Anthony D Buckley
From Anthony D Buckley and Mary Catherine Kenney 1995 Negotiating identity: rhetoric, metaphor and social drama in Northern Ireland. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
POSTSCRIPT: Identity In Schools And Museums
We shall now consider how our findings are relevant to the work of educational establishments in Northern Ireland, looking at schools and museums. We argued in Chapter 2 that any theory which describes humanity should be applicable to the theorists themselves. Since one of the present authors is a museum curator, we shall especially consider how this approach to identity has had practical application in the institution where he works, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
Three of the points made in this volume are especially relevant. First, is the idea that identity is defined in the frameworks provided by specific relationships, situations and 'worlds'. Second, ethnic identities arise because of the way that individuals typically interact. They do not come out of cultural diversity. Third, and despite this last point, individuals do define themselves during the presentation of rhetorical definitions of reality. Identity is defined during conversation, commemorations of history, music, dance, ritual, ceremonial, and 'social drama' of all sorts. Some of these forms of discourse and social drama are cared for by individuals and organizations who act effectively as 'curators'.
Our argument is that each of these three points has a direct practical implication for schools and museums. Each defines a stratagem in relation to the problem of providing greater social harmony and peace in Northern Ireland.
The three stratagems in question are not new. They have been available, and have been much used by educational bodies for some time. In recommending them, we do not, therefore, advocate any revolutionary changes. On the contrary, we believe that our findings provide a theoretical underpinning for policies already in place.
The strategems even have labels already well established in Northern Irish educational vocabulary. They are: (a) that schools and museums should be 'oases of calm'; (b) that schools and museums should encourage intermingling between the two groups to inspire 'mutual understanding'; and (c) that schools and museums should enable members of the two groups to explore their own and each other's 'cultural heritage'.
OASES OF CALM: LIVING IN DIFFERENT WORLDS
The idea that educational institutions ought to be 'oases of calm' has long permeated the world of education in Northern Ireland. Its unstated theoretical premise is that each person lives in several distinct and separable worlds.
There is a myth of origin for the phrase 'oases of calm'. People say it originated in the early 1970s. It referred specifically to 'maintained' (ie Catholic) schools in what then were the intensely battle-torn, inner-city nationalist areas of Belfast. At that time, soldiers nightly raided homes for weapons; rioting was an everyday occurrence; and explosions and gunfire regularly rattled the windows.
Despite this, one could walk into a school and find peace. In these schools was orderliness, cleanliness, civilization and spirituality. The calm was only heightened by the devastation immediately outside the school railings. Children who spent their evenings 'bricking peelers' (or worse) would next morning come into the school. There, surrounded by vases of flowers and statues of saints, they could sit at their desks, working in the quiet discipline of a classroom.
Whatever the origin of the expression, the practical goal of creating oases of calm came to permeate the world of education. It extended into the state (Protestant) schools and into the world of museums. Schools and museums were, 'neutral territory'. Into them, the troubles should not intrude.
The desire for an oasis of calm is, of course, a version of the 'siege metaphor', closely related to ideas of the 'temple', and what Feldman (1991) has called 'sanctuary'. Schools and museums may be, in their way, 'neutral territory', but they are territory nevertheless. The ambition of the teachers and others who sustained this policy, often individuals of great personal courage, was to maintain the boundaries of their spiritual havens against the forces of barbarism without.
There was more to this policy of 'boundary maintenance' than the physical exclusion of 'the men of violence'. Centrally, there was also a wish to keep out of the classroom and museum gallery the contentious forms of debate which might 'politicize' these places.
Maintaining oases of calm might have been much more difficult if the cultural differences of sectarianism had been more central to Northern Irish culture. In reality, however, as we, following Akenson (1991), have argued, the cultural differences between Catholics and Protestants are remarkably few. Most of the cultural differences that do exist are confined to comparatively discrete 'worlds' overseen by enthusiasts or professionals.
There are many other worlds in Northern Ireland broadly untouched by the distinctive marks of sectarianism. Indeed, the school curriculum exemplifies the division of the cultural universe into worlds. It exemplifies too just how marginal is the culture of ethnicity in these different worlds.
