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“Once again it happens”: Collective remembrance and Irish identity in Catholic Derry, Northern Ireland 1896-2008

Margo Shea, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation explores Catholic nationalist residents of Derry, Northern Ireland's expressions of memory over the course of the twentieth century. It contributes to histories of the city within the context of Northern Ireland and deepens understandings of memory and historical consciousness by charting memory work - discussions, writings, displays, commemorations, festivals, protests, religious celebrations, memorials, oral histories, personal accounts and community conversations that simultaneously invoke, draw on and construct the past. The uses of memory provide a map of changes as well as consistencies in Catholics' and nationalists' construction of their cultural, social and political identities. Memory has often been credited with deepening divides between Derry's Protestant unionist and Catholic nationalist communities and exacerbating civil and political conflict. The ways memory work has invented, constructed, justified, continued, or alternately mitigated or collapsed political, religious, economic, social and cultural divides are central to the larger history of the city. Understanding how collective remembrance has changed over time adds to historical interpretations of the conflict. At the same time, the ways key events in the history of the conflict affected memory work lend insight that further memory studies. The focus here on the memory work of Catholic and nationalist Derry both de-centers Troubles-related memory work and offers new explanations for civil conflict that come out memorial expressions. A demographic majority since 1850, Catholic nationalists in the city constituted a political minority until 1973. As they sought recognition locally, worked to influence broader debates over political, social and economic issues, and endeavored to maintain their Irish identity, they drew on the past both to articulate and to formulate their experiences. By following the ways political, religious and community leaders, journalists and ordinary people participated in the construction of the past, it is possible to ascertain the way they understood the present at different moments in the city's history. Through battles over Home Rule, responses to establishment of the Northern state, endeavors to obtain civil rights, efforts to maintain community cohesion through the Troubles and initiatives to heal privately and publicly in the post-conflict era, the concerns of Catholics and nationalists in Derry were expressed through their memory work.

Subject Area

European history

Recommended Citation

Shea, Margo, "“Once again it happens”: Collective remembrance and Irish identity in Catholic Derry, Northern Ireland 1896-2008" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3427569.