or who became collectors afterwards.

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Roisin Kennedy (Lecturer, School of Art History and Cultural Policy, UCD) Hugh Lane: Mausoleum or Museum?

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In 1933 a permanent gallery for the Hugh Lane collection opened in the refurbished Charlemont House on Parnell Square. In transforming the building into a state of the art museum, Dublin Corporation had at last fulfilled the dreams of Hugh Lane to establish a long-term museum of modern art in the city. But from its beginnings, rather than acting as a forum for modern art and culture, the municipal gallery became instead a radical memorial to the dreams of the Celtic revival and the War of Independence.

The Lane Room, left empty to await the return of Lane’s modern French paintings, was a key feature of the newly refurbished gallery. (Some of these ‘lost’ paintings were temporarily displayed there in 1959). Presided over by a posthumous bust of Lane, the vacant walls of the room resonated with the irresolution of not only Lane’s bequest but of the wider unsettled state of Irish culture and politics in the wake of independence.

This paper explores the purpose of this space in terms of the commemoration of the immediate past and the cultural stagnation of the present. It also considers the wider strategy for the acquisition and display of works within the museum in its early decades. Central to this was the notion that the function of the Municipal Gallery was primarily commemorative. The subsequent prominent exhibition of the political paintings of John Lavery within the Lane Room was part of this agenda. The paper contextualises this memorial function of the art gallery within wider contemporary ideas on art and nationalism and traces its role in providing a place in the centre of Dublin in which to reflect (and to protest) on the events of recent Irish history and their continuing impact into the present.

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Claudia Kinmonth (Research Fellow, NUI Galway) Souvenirs of Irish Material Culture: symbolism on early peat postcards and carved bog oak

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Irish material culture can be seen through the lens of souvenirs and momentoes. Using postcards and carved bog oak objects as examples, rural culture was represented by a diverse range of things, which may have resonated differently with Irish people familiar already with them, compared to uninitiated travellers and foreigners. The paper will question aspects of realism, racism, symbolism and irony. Focusing on a range of surviving carved bog oak objects, which were sold along the coastal tourist trail in centres such as Killarney and Blarney, items symbolic of rural home life, such as the three legged cooking pot, the pig, the harp and the shamrock, occur repeatedly. Comparing such things to images on postcards from the early twentieth century, there is considerable overlap, with depictions of the hearth, the thatched cottage, the peat stack, spinning wheels and dash churns, also occurring. The farmer or the barefoot colleen, sometimes with baskets of turf or with a pig, were also depicted. Manufacturers competed with each other by using novelties such as cards printed on thin cardboard made out of actual peat, or packets of real shamrock attached ready to be planted abroad.

The idea of actual pieces of Ireland being sent abroad as souvenirs, or of typically Irish images or objects adorned with carved or printed shamrocks, occurs in both areas of manufacture. The stereotype of the stage Irishman, and the Irishman as the brunt of a racist joke is not altogether absent, although the humour in some surviving cards can cut both ways, presumably attempting to take advantage of both types of market, the Irishman abroad, and the foreigner sending messages from his Irish travels. The possibilities of marketing, as well as the use of image manipulation to maximise such markets, will be questioned. The presentation will make use actual examples of bog oak as well as surviving postcards and the messages on them, to explore how they were perceived c.1880-1920.

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Tina Kinsella (Lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies (Fine Art), Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire and Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, Trinity College Dublin) Reconsidering 1916: Embodiment, Memory and Relational Affect in Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones’ ‘In the Shadow of the State’