In a school, there are some subjects, notably history, religious education, the Irish language and certain kinds of physical education, which might raise sectarian issues. However, particularly where education is ethnically segregated, it is possible to deal with even these issues without raising contentious hackles. Greer, for example, noted in 1972 that the study of social problems, or of Hinduism, Buddhism and Humanism often found their way into religious education courses. The subject of the Catholic Protestant division, however, was carefully omitted (Greer 1972, 83). Also, for the most part, students could study physics, chemistry, biology, art, woodwork, metalwork, geography, or literature without reference to sectarianism or social conflict. Catholic physics is no different from Protestant physics, and the same is true of most school subjects.
In the 1970s and even later, teachers could therefore take refuge in the pluralism of the curriculum. They could also work towards a classical educational ideal of producing 'well-rounded individuals'. A 'well-rounded individual', in the terms of this book, is one whose identity is defined broadly in relation to the worlds of literature, science and the rest. A well-rounded person is not someone defined in relation only to those wholly local worlds where ethnicity is relevant.
The situation in schools found a parallel in the two so-called 'national' museums in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Museum in Belfast and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra in County Down. Of these two institutions, the Ulster Museum has a precisely similar breadth of concern as a school. Inside its walls are departments concerned with antiquities, art, botany, geology, textiles and zoology. These topics do not rouse sectarian hackles.
The Ulster Museum, however, also has a department of local history. In this, though with a different emphasis, it shares concerns with its sister institution, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. This latter body is charged, by Act of Parliament to study and represent the 'traditions and way of life of the people of Northern Ireland past and present'. It is, therefore, centrally concerned with those matters which might, without a certain skill, undermine that institution's aspiration to be an oasis of calm.
In fact, neither the local history department of the Ulster Museum nor the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum have been highly controversial institutions. The reason for this again, as in the schools, has been because the cultural universe is divided into diverse worlds, few of which are differentiated by marks of distinctive ethnic culture.
Since its establishment in the 1950s, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has centrally consisted of an open air museum. This depicts a dispersed rural community and a small town in Ulster in about the year 1900. Apart from a few replica buildings, the exhibits in the open air museum have been dismantled and brought to the Museum 'brick by brick', from different parts of Ulster. There are also galleries suitable for both 'folk' and 'transport' exhibitions. The Museum also stages entertainments, demonstrations of skill and 'events'.
The themes considered over the years by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum have been many and various. An important one has been the depiction of the buildings themselves. The buildings exemplify older forms of vernacular architecture. They also illustrate how different kinds of people used the buildings. Presentations of aspects of domestic life, in the form of furnishings and matters relating to cookery, etc give life to the display of buildings. Another theme has been the variety of agricultural practice, and these are reconstructed in the landscape of the open air museum. In addition, the museum's agriculture department has encouraged the breeding and preservation of rare breeds of farm animals. There is a lively textile department, which collects and displays textiles and materials related to their manufacture. It does this both for their own intrinsic interest, but also for the light that which textiles throw upon the social lives of the people who made and made use of them. Crafts, such as blacksmithing, printing, spade making, and woodwork are regularly illustrated and displayed. Music is performed in the open air museum and is a major feature of the museum's work. The transport department is concerned with the display of all kinds of transport, including shipping - a major aspect of Ulster life - and road and rail transport. Recently, a large gallery has been opened devoted entirely to railways.
In all this activity in the Museum (and to describe its complexity in a single paragraph is unsatisfactory), the topic of ethnicity scarcely arises at all. One could, of course, if one chose, allow ethnicity to intrude into the story-line of any and every exhibition. This, however, would be inappropriate, for, as in any other society, there are many other stories to be told.
Thus, from the late 1980s, a popular exhibition told the story of the Titanic, the famously doomed ship that was built in a Belfast shipyard. This exhibition, quite correctly, had nothing at all to do with ethnicity. Despite its wholly local relevance, it has been successfully displayed in museums in England and the United States.
