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Authors:Andrew Sawyer:
Publication title:National Museums in Northern Ireland
Conference:Building National Museums in Europe 1750–2010. Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28-30 April 2011. EuNaMus Report No. 1
Publication type: Abstract and Fulltext
Issue:064
Article No.:026
Abstract:As with Irish history as a whole, the history of Northern Ireland is contested. It is also marked with tragedy and suffering, especially during the ‘Troubles’ from the mid-1960s to 1998 (and is still, for some, a challenging place to live). In brief, the entire island of Ireland had been more or less dominated by the British state since the Norman period (twelfth century AD), but it had its own parliament from very early in this history until 1800. From the seventeenth century a ruling elite, often descended from English or Scottish families, governed the country. This elite saw themselves as part of the wider British leadership but despite loyalty to Britain, and their Anglican faith (Anglicanism is the established form of Protestantism in the UK), they were nonetheless willing to stand up for their rights as Irish magnates, and regarded Dublin (now in the Republic of Ireland) as their capital. Known as the ‘Protestant Ascendancy’, their power declined in the nineteenth century. Most of the Irish population were Catholics, and British rule disadvantaged them. In the north-east, the growth of industry around Belfast and the predominance of Dissenters (Protestants who rejected the Anglican Church) gave rise to a society keen to preserve its British character whilst suspicious of British rule. With the collapse of British power in the south from 1916 onwards, Protestants in the north armed and prepared to fight to retain their identity. The First World War intervened, but the island was partitioned in the 1920s between the Republic in the south and Northern Ireland in the north-east.

At the establishment of Northern Ireland then, a sizable part of its heritage (in Dublin museums) was lost, removing access to key cultural objects. Divisions in Northern Irish society between Catholics (generally in favour of an end to British rule) and Protestants (generally in favour of retaining a link with Britain), has in many ways rendered the past problematic and contested. Perhaps as a result of this difficult past, there has also been an absence of policy guidance for museums in Northern Ireland, and for various reasons, expenditure on museums was relatively low. Northern Ireland gained a national museum relatively late, and on the basis of impoverished collections, but did create the Ulster Folk Museum and Transport Collection, and the Ulster Museum (both in 1961/2).

Sectarian violence flared between the two communities during a period known as the Troubles (c. 1967 to 1998) with riots, bombings and assassinations. The Northern Ireland parliament was abolished and direct rule from London was imposed, with the British Army deployed to aid police.

With the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ of 1998, the UK government, working with Northern Irish groups and with help from the government of the Republic of Ireland), brought the Troubles to an end and devolved many aspects of government to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Although isolated atrocities and occasional civil unrest still occur, and the Assembly has been temporarily suspended on several occasions, the situation is improved and further development of national museums has taken place, with the Ulster Museum winning a major award in 2010 (BBC News 2010), despite limited progress towards a coherent government strategy for national museums.

Language:English
Year:2011
No. of pages:28
Pages:625-652
Series:Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings
ISSN (print):1650-3686
ISSN (online):1650-3740
File:http://www.ep.liu.se/ecp/064/026/ecp64026.pdf
Available:2011-09-30
Publisher:Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköpings universitet

REFERENCE TO THIS PAGE
Andrew Sawyer (2011). National Museums in Northern Ireland, Building National Museums in Europe 1750–2010. Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28-30 April 2011. EuNaMus Report No. 1 http://www.ep.liu.se/ecp_article/index.en.aspx?issue=064;article=026 (accessed 7/30/2014)