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This presentation responds to In the Shadow of the State (2016), a work by contemporary Irish visual artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones. In the Shadow of the State explores the female body as a site of repressed history and political desire which has been subject to regulation by the apparatus of the state in the last one hundred years between The Proclamation of the Republic (Forógra na Poblachta) in 1916 and the present day. This paper examines In The Shadow of the State from the perspective of Judith Butler, Lauren Berlant and Bracha L. Ettinger’s theorisations of vulnerability, embodiment and affect to consider the consequences for collective memory when the female subject, and the female body in particular, are subject to such occlusion within official state narratives. In their recent work, Judith Butler and Lauren Berlant propose vulnerability and precariousness as relational and affective modalities of attachment, belonging and resistance which are prior to emotion, reason or deliberative thought and yet which are pertinent to the complex dynamic between the social world and the individual. This chapter reappraises the relational structure of affect offered by Butler and Berlant with reference to Bracha L. Ettinger’s theorisation of a transubjective stratum of subjectivity which donates a profoundly connective capacity to the subject by way of aesthetics affects that are pre-cognitive and pre-conceptual and therefore not reliant upon any received notion of identity or community. The work of Butler, Berlant and Ettinger is deployed to probe In the Shadow of the State as an artistic, aesthetic and profoundly performative (Butler) work productive of weaving female, individual, affective experience that has been excluded from official state narratives into collective, narrative memory.

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Declan Long (National College of Art and Design) Beyond Local Solutions: the Plural Contexts of Willie Doherty’s Post-Conflict Photographs

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This paper concentrates on two series of photographs by Northern Irish artist Willie Doherty: Local Solution and Show of Strength, both from 2006.  Since the mid-1980s Doherty’s conceptual photography has scrutinized the ‘troubled’ landscapes of Northern Ireland, but his work has been neither entirely documentary in its approach nor politically dogmatic in its content. Rather, Doherty presents ambiguous imagery that resists the stable representation of landscape. This paper argues that during Northern Ireland’s post-conflict years, Doherty has made photographs — such as those in the two series focused on here — that respond to a specific historical moment and arise out of a specific geography, but that nonetheless render all specific photographic certainty unstable. Doherty’s works demonstrate alertness to the multiple possible meanings and conditions of the photograph today — and so also compel us to  situate ‘Irish’ landscape representation within a complex network of shifting international discourses of the image.

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Brenda Malone (National Museum of Ireland) Material amnesia and the Historical collections of the National Museum of Ireland

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It was not until nearly two decades after the  establishment of the Irish Free State that the National Museum of Ireland began to make a concerted effort to collect, record and display these histories of rebellion and change.  The first collection – Easter Week – was initiated by Nellie Gifford Donnelly in 1932.  The wider ranging Historical Collection grew from the occasional military proclamation passively acquired in the Museum’s early years, to objects relating to the 1798 and 1803 Rebellions, the Repeal Movement, the Young Irelanders and Fenians, the Land Wars and Home Rule Movement, actively collected from the 1930s. In doing this a narrative thread was created, drawing together the idea and realisation of Irish Independence. This paper will outline this thread, examining what was collected, represented, exhibited, and what was omitted or missed – the social histories that illustrate life between the turbulent events of our past.

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Emily Mark Fitzgerald (University College Dublin) Famine Memory and its Industries: a Social History of Remembrance

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The Famine’s 150th anniversary in the 1990s was a commemorative watershed in many respects, sparking a global surge in attention and memorial practices both domestically and across the diaspora. Despite the persistent popular trope that contrasts a previous ‘silence’ on the Famine with an attentive present, recent research has shed light on a longer historical trajectory of Famine memory. This paper will explore new findings that demonstrate the longevity and variability of the Famine’s impact, especially from the late 19th – mid 20th century, and enrich our understanding of how Famine memory was transmitted and transformed through social and material practices and technologies. It will conclude by addressing the ethics and politics of studying memory cultures whilst also immersed in their contemporary perpetuation.