There have also been gallery exhibitions on marriage, on domestic furniture, on agriculture, on the harp, on the life of a local motor cycling hero, and so forth. In these exhibitions, ethnicity very occasionally peeped into the picture, but not to any great extent. This is because, in most of the worlds which exist in the north of Ireland, the culture of one 'side' is not very different from that of the other.
The attempt to create, in the schools and museums in Northern Ireland, 'oases of calm' was, therefore, largely successful. Its success was largely due to the good sense of both teachers and curators. It was also because, in a pragmatic way, everyone knew that the cultural universe of Northern Ireland was not in fact divided into sectarian dichotomies.
The idea of an oasis of calm, however, was a response by teachers and curators to the very extreme conditions of the 1970s, when physical intimidation threatened the very foundation of education itself. As a policy, it therefore tended to evade (with ample good reason) some of the central issues of Northern Irish life.
From the mid 1980s, however, a new atmosphere became apparent. Although there were hiccups, government began to take renewed steps to encourage reconciliation between the two ethnic groups. Also, and again with some hesitancy, local politicians responded with cautious goodwill. At the same time, educationalists also felt able to take on a more positive role.
SOCIAL INTERACTION: EDUCATION FOR MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
We have argued that ethnic identity, but also other forms of identity are formed during social interaction. Broadly speaking, ethnic identity consists of social interaction of a discriminatory nature. It persists through the construction and continuing existence of worlds where ethnicity is relevant to interaction. The most important interactions which maintain the boundaries between ethnic groups are those involved in the socialization of children. And not least of these is segregated education.
Since at least the early 1970s, there have been those who have sought to provide opportunities for children of different ethnic backgrounds to intermingle. One aspect to this has been the establishment of several 'integrated' schools. The most famous of these schools is Lagan College in Belfast (see Irwin 1991). Here, as in the others, the ethnic composition of the students is carefully monitored. Selection procedures ensure that no one ethnic group predominates.
Government has, from time to time, declared itself to be in favour of these schools. And, indeed, integrated schools are funded by the state in much the same way as are the Catholic schools. Despite this, government has left the impetus for the creation of integrated schools to the initiative of parents. Although there is an undoubted demand for integrated schools, few parents are so enthusiastic that they will go to the trouble of building their own school. Thus, the development of integrated education has been slow.
The reason for the muted nature of government support for integrated education undoubtedly lies in the political opposition which such schools could generate. Existing schools not unnaturally fear that resources might be diverted away from them towards the new integrated schools. And despite growing pockets of support, especially in the professional classes, popular opinion is also at best ambiguous towards attempts to enforce integration.
There is also a widespread suspicion, well articulated in a pamphlet by Frank Wright (nd), that the commonly stated support for integration can disguise a desire to 'put something across on the others'. 'Do you know either of the following?' he writes. 'Someone with a fantasy of Catholics and Protestants standing reverently before a Union Jack fluttering from the school flagpole; or someone with the fantasy of Protestant and Catholic children dutifully absorbing a history syllabus which puts Protestants 'right about their Irishness"' (Wright nd, 3). Separate education, he suggests, may be a means of managing mistrust. Too rapid an erosion of segregation may destroy the 'quiet' which is currently in most schools.
The main thrust of educational endeavour towards intermingling in the classroom comes, therefore, not in schemes for integrated education but through 'Education for Mutual Understanding' or 'EMU'. EMU was undoubtedly set up in face of a widespread recognition that to force the pace of integration in schools would be unwise.
EMU is now one of six curricular themes built into the Northern Ireland Curriculum ( NICC 1990). Those who support it take care to insist that it is neither 'a threat to particular cultures or traditions' nor 'an attack on the concept of segregated education in Northern Ireland' (NICC 1990). Indeed, there are critics who suggest that, as such, it is insufficient, and therefore ineffectual (eg Dunlop 1987).
Central to the stratagem of EMU has been the systematic cultivation of regular and practical links between maintained and controlled (Catholic and Protestant) schools. Typically, classes from different schools come together regularly for lessons in common, or they will undertake occasional projects often involving field trips or other outings together.
