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Jim Smyth (ed.), Remembering the Troubles: Contesting the Recent Past in Northern Ireland, University of Notre-Dame Press, 2017

Catherine Conan
p. 164-165

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1This collection of essays edited by Jim Smyth, from the University of Notre Dame, is published, very timely, in the middle of the “decade of commemorations”. The issue of remembering, always very pressing in Ireland, is even more so when the country commemorates the centenary of the period that saw it through the Ulster Covenant, the Battle of the Somme, the Easter Rising, the Anglo-Irish war and the Civil War. The present collection is informed right from the introduction by A. T. Q. Stewart’s statement that “all history is applied history”, that is, the conviction that remembering the past always says something very valuable about the present. In keeping with the present “spatial turn” in historical studies, Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire also feature in Smyth’s introduction, as they raise the question of space and material objects, which also exist in the present, in the process of remembering. What follows from this theoretical premise is a blend of sociological and historical enquiry which at one point comes, in the introduction, dangerously close to losing the distinction between the event and its imaginary reconstruction, brought together under the umbrella term of “facts” (p. 4). Even though a commemoration certainly qualifies as an event, its “secondary” nature should not be overlooked.

2As is often the case in studies of the Troubles, accounts of the Republican side of the conflict dominate, as half of the articles are devoted to Republican memories. First-hand narratives of the Troubles, in the article by Jim Smyth and in the form of a text penned down by the father of Cathal Goulding, also describe Catholic nationalist experiences. However, the articles themselves present on the whole an extremely well-informed and balanced account of the issue of remembering the Troubles, which explores areas long neglected by classic Troubles scholarship, notably, in the excellent article by Aaron Edwards, the question of remembering the British soldiers who died in active service in Northern Ireland, both within the British army and in Northern Irish public space. One of the most significant issues raised in the volume as a whole therefore appears as that of the definition of a victim. It is one of the most noteworthy achievements of the present collection to enlarge our understanding of the variety of Troubles victims. In particular, a detailed examination of demographic statistics of Troubles victims by Ian McBride reveals that Republican paramilitaries were responsible for more Catholic deaths than any other group, which interrogates received narratives of what the conflict was about, namely a colonial struggle against a British oppressor. The use of opinion surveys, primary source documents, notably Republican pamphlets, and first-hand accounts all contribute to a nuanced reappraisal of the Northern Irish conflict.

3In particular, several articles return to the Official/Provisional IRA split, and study the processes of forgetting and re-inventing that saw the transformation of the Official IRA from a nationalist organisation involved in armed struggle to a Workers’ Party committed to the defence of socialism by peaceful means. The discussion of the ideological twists and turns of the IRA from the late 1960s offers valuable insights into the nationalist stance, and helps to understand why it never really managed to present a united front.

4It is to be hoped that this timely collection of essays will show that remembrance is a paradoxical key to bringing a sense of closure that will contribute to lay to rest the ghosts of the Troubles.

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Référence papier

Catherine Conan, « Jim Smyth (ed.), Remembering the Troubles: Contesting the Recent Past in Northern Ireland, University of Notre-Dame Press, 2017 », Études irlandaises, 42-2 | 2017, 164-165.

Référence électronique

Catherine Conan, « Jim Smyth (ed.), Remembering the Troubles: Contesting the Recent Past in Northern Ireland, University of Notre-Dame Press, 2017 », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 42-2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 29 novembre 2017, consulté le 14 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudesirlandaises/5408

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