restricted access 3. Troubled Geographies: A Historical GIS of Religion, Society, and Conflict in Ireland since the Great Famine
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62 Troubled Geographies: A Historical GIS of Religion, Society, and Conflict in Ireland since the Great Famine Niall Cunningham three Throughout the development of modern Ireland religion has played a central role in the persistence of complex communal identities .1 Notwithstanding what has been considered to be the substantive resolution of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, religious identity has continued to significantly influence attitudes and behavior.2 However, this is not to be reductive: the divisions between Catholics and Protestants have not been representative of substantive theological conflict; instead, they have reflected the political chasm between nationalists, the overwhelming majority of whom are Catholic, and Protestants, who have always made up the vast majority of the unionist political bloc that seekstomaintaintheconstitutionallinkwiththerestoftheUnitedKingdom .Manyscholarshavesetouttoappraisethesecomplexitiesandtheir outcomes, but few have explored them through an overtly geographical framing to understand how the conflict that has so dogged Northern Ireland in contemporary decades relates to longer-term (re)configurations of identities right across the island. In that context, this chapter will provide some insights into “Troubled Geographies: Two Centuries of Religious Division in Ireland,” a major project funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) that has gone some way in addressing this lacuna. Background For historical reasons, primarily the legacy of the partial and inconsistent nature of successive attempts to systematically colonize Ireland Troubled Geographies 63 during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the island has been left with a religious landscape that has proved both highly distinctive and in certain regards remarkably persistent over time.3 The close identification of Catholicism with nationalist aspirations and the emergence of a unionist ideology in response among the Protestant population in the late nineteenth century have meant that there still exists an extremely powerful coalescence between religious affiliation and political belief unparalleled in the Western world.4 The corollary of this is that political disagreements surrounding identities, rights, and loyalties have usually reflected broader religious or ethnic antagonisms and that conflicts accruing from these have had distinctive spatial characteristics.5 A desire to disentangle some of these interwoven strands and to provide a better understanding of change in Ireland’s contested religious geographies since the mid-nineteenth century therefore provided a compelling basis for this work. “Spatial analysis” encompasses a growing class of techniques for studyingphenomenausingtheirgeographicalcharacteristicsanddistributions . A major spatial analysis of change in Ireland’s religious geographies was made possible in particular by the availability of census data at detailed territorial levels. Unlike Britain, religion has continuously formed part of the Irish census since the mid-nineteenth century. The availability of census data on the subject from 1861 onward is testament tothedifferingroleofreligionwithinthepoliticalculturesofIrelandand Britain historically, with Irish enthusiasm for enumerating Catholic and Protestant groups being based on a desire to establish the levels of supportforthebroadercompetingideologiesofnationalismandunionism .6 The availability of detailed data from successive Irish censuses not only on religion but on a range of other demographic and social variables as well made it possible to propose a collaborative project between Lancaster University and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). A key objective of this collaboration was to integrate a Geographical Information System (GIS) with the preexisting Database of Irish Historical Statistics (DIHS) and to use the resultant data to analyze the relationships between religious identity, place, and other characteristics. A second objective, to extendtheanalysisoftheserelationstoanotherdatabaseofTroubles-related fatalities, is described later in the chapter. 64 Niall Cunningham Starting with 1821 and running up to the last census in the predigital era in 1971, the Irish censuses, usually conducted on a decennial basis, form one of the principal elements in the DIHS. The DIHS program was initiated by the Department of Social and Economic History at QUB in 1990todrawtogetherthemainsourcesofcensusandsurveydatainIrish history and provide a repository for a wide range of other related material , including annual emigration estimates and poverty assessments derived from Poor Law Union statistics.7 Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and by QUB itself, the initial phase of the DIHS project was focused on bringing together these data from the period up to 1911. Subsequent funding made possible the inclusion of additional data for the later period since the partition of Ireland in 1921 up to 1971.8 In the earlier phase, manual inputting of statistics from the sourcepaperswasrequired,butthereaftertheavailabilityofhigh-quality OpticalCharacterRecognition(OCR)considerablyhastenedtheprocess of data capture.9 Since 1971 decennial census data have been published in digital format by both the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency(NISRA)anditscounterpartintheRepublicof Ireland,theCentralStatisticsOffice (CSO).Theinclusionofthesedatainthe DIHS made it possible to construct a time series extending from...


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