In this work, the education departments of the different museums have taken an active part. During school terms, an average of three 'EMU groups' visit the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, for 'EMU workshops' every week. The children are usually divided into small ethnically mixed groups of six to eight children to do practical work involving farming, cooking, candle-making, embroidery, laundry etc. They may then divide into larger groups to take part in another activity. This could be a visit to a building in the Museum's open air collection to complete a 'work book' or a lesson taken by one of their teachers in the Museum's village school.
The schools that participate in these activities are almost always a pair of schools, one Catholic, the other Protestant, which have closely cooperated, for months or even, nowadays, years. Classes from these schools usually visit the Museum on four separate days. On each occasion, the children will work together in the same small groups. Often their visits to the Museum culminate in a longer visit to the residential unit in the urban area of the Museum's open air collection. This gives the children a chance to live together for a few days, working and making friends with each other.
In cultivating such contacts, staff ensure that the effect will be positive and not negative. Following research in this field (eg McWhirter 1983; Smith and Dunn 1990), the aim of the work is to encourage practical interdependence between the participants. It is part of a long term relationship between groups of Catholics and Protestants, not a transitory relationship between individuals.
CULTURAL HERITAGE: CURATORSHIP
The final policy to be considered here is one that arose most clearly in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s. This is the policy of encouraging schools and museums, and, indeed, private individuals and groups, to explore their 'cultural heritage'.
This policy has operated mainly through two government agencies. One is the Cultural Traditions Group of the Community Relations Council; the other the Department of Education (Northern Ireland). The first of these bodies, through a judicious use of funding, helps individuals and associations in the exploration and portrayal of the 'cultural heritage' of Northern Ireland. The other is more concerned with specifically educational matters.
Like EMU, 'cultural heritage' is now a cross curricular theme which now permeates every subject in the Northern Ireland schools' curriculum. In every subject in the school curriculum, therefore, some aspect of specifically Northern Irish life must now enter. This will often include materials from the distinctive traditions of one 'side of the community' or the other.
At first sight, the idea of encouraging 'cultural heritage' in schools and museums seems to contradict the practice of the early 1970s. In the 1970s, in trying to sustain 'oases of calm', educational bodies generally avoided such topics. They feared that such subjects might stir up dissent among students within the institutions, and invite the attention of politicians and others from outside.
We have said that, in the 1970s, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, had created an 'oasis' by representing only the less controversial Northern Irish 'worlds'. The Museum, however, never had the wholly negative purpose of 'not stirring up trouble'. On the contrary, under its then director, George Thompson, the Museum's vision was very positive. Thompson's frequently restated purpose was to present a vision of the Northern Irish heritage around which all inhabitants could unite. The aim was to present what Ulster people had in common.
Seen in this light, the policy represented by the work of George Thompson at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is not very different from the new one of emphasizing 'cultural heritage'. The old policy presented a vision of society in which the people living in Northern Ireland had much in common. The new vision also concentrates on what people have in common. It only adds to this the extra feature that the ethnic differences which do exist should also be explicitly recognized and given respect.
And, indeed, the new policy is not a shift of principle but of circumstances. It would have been irresponsible to have explored distintive ethnic cultures in the 1970s when tensions were acute. Now that the problems are perceived as chronic, one can hope to be more adventurous.
The idea that individuals can come together around rhetorical dramatizations and other presentations, including versions of the historical past, is one that has been central to this volume. We have claimed that social groups and especially ethnic groups can cohere around such representations of the past.
In this context, we have used the term 'curatorship'. Organizations like the Hibernians, the Orange Order, Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Ulster Society, the churches and others have a quasi-curatorial function. They conserve different kinds of intellectual property on behalf of a wider ethnic group, enabling this property to be commemorated or reproduced and transmitted to a wider public and to subsequent generations.
In using the idea of 'curatorship' in this way, we suggest that museums are in many ways similar to these other bodies. These bodies, however, differ from the official museums in that the former are more concerned with the preservation and presentation of specifically ethnic knowledge. The museums and other educational bodies are concerned, in principle, with all forms of intellectual property. Their task is to care for all this property (both the distinctively ethnic and the non-ethnic) so that members of the whole society can make use of it.
