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  • Violence and the VernacularConflict, Commemoration, and Rebuilding in the Urban Context
  • Sara McDowell (bio) and Catherine Switzer (bio)

The Bogside, Crossmaglen, the Falls, the Shankill, and Andersonstown. In the mental maps of those who had never been to Ireland, these places had tiny crossed swords after their names. People thought them deathfields—remote, televised knacker’s yards.

—McLiam Wilson, Eureka Street (1997)

The Northern Ireland Troubles transformed everyday landscapes into places akin to battlefields. The above excerpt from McLiam Wilson’s novel Eureka Street captures something of how external observers perceived particular areas in the region. Yet even as the violence took place, these same areas were the venue for thousands of everyday lives. The overarching aim of this paper is to sketch the journey of an everyday vernacular landscape through a time of conflict to its more recent history in that conflict’s aftermath. Vernacular landscapes exist, argues Stangl, to provide a “complex array of spatial forms to support everyday life and the world, with lived experience and representation in a supporting role.”1 Clearly, in times of armed conflict, violence becomes part of everyday life and plays out across everyday landscapes. However, in postconflict situations the issue of representation can be crucial, making the vernacular a venue for conflict of another kind.

Using the example of the Bogside in Derry as our case study, we explore how violence and the postconflict process of commemoration have interacted with a specific urban landscape.2 The segregated nature of residential space in Northern Ireland’s urban centers makes this a useful approach to take in relation to the region’s commemorative culture; as Dawson observes, “local variability . . . mean[s] that careful attention must be paid to the locatedness of cultural memories formed in the course of the war.”3 Wherever it takes place, commemoration is often a partisan practice, replete with “memories which are publicly articulated” and “those which have been privatized, fragmented, or repressed.”4 This is particularly true in Northern Ireland, where the fragmented nature of the memorial landscape reflects a deeply divided society. Although some five hundred physical memorials to the thirty-five hundred victims of the Troubles exist throughout Northern Ireland, very few commemorate the dead collectively. Instead they are erected by a variety of organizations, such as paramilitary groups and units within the police and armed forces, each with the intention of commemorating their own dead. Efforts to commemorate all Troubles victims, regardless of their backgrounds or the circumstances surrounding their deaths, have been fraught with controversy.

The Bogside is one of the most well-known districts of Northern Ireland, made famous—or infamous—in music and on film.5 On the eve of the Troubles, the Bogside was one of the most economically deprived wards in the city, with high unemployment levels and housing shortages stemming from decades of state and local government discrimination.6 Home to a tightly knit Catholic nationalist community, bound by close family ties and a commonality of background, class, and religious affiliation, it possessed high levels of social capital. In the late 1960s and early [End Page 82] 1970s, the area played a key role in the nationalist challenge to the Northern Ireland state when a combination of residents, civil rights activists, and Republican paramilitaries turned the Bogside into a virtual no-go area for state security forces for the best part of three years.7 Around this time the Bogside was the scene of some of the most infamous violence of the Troubles, witnessing the deaths of civilians, members of the state security forces, and Republican paramilitaries. It was thrust into the global spotlight following the events of January 30, 1972, better known as Bloody Sunday, when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on an anti-internment rally organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Fourteen civilians died and a further thirteen were injured.8 The events of that day rose to prominence again after the creation of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in 1998 to investigate what had happened. The Inquiry, under Lord Saville, finally published its report in June 2010. In contrast to the original 1973 investigation under Lord Widgery, the Saville Inquiry exonerated those...


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pp. 82-104
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