The Politics of Memoir and the Northern Ireland Conflict

Stephen Hopkins

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ISBN: 9781786940148

Publication: March 1, 2017

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This book examines memoir-writing by many of the key political actors in the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ (1969–1998), and argues that memoir has been a neglected dimension of the study of the legacies of the violent conflict. It investigates these sources in the context of ongoing disputes over how to interpret Northern Ireland’s recent past. A careful reading of these memoirs can provide insights into the lived experience and retrospective judgments of some of the main protagonists of the conflict. The period of relative peace rests upon an uneasy calm in Northern Ireland. Many people continue to inhabit contested ideological territories, and in their strategies for shaping the narrative ‘telling’ of the conflict, key individuals within the Protestant Unionist and Catholic Irish Nationalist communities can appear locked into exclusive and self-justifying discourses. In such circumstances, while some memoirists have been genuinely self-critical, many others have utilised a post-conflict language of societal reconciliation in order to mask a strategy that actually seeks to score rhetorical victories and to discomfort traditional enemies. Memoir-writing is only one dimension of the current ad hoc approach to ‘dealing with the past’ in Northern Ireland, but in the absence of any consensus regarding an overarching ‘truth and reconciliation’ process, this is likely to be the pattern for the foreseeable future. This study provides the first comprehensive analysis of a major resource for understanding the conflict.

Dr Stephen Hopkins is Lecturer in Politics at the University of Leicester.

Acknowledgements x 1 The Study of Political Memoir and the Legacy of the Conflict in Northern Ireland Introduction The Politics of Memoir: Establishing the Parameters of Study The Construction and Narration of Exemplary Lives The History of an Individual’s Soul: Truth and Memory in Life-Writing 2 Provisional Republican Memoir-Writing Introduction Becoming a Provo: Narratives of Belonging Different Worlds of the Troubles: Locality and Internal Republican Politics 3 Departing the Republican Movement: Memoir-Writing and the Politics of Dissent Introduction Explaining the Break: Dissent or Disavowal? 4 Loyalist Paramilitarism and the Politics of Memoir-Writing Introduction: A New Phenomenon? A Line in the Sand? Authorial Motivation and Loyalist Paramilitary Memoir A Confusion of Voices: Author and Subject in Loyalist Life-Writing An Enclosed World? Localism and Loyalist Memoir-Writing Loyalists, Life-Writing and Motivation: Exploitation or Reconciliation? Conclusion 5 Memoir-Writing and Moderation? Ulster Unionists Face the Troubles Introduction Unionists and Reform: O’Neill and Narratives of Frustration Reflections on Unionist Political Division: O’Neill and Faulkner 6 Northern Nationalists and Memoir-Writing: The Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Troubles Rejecting Republicanism? A Paradigm Shift? Civil Rights and the Attitude to Unionism The SDLP and the Troubles 7 A Case-Study of Memoir-Writing and the Elusive Search for a Political Settlement: The 1974 Power-Sharing Executive and Sunningdale Introduction Hope and Hesitation ‘A Government of All the Talents’ The Ulster Workers’ Council Strike: ‘A Nightmarish, Surreal Experience’ 8 British Ministers and the Politics of Northern Ireland: Reading the Political Memoirs of Secretaries of State Introduction The Experience of Northern Ireland: Marginal or Central? Welcome to Belfast, Minister! Appointing the Secretary of State The ‘Loneliness of the Northern Ireland Secretary’: Reflecting on Policy-Making as SOSNI Working with the Northern Irish Parties Conclusion 9 Journalists, the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ and the Politics of Memoir-Writing Introduction My War Gone by, I Miss it so … ‘Blow-Ins’ and Belfastmen Forgive Us Our Press Passes: Political Space and Journalism Confronting the Past: Distance and Denial Telling the Story and Telling one’s Story Reflections on Reporting Political Violence Conclusion 10 Victims and Memoir-Writing: Leaving the Troubles Behind? Introduction Insiders and Outsiders: The ‘Different Worlds’ of the Troubles Memoir-Writing and the Question of Timing Victims and Perpetrators: Towards Understanding? Conclusion 11 Chroniclers of the Conflict Notes and references Bibliography Index

A short yet comprehensive account of Troubles-related memoir that can benefit anyone who wants to read about Northern Ireland’s recent history.
Malachi O'Doherty   The Irish Times

Written in a clear, uncluttered style, this is an important work that provides the first comprehensive analysis of the importance of memoir in understanding the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Henry Patterson  
University of Ulster

Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

252 Pages

ISBN: 9781786940148

Publication: March 1, 2017

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