Chapter 4 suggested that individuals in Northern Ireland sometimes organize their understanding of their social institutions (including those with curatorial functions) using the metaphor of the 'temple'.
Museum people are very familiar with the idea that a museum is a 'treasure house, educational instrument, or secular temple' (Baxendall 1991, 33). The idea of museum-as-temple has been well elaborated by Duncan (1991), but it permeates current debate about the nature of curatorship. Alpers, for example, uses a religious imagery when she emphasizes that objects are selected for display in museums because of their visual interest. She notes that the ancient Egyptians and the Renaissance Italians used tombs and chapels as places to look at beautiful pictures (Alpers 1991, 26). Horne also speaks of 'temples' though he raises an eyebrow to mock his own usage. He describes museum-visiting tourists as 'pilgrims' travelling from holy place to holy place. He calls this pilgrimage 'the way of the tourist' Horne 1984, part 1).
Cameron, however, has argued that the modern museum need not be always a 'temple'. Instead, he says, museums should move towards another classical form, the 'forum' (Cameron 1972). In a forum, there is no mere reverence for the treasures and symbols of the dominant groups in society. There is, rather, a coming together of diverse opinions for disagreement or debate (see Karp and Levine 1991).
Unfortunately, the idea of 'museum as forum' is not very useful when ethnic tension is acute. A forum can too easily cease to be a place for civilized debate and become 'disputed territory'.
The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has always tried to show the considerable variety of the worlds within which people of different kinds live and move. It has tried to provide versions of the past, and sometimes of the present, which members of the public of all kinds could enjoy. Complementing those other 'curatorial' bodies which strive to care for the 'culture' only of their own ethnic group, the Museum has performed the same function, but consciously on behalf of people from all Northern Irish groupings. By so doing, the museum hopes to present that culture which symbolizes ethnic groupings but within a more general framework to which members of the entire society can give assent.
This is not to say that the Museum has (or indeed should) set itself only the evangelistic purpose of 'reconciling the two sides of society'. On the contrary, the Museum has seen itself as representing Northern Irish life (within reason) in all its complexity. It has not tried to represent merely two aspects of that complexity.
As we have suggested, individuals in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, live in multitudinous different worlds. A museum's task is to explore a large number of these worlds. It is also to present to a general public what the participants in these worlds see as vital and valuable. By so doing, it recognizes and celebrates their identities in all of these diverse worlds.
The idea must be to represent a vision of life in Ulster or in Ireland where all major groups have a valued and respected place.
Ethnic culture is one means by which the importance of ethnic groups can be given recognition. In a public museum, the presentation of ethnicity can be done within a framework which is non-competitive but which gives to each group its due.
If, then, the museum is to be a temple, then it has to be one built for the whole of society. Such a museum may give recognition to the reality of ethnic cleavages. It can also hope to provide a vision of society in which everyone can take some pride, and around which everyone can, in due course, cohere.
We shall now consider two exhibitions at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. These tried to address distinctively ethnic culture directly. They were called, respectively, Brotherhoods in Ireland and Remembering 1990: the folklore of a war.
Both exhibitions arose out of a piece of library and field research undertaken by A D Buckley but supported and by his colleagues, especially T K Anderson, C McCullough and P S Robinson, and also by M C Kenney. The research began as a study of the Orange Order, but it extended, little by little, to include other bodies. Among these were the Hibernians, the Knights of St Columbanus, the Freemasons, the friendly society movement, the temperance movement, the trade unions, the Roman Catholic sodalities, and the guilds. They were selected because of their manifest similarity one to another. Because of this similarity, an all-inclusive name was sought, and eventually, P S Robinson hit on the name 'Brotherhoods in Ireland'. This became the title of the first exhibition.
The 'Brotherhoods in Ireland' Exhibition.
The exhibition, called Brotherhoods in Ireland, was a temporary display presented in 1988. Its main story line was based on the somewhat abstract ideas of Goldman (1970), namely that actions are complex, and stratified at different levels. Its central theme was that of unity in diversity. In some respects (ie at some levels of organization), the ritual and other actions performed by these groups were different. In other respects (ie, at other levels), what they did was very similar. In apparent diversity, the exhibition implied, one could find the unity of a common culture.