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Laura McAtackney (Assistant Professor in Archaeology, University of Aarhus)  The Limitations of materializing meaning in Northern Ireland: archaeological insights into curating the troubling remnants of conflicts

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Laurent Olivier (2015) has argued that material remains are central to understanding, and allowing reassessment, of the past as they retain the latent ability to materialize memory from initial inception through to the present. In this respect materials have the potential to not only create but mutate memory due to their fundamental ability to both provide markers of past events but also to allow flexible reinterpretation of what the past was and how it continues to interact with and intrude into various presents. Archaeologists have long been aware that materials not only hold the potential to allow us a better understanding of the past, be they historical or prehistoric, but they are slippery if not impossible to decode in a definitive way. In short: it is increasingly accepted that an unchanging material form does not ensure a static or stable meaning that is easily retrieved. This insight into the difficulties in interpreting materials are particularly important in terms of understanding the materialisation of commemoration.

This paper will employ the ideas of Olivier as well as Pierre Nora to consider the link between memory, materials and commemoration in contemporary Northern Ireland. Using the evolving ex-prison site of Long Kesh / Maze as the central case-study this paper will argue that while we are always bounded by presentist occupations in interpreting the partial remnants of the past deliberate erasure and partial curation of those remains can have detrimental impacts on the ability to retrieve multiple memories. Exploring the site of Long Kesh / Maze from closure to its current state of mass, if not complete, demolition this paper will examine the role of material remains in enabling different stories of the past to the emerge and the problem with pre-emptive destruction during the course of a peace process.

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Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth (White Rose Scholar, University of Leeds) The Clinton Centre: A Visual Commemoration of Private Grief 

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On 8th November 1987 thousands attended a Remembrance Day memorial in the town centre of Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. At 10.43am a bomb exploded injuring sixty-eight and killing eleven. This paper intends to analyse how society deals with the reality of the past in the present through public commemoration in the form of art and design. Now known as the ‘Poppy Day’ bombing, it is little represented in commemorative culture, although the war memorial nearby, which was destroyed during the bomb, was restored so as to include eleven bronze doves flying out from the stone, to commemorate those killed. This paper concentrates on the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen, a community-based centre, dedicated to former US President Bill Clinton which opened in 2002 on the site of the bombing, and analyses it as a piece of architecture and as a physical form of public commemoration and memory. What ideological motives were behind the decision to dedicate it to Bill Clinton? How does this building make reference to the socio-political past of its locality? This paper hopes to understand if the Clinton Centre, as a piece of design, is a fitting memorialisation of that day. Or if it can be viewed as an attempt to construct a new memory, and identity in order to allow the people of Enniskillen to ‘put the past behind us’. Such an attitude was particularly championed by survivor Gordon Wilson whose forgiveness for the bombers moved the world, after his daughter was killed tragically. How did local society respond to the decision to erect a public building to act as a memorial site representative of so much private loss and grief? Did a consensus between religious communities exist? This paper hopes to shed light on a lesser known commemorative building which is a manifestation of private grief and public memory and a tangible reminder of the Enniskillen bombing.

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Caoimhin McGiolla Leith (University College Dublin) Animating the Archive: the films of Duncan Campbell

Portrait of Bernadette Devlin
1968, Northern Ireland, UK — Portrait of Bernadette Devlin — Image by © Leif Skoogfors/CORBIS

Duncan Campbell, winner of the 2014 Turner Prize, has developed a unique body of audiovisual art devoted to the off-kilter orchestration of cultural memory, both national and transnational. Glasgow-based but born in Dublin, he has returned repeatedly to the history of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ during the 1970s and ’80s. This paper offers a reading of the three films ‘Falls Burns Malone Fiddles’ (2003), largely based on a community photo-archive of life in inner-city Belfast, ‘Bernadette’ (2008), a speculative portrait of the republican socialist activist Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, and ‘Make It New, John’ (2009), on the impact of a General Motors golden boy on the 1980s Northern Irish economy. Marshalling all the skeptical, disjunctive, paradoxical resources of his chosen genre, the essay film, Campbell provides a radical alternative to more conventional forms of archival retrieval and remembrance.

