This project began from a curiosity and an initial questioning on the nature of the differences that exist in how the ‘history’ of the island of Ireland is articulated and propagated in the historically divided north and south of the island. What soon became apparent is that in the southern Republic of Ireland there is little or no insight offered to people by the State on the beliefs and customs of the predominately Protestant Loyalist communities that inhabit Northern Ireland. In fact, more often than not, highly contemptuous caricatured and misrepresentative visual imagery and narratives on the Loyalist communities of Northern Ireland routinely circulate in national media publications and popular culture in the Republic. This project is an attempt to address this significant deficit in understanding and challenge the representations that exist in the Republic on the Loyalist communities of the North.
Through research and spending time with the Loyalist community in Sandy Row and the Shankill, during the lead up for the Twelfth of July celebrations, it became apparent that a highly dichotomised ‘siege mentality’ is widespread within the community. A deep feeling that their politicians and civil servants have abandoned the Loyalist community reinforces this disposition. In recent times, this position has been amplified by the uncertainty of Brexit and an ever-growing fear within the community that a sea border between the Republic of Ireland and Britain has the potential to lead to a ‘United Ireland’. Through a combination of this fear and sense of abandonment, the Loyalist community now feels that they must continuously defend their national identity, customs and foundational symbols, which at times inspires the manifestation of behaviours and events that are extremist in nature.
Speaking on ‘The Troubles’, an ethno-nationalist conflict that raged in Northern Ireland from the late 1960’s until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, members of both the Catholic Nationalist and Protestant Loyalist communities resolutely maintain that this “war is over”. However, a very real and palpable contempt for each community still exists within both communities, with a minimal and often misconstrued understanding of one another firmly entrenched in the social, cultural, religious and historical narratives and customs of each community. The customs, activities, origin narratives and rites of passage that are passed on from generation to generation ensure that this visceral antipathy for one another is ever-present. The process of image-making and engaging with the Loyalist communities allowed this project to capture the very happening of this transfer of antipathy and aggression. This enables the viewer to bear secondary witness to the impact of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and challenges them to interact with the complex social cartography of this period and its historical legacy.
Religious geography demarcates the environs and interface points of this project as the images navigate the complexity of these issues and attempt to demonstrate how multiple, complicated socio-cultural, religious and historical hyper ethno-nationalist beliefs and practices have become entrenched in the very fabric of contemporary Northern Irish society and culture. This project also raises important historical, socio-cultural and religious questions from the perspective of the young people growing up in these communities and explores how the younger generations of Northern Ireland navigate a nexus of protracted historical conflict and entrenched violence and establish and maintain their own identity within coercive and tightly patrolled pluralized environments.