The exhibition was organized into sections, each devoted to materials from a different brotherhood or type of brotherhood. The sections can quickly be listed:
In this array of different organizations, there was, first of all, much diversity. Part of the the display's purpose was to emphasize ethnic diversity, and this feature of the exhibition was evident to anyone with even slight local knowledge. Several bodies, the Orange Order, the Black Institution, the Hibernians, the Order of Malta, the Knights of St Columbanus and the Confraternity of the Holy Family, had purposes explicitly related to a religious tradition. The other organizations, the trade unions, in general, being a notable exception, had an informal tendency to confine their recruitment to one or the other ethnic group.
The diversity, however, went beyond religion and ethnicity. Some of these bodies had a policy of strict temperance. Others were primarily drinking clubs. Some were organizations to encourage piety. Others had quasi-political goals. Many had the narrowly practical aim of organizing health insurance.
The political ethos of the different groups varied considerably. Some were straightforwardly nationalistic or unionist, but other, notably the friendly societies and the trade unions, had ideological roots in forms of socialism.
They also varied considerably in the social classes from which they recruited. The Order of Malta, in its more exclusive reaches, restricts membership to Catholics with a claim to aristocracy. The friendly societies (now largely defunct in Ireland) drew their support among the skilled or white collared. So too do the Freemasons, who also appeal to the well-to-do.
The aim of the exhibition, however, was to show the unity underlying the diversity. The diversity of purpose, ethnicity and ethos, portrayed through the segregation of the exhibition into sections, was challenged by the similarity between the sections. As far as was practical, each section displayed a similar set of artifacts. Most sections contained:
The point behind all of this was that the diversity in the different organizations was a diversity expressed through inherently similar cultural forms.
It is not for a Museum exhibition to provide an opportunity for commingling between different groups of people. Nevertheless, it seemed appropriate that the guests invited to the exhibition's opening should include members of significantly opposed organizations. Hibernians, Orangemen, National Foresters, Freemasons, and clergy of different denominations and others were present. Many of these could be considered 'curators' of their respective cultural traditions. All of them had contributed, by advice, and by lending items, to the production of a single exhibition. This exhibition celebrated a tradition which was common to each of the two ethnic groups. The common tradition was so multipurpose that it could express and provide a focus for division.
Remembering 1690: the Folklore of a War.
The second exhibition was constructed in 1990 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. This battle, as everybody in Ulster knows, is annually commemorated by the Orange Order as the moment which established a Protestant ascendancy in Ireland (see Chapter 3). Its title Remembering 1690, evoked the slogan Remember 1690, which, as REM 1690, is often written on Northern Irish walls.
This exhibition was only one of several exhibitions and events put on over several years to commemorate the events of the Williamite/Jacobite Wars. Apart from the 1690 celebrations, there were also commemorations of the siege of Derry. These were organized, with a remarkable show of goodwill on all sides, not only by the unionist Apprentice Boys of Derry but also by the mainly nationalist Derry City Council. There were official celebrations in the city of Dublin, and the city of Limerick also joined in with a commemoration of its own two sieges.
In the world of Northern Ireland museums, the exhibition at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum was not the most important of the 1690 exhibitions. The Ulster Museum in Belfast, put on a magnificent, specifically historical display entitled Kings in Conflict.
This other exhibition recounted the Williamite/Jacobite war in Ireland within the broader framework of European history. It was a war between three kings, not only William III and James II, but also Louis XIV of France. This context relegated the Irish campaign to a small place in the wars.
The conflict in Europe obscured much of what Irish folk history considers important. Ireland did, however, feature in the exhibition's most splendid feature, a tableau showing the signing of the Treaty of Limerick. In the tableau, the faces of actors delivering speeches were projected on to the faces of life-size models to give the effect of talking heads.