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Cahal McLaughlin (Professor of Film Studies at Queen’s University Belfast and director of the Prisons Memory Archive) Armagh Stories Voices from the Gaol (2015, documentary film)

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Armagh Stories: Voices from the Gaol (2015) is a documentary film that features those who passed through the mainly female prison during the Troubles and includes prison staff, prisoners, teachers, chaplain and lawyer. By returning to the site of their experiences, the walk-and-talk methodology allows the participants to perform their memories in the now dilapidated buildings. Addressing the legacy of the past remains one of Northern Ireland’s difficult political projects and this film is one of many that offers an approach based on co-authorship, inclusivity and life-storytelling.

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Kathryn Milligan (ESB Fellow, ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland) Painting Commemoration: the visual and material culture of the O’Connell Centenary, 1875

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The O’Connell Centenary Celebrations (1875, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland, 140x163cms), painted by Charles Russell RHA (1852 – 1910), records in paint the scene at the end of a large parade through Dublin in 1875. The occasion was the centenary of the birth of Daniel O’Connell, the revered barrister who, among other causes, had fought for Catholic emancipation in Ireland and Great Britain and for the Repeal of the Act of Union. Mass participation, through the form of ‘monster meetings’ had been key feature of O’Connell’s political career, and the gathering recorded by Russell paid homage to these great events.

This paper will consider this painting within the wider context of the centenary celebration, which placed a strong emphasis on participation, community, and a non-partisan celebration of ‘the Liberator’. The shifting political situation in Ireland at this time, with an ever-growing interest in nationalism and questioning of Ireland’s place within the British Empire, forms an important context for a discussion of this painting. With the dominant presence of Nelson’s Pillar, and the temporary scaffold around the unfinished O’Connell monument in the painting, this paper will also consider the changing street-scape of Dublin in the period, and the wider political implications of this as conveyed by the artist.

The paper will also examine the conditions in which the painting was created, and the artist’s use of photography in creating this panorama, asking how ceremonial occasions were represented, re-presented and disseminated to a mass audience in the nineteenth century. Tracing the afterlife of the image, chiefly its use in later publications, the paper will also consider the role of memory, and the use of visual images to support (or counter), public narratives. Finally, the analysis will also consider the painting’s place amongst the wider material culture of the commemoration, asking if, and how, it can be considered alongside sashes, medals, and souvenir books.

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Vukasin Nedeljkovic (Researcher, Centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice, DIT) Creating the Asylum Archive

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‘Memory, for migrants, is almost always the memory of loss. But since most migrants have been pushed out of the sites of official/national memory in their original homes, there is some anxiety surrounding the status of what is lost, since the memory of the journey to a new place, the memory of one’s own life and family world in the old place, and official memory about the nation one has left have to be recombined in a new location’ (Appadurai, 2003: 21). Direct Provision Centres are the primary focus of my research. The ‘new’ category of institutions that are ‘deprived of singular identity or relations’ where the undefined incarceration is the only existence. The identity of asylum seekers is unknown; ‘their identity is reduced to having no known identity.’ Direct provision centres are ‘non-places’ where asylum seekers establish their new identity through the process of negotiating belonging in a current locality.

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Niamh NicGhabhann (Director, MA Festive Arts, University of Limerick University of Limerick) Building identity – historical narratives, rituals and the construction of the Roman Catholic urban landscape, 1880-1900

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Throughout the nineteenth century, the Irish landscape was transformed by a religious building boom across the different denominations on the island. Responding to changing social and political attitudes towards religious worship, these buildings gave physical form to spiritual, social and moral ideals. Jeanne Sheehy has estimated that 1,805 Roman Catholic churches were built between 1800 and 1863. These buildings were part of the larger expansion of Roman Catholic power within the public sphere, and within public space, during this period. The construction of the Catholic urban landscapes during this period – comprising schools, churches, convents, confraternity buildings, and institutions of health and welfare – involved major fundraising efforts. This paper explores the ceremonies that took place to lay the foundation stones for these buildings, and in particular, examines the way in which historical narratives were used to form a sense of group identity by speakers within this context. The historical narratives expressed during the sermons at these large-scale gatherings created an explicit link between past and present, generating a sense of triumphant and resurgent Roman Catholic identity. Crucially, these historical narratives were expressed in spatial terms, with this triumphant Catholic identity linked to increasing control over physical space, and qualified in terms of historical antecedents. These sermons, quickly memorialised in newspapers, are an example of what David Fitzpatrick has characterised as ‘instant history’, and can be considered as a key facet in the development of an emerging Roman Catholic public sphere during the period, as well as having a major impact on the development of the Roman Catholic urban landscape, and control over public space.

