Popular memories of the Rising and the Somme
: Northern Ireland 2016 a case study

  • Deirdre Mac Bride

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis contends that potentially divisive memories, if well-managed can support increased understanding and contribute to reconciliation after violence. The Rising and the Somme were marked in Northern Ireland as popular memories. Through a consideration of social memory theories drawing on history and social science, and Irish commemorative practices, the research identifies the importance of traumatic memory and peacebuilding in the development of safe spaces for dialogue and discussion. This case deconstructs social memory, revealing fractures, contradictions, and nuances, and identifies the themes of sectarianism, gender, class, and age as important research avenues.  Semi-structured interviews about their motivations, plans and activities were organised with three groups:  the ‘guardians’—those most aligned to the narratives; governments, councils, museums, archives, community relations and heritage bodies; and the arts, NGO’s and community groups. This investigation also utilised reports and commemorative paraphernalia. The memory practices surveyed parades, re-enactments, drama, exhibitions, public history, dialogue, and discussions. The best efforts of individuals and groups in civic and civil society to remember inclusively, creatively, and with integrity were not always successful. These are resilient popular memories. Some remembrances continued to be exclusive. Controversies associated with the commemorations of the Rising, and Northern Ireland’s formation and partition, drew attention to the continuing difficulty in acknowledging what the other holds sacred.   In this context bottom-up initiatives from across the communities will continue to lead and influence public remembering. Groups and individuals reached across community boundaries, inclusively, humanising connections to the Rising and Somme narratives. They understood the importance of empathy and respectful listening.  They are illustrative of John Brewer’s everyday life peacebuilders. The lessons for other societies managing divisive memories lies in recognising the value of frameworks, such as ethical principles for remembering, and of fostering cooperative, collaborative multi-sector networks through which social divisions can be more inclusively understood.  

Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJohn Brewer (Supervisor) & Marie Coleman (Supervisor)


  • Social and popular memory
  • Northern Ireland
  • Post-Conflict
  • peace building
  • contested histories
  • Easter Rising
  • Battle of the Somme
  • Decade of Centenaries
  • qualitative case study
  • interdisciplinary
  • peace processes
  • divided societies
  • governments
  • councils
  • museums
  • NGOs
  • arts based interventions
  • public history
  • community engagement
  • Partition of Ireland
  • commemoration
  • Troubles
  • Brexit

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