In the Ulster Museum's exhibition, therefore, the emphasis shifted from Ireland to Europe, and from the battle of the Boyne (sacred to Orangemen) to the Treaty of Limerick. This treaty was no doubt historically more important, for it concluded the war and settled Ireland's fate for the next century.
By shifting the framework for the war to include Europe, the Ulster Museum's exhibition also implied another message. This was that the popular histories had created a false impression of the events of 1688-92. The real events of the war (known to professional historians) had little to do with modern-day identities.
The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum's exhibition was more modest. In contrast to that of the Ulster Museum, it dealt with the 'folklore of the war', i.e. with the popular history as depicted in banners, bonfires, trinkets, songs and narratives. Its central materials for display, therefore, consisted of rhetorically divergent representations of the traditional histories of Ireland (see Chapter 3 above).
While researching this topic, it was noted that certain organizations had effectively appropriated certain events of the war. To use the terminology of the present volume, they had unofficially become curators of these specific traditions. The representation of the views of these 'curators' became essential to the exhibition.
We have already mentioned that the Apprentice Boys of Derry twice annually commemorate the Siege of Londonderry, and that on the Twelfth of July the Orange Order commemorates the Battle of the Boyne. In addition, it was found that events in the south-west of Ireland had become the 'intellectual property' of nationalist traditions. These were, more specifically, the Battle of Aughrim, the two sieges of Athlone and the two sieges of Limerick - in short the 'Fight for the Shannon' - as well as the aftermath of the war. The events of the south-west were most readily accessible through pictures on banners preserved by the mainly Catholic National Forester and Hibernian movements, and also through Jacobite and nationalist songs and 'Irish dances' which refer to these events.
To tell the story of the Williamite/Jacobite wars through its 'folklore', it was simplest to divide the exhibition into four sections. These dealt with the Siege of Derry, the Route to the Boyne, the Fight for the Shannon and the Aftermath.
The first two sections concentrated mainly upon narratives and practices derived from Apprentice Boy and Orange tradition. As well as paintings on banners and drums, the Museum also borrowed precious commemorative glassware in the Williamite tradition. The exhibition was fortunate in obtaining paintings of the Siege by Robert Jackson, a well-known painter of murals from Londonderry.
Robert Jackson's family had long been involved in building the effigy of 'the Traitor Lundy' which is ceremonially burned each year in Londonderry. He lent the museum models which illustrated the former practice of burning this effigy hanging from the massive Walker monument (now destroyed by explosion). One of his models was a full-size 'half model' of the Lundy effigy. It stood some 15 feet high, and was magnificently clad in a full dress uniform made of cardboard. Lundy also had handsome face with rouged cheeks and a moustache of which Salvador Dali would have been proud.
The other two sections dealt respectively with 'The Fight for the Shannon' and with the aftermath of the Treaty of Limerick. These stories were told mainly through banner paintings of the National Foresters and the Hibernians. The sections also included glassware, trinkets, photographs of statues etc relating both to the battles and sieges and to the Treaty of Limerick.
There was also a videotape presentation. This was in two parts, one roughly drawn from Williamite and loyalist culture, the other from Jacobite and nationalist. The first half dealt with processions, bonfires, drumming etc relating to the Siege of Derry and King William's journey to the Boyne. The second commemorated the later stages of the war in the south west. Inevitably, it too had processions, but it also focused upon the narrative, poetry, music and dance in the Jacobite and later the nationalist traditions.
As this exhibition was being prepared, many who ventured an opinion or who were consulted, not least those involved in the teaching of history, thought that the purpose of the exhibition should be to correct the mistakes of folk history.
This temptation to debunk was resisted. Instead, the exhibition adopted a rhetorical conceit that the specific popular histories of the Williamite/Jacobite wars were not incorrect, but were incomplete. In Chapter 3, we argued that what Smith (1984) calls 'ethnic histories' often have rhetorical purposes. We also claimed, however, that they are usually founded in verifiable fact. The exhibition suggested that the incompleteness of the two popular historical traditions could be overcome by putting the two of them together. By putting the unionist and nationalist traditions side by side, a complete, and, indeed, broadly true picture of the war could be presented.