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Helen O’Carroll (Curator, Kerry County Museum) A tale of two boats: a lesser known Casement controversy

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Roger Casement’s life was packed with incident and each different aspect of his life could in itself make for a major exhibition. The exhibition, ‘Casement in Kerry: A Revolutionary Journey’, at Kerry County Museum focuses on his landing on Banna Strand and its lasting impact. The centrepiece of the display is the boat that brought Casement and his two companions, Robert Monteith and Daniel Bailey, to shore on Banna Strand on Good Friday morning in 1916. The landing in Banna was famously described by Monteith as ‘three men in a boat – the smallest invading party known to history’.

Regarded as a trophy of war, the boat was presented to King George V in June 1916 by the Royal Irish Constabulary to mark their success in capturing the ‘Arch Traitor’ Roger Casement. In turn, the King presented it to the Imperial War Museum for a major exhibition in 1920 about World War 1. In 1924 it went into storage where it has languished unseen until this year when it was loaned by the IWM for the exhibition in Kerry.

Illustrating the most fateful of the many journeys Casement made in his life, the boat has a powerful symbolic value as the vessel which propelled him into history as a traitor on one side of the Irish Sea and a patriot on the other. But mirroring that duality, there is a second boat in Kerry claimed as the authentic one.

Within the Casement historiography, this authenticity debate will always be overshadowed by the never-ending saga of the diaries. However, the two boats have much to tell us about how Casement has been remembered and forgotten in the century since his fateful landfall on lonely Banna Strand. Tracing the story of both boats, this paper will examine Casement’s memory in the public and private realms on both sides of the Irish Sea.

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 Aislinn O’Donnell (Professor of Education, Maynooth University) The Storytelling of Things: New Materialisms and the Question of Commemoration

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Whilst certain forms of national commemoration are sometimes said to have less to do with history and more to do with politics, they share a concern to foreground the centrality of things, albeit usually only one side or one story and predominantly as representative, expressive, or symbolic of a history. Yet, if we take seriously the idea that things and humans are co-constitutive, that objects (those things that stand out for us, resist, or constrain) generate and form our (visceral) subjectivities, and if we move from the isolated object to its genesis in the long history of humankind and of nature, this may attune us better to the agential nature of things. Things move us, orient us, divide us. Dare we say, that perhaps we might not be gathered or divided in those ways without those things – they are not objects arbitrarily chosen to symbolise an identity. The force of their presence gathers some people and repels others. Certain kinds of things cannot sit beside one another without it seeming farce, satire or logical contradiction. Indeed, things need to be cared for in particular ways lest outrage be provoked – they require consistent levels of respect. This paper explores objects and things in the context of commemoration and the res publica. It asks what if we were to take up instead the image of the pearl-diver and fragmentary historiography, as Arendt suggests, in order to develop a different relationship between the political, storytelling, and things.

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Louise Purbrick (Principal Lecturer in the History of Art and Design, University of Brighton) Selling Long Kesh on Ebay

On eBay, a melodious critique of the sale of looted antiquities from Iraq, was released anarcho-punk-folk band, Chumbawamba, in 2004. Their analysis of how objects of historical significance ‘ends up as stuff you can buy’ can be applied to the sale of material culture associated with the former prison Long Kesh/Maze, the jail that, between 1971 and 2000, housed the largest number of male prisoners suspected of or sentenced for ‘conflict-related’ offences. This paper examines a series of Long Kesh/Maze prison artefacts auctioned on eBay. It considers how, in the absence of public interpretation of the history of political imprisonment at the prison site, such things have fulfilled a commemorative function. Numerous prison artefacts, many relating to H Block hunger strikes by Republican prisoners in 1980 and 1981, have been easily accepted into the humdrum rhythms of buying and selling that punctuate a domestic economy. Objects that could be considered cultural property are transacted as second hand commodities. They are bundled up as a gift for a birthday, used to complete a personal collection or realise some extra cash in a household budget. Thus, the everyday material practices of commemorating of conflict in early twenty-first century ‘post-conflict’ period is the subject of debate of my paper.

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Kayla Rose (Research Fellow, Bath Spa University) Born in Dublin, Bound in Ulster: The ‘Carson Testimonial’ and the Commemoration of Unionism in Northern Ireland, 1912-1924

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While the past few years in Ireland have focused upon commemorations of the Easter Rising and the First World War, this paper brings public memory of the Ulster Covenant, an aspect of Irish history and identity that has taken a back seat in recent years, to the forefront. The current situation with ‘Brexit’ raises issues of contested identity as the union between the UK and the EU becomes threatened. It is in this vein that this paper explores how a particular commemorative object, the illuminated album presented to Sir Edward Carson (1854-1935) in gratitude for his exhaustive efforts against Home Rule and in favour of an Ireland united with the United Kingdom, was used in the process of the creation and maintenance of identity and public memory in the new Northern Ireland in the 1920s. Commissioned by the Ulster Unionists of Northern Ireland, the illuminated album, commonly referred to as the ‘Carson Testimonial’, was designed, illuminated and illustrated by the northern artists J.W. Carey and Richard Thomson, who specialised in illumination and illustration, and bound by W. & G. Baird, Ltd. of Belfast. Illuminated addresses and albums were commemorative objects presented to key personages for significant achievements in public ceremonies, especially prolific in civic and industrial contexts and recalling antiquated traditions involving the nobility, such as heraldry. Collectively, the images comprising the ‘Carson Testimonial’ provide a visual record of the natural and man-made beauty of Northern Ireland, while the text of the address provides a physical commemorative record of respect to an esteemed civic figure. In terms of revealing public memory, the album also reveals the strong unionist sentiment that still existed in the north after independence and partition. More than just the first signatory of ‘Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant’ in 1912, the Dublin-born Carson became a symbol of Northern Unionist identity.

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Kenneth Shonk (Assistant Professor, World History and Social Studies Education, University of Wisconsin) ‘Memory is a rather fleeting sense: Fianna Fáil, Pathé Films, and the suppression of Ireland’s celluloid history.’

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Three years after taking control of the Free State government in 1932, select Fianna Fáil ministers were made aware of a celluloid cache held by film studio British Pathé. This particular archive of film contained moving images of the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War and featured many leading figures within Fianna Fáil. The studio contacted the government in hopes of attaining support for utilzing the footage in the production of a commemorative, cinematic documentary on recent Irish history. The seemingly innocuous letter from Pathé triggered a contentious, three-year long debate amongst the Fianna Fáil government. A reading of the internal correspondence from within the party—found within the Department of the Taoiseach, Irish Historical Films General File—reveals a consensus by party leadership that the film should be preserved but withheld from public viewing.

By shaping this form of visual media, Fianna Fáil thus attempted to position itself in such a way that it could control and focus—if not blur—the backward, historical gaze of its citizens. Removed from the perspective of 1930s Ireland, the decision by Fianna Fáil to suppress the film might seem counter-productive to a party seeking to become the standard-bearers for a new Irish state. However, when viewed within the context of 1920s and 1930s Irish politics, the desire to suppress this visual archive can be seen as an act of political survival, for the recalling to memory of the militant past of certain party figures could threaten Fianna Fáil’s tenuous, but increasingly influential position of leadership within the Irish Free State. As such, this paper will explore the lengths that Fianna Fáil ministers went to construct—if not deconstruct—the public and private memory of Ireland’s recent past.

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