Livingstone and Beardsley (1991) have said that museums in divided societies have a problem of how to include the points of view of several different publics 'without sacrificing ... coherence and aesthetic will'. Because of the nature of the ethnic division in the north of Ireland, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum daily confronts this problem in an especially acute way. It was not the Museum's place baldly to declare that the ethnic histories were wrong. Nor should it claim merely that 'the professionals know best'. Equally, however, it had to tell a limited and coherent story which was true.
The exhibition, therefore, sought to affirm the validity of the popular histories of both sides. By so doing, it hoped to uphold the worth not only of the curators of each set of popular histories, but also of the more general public who supported them. The exhibition did not disparage the popular histories. Nor did it condemn the largely working class, and ethnically-based groups which espoused them. It did not try to uphold the value of one section of society against another. Instead, it declared, by implication, that each section of Ulster society has as much right to have its importance confirmed as any other.
This postscript has suggested that the approach to identity given in this book is compatible with current educational thinking in the province. The idea that identity is forged in social interaction and in the context of different frameworks is compatible with forward looking policies aimed at reconciliation. These policies encourage, in a controlled environment, social interaction between schoolchildren of different ethnic backgrounds. They also strive to create oases of calm in which the common and distinctive cultural heritage of all groups can be explored, recognized and valued.
It is always appropriate, however, when discussing Northern Ireland, to add a note of pessimism. There is a limit to what policies of 'cultural heritage' and 'mutual understanding' in schools and museums can achieve, and the limitations ought to be pointed out.
Museums in Northern Ireland have tried to create images of a common heritage around which the population might unite. This is a laudible objective, and the discussion here suggests that such images are ultimately neccessary for peace. However, we have also argued that ethnic divison does not arise out of cultural differences and similarities. Ethnic differentiation and ethnic conflict arise rather out of the use to which culture is put in specific interactions.
There are, moreover, more substantial issues than distinctively ethnic culture that stand in the way of rapprochement. There are, for example, many people in Northern Ireland who feel intimidated. Sometimes, this intimidation comes directly from paramilitary groups (or even from the security forces). Sometimes, it comes more indirectly from the mere political ambitions of 'the other side'. It even comes from displays of chauvinism by one's opponents. Wherever it comes from, it renders individuals and their spokespeople unwilling or unable to engage wholeheartedly in constructive interactions which might lead to peace. Confronted with intimidation, a person can too readily, and with justification, retreat into frameworks structured by ideas of invasion and siege.
Another issue is social inequality. An obvious question here is the long-standing social inequality between Catholics and Protestants, which is still a source of continuing resentment among nationalists. The impact of 'fair employment' legislation, for example, has been painfully slow. Also, in a period of endemic unemployment, 'fair employment' can not only soothe, but also arouse hostility, as when it is suspected of being a way of discriminating unfairly against Protestants.
Beyond this, the very existence of social inequality between the social classes is a source of hostility. We have shown that ethnic identity is defined by means of metaphors taken, inter alia, from the language of social class. More than this, violent dramatizations of ethnic identity are often simultaneously challenges to authority and to inequalities of wealth, education and power. These inequalities are basic to the social organization of western society.
We have said above that Wallis 1986 et al correctly claim that the poor are especially jealous of the self-esteem or 'honour' attached to their ethnicity. While the rich and the educated can find self-esteem through careers, erudition and displays of consumption, the prestige due to ethnicity is also available to the poor. The self-esteem which comes from the ethnic group's rhetorical histories, its demonstrations and its 'culture' is not, therefore, easily abandoned. To woo poorer people from their ethnic loyalties, to stop them feeling besieged or invaded, one may have to do more than just point to a 'common culture'.
In such a framework, the answers provided by schools and museums can only be part of a more general solution. Schools and museums cannot, on their own, solve the major political conundrum of the Irish border; they cannot heal social inequality; they cannot by themselves make Catholics and Protestants want to give up their preferred 'social distance' from each other.
The kinds of identities which will emerge in Northern Ireland will not, therefore, be built in schools and museums. In the last resort, Northern Irish people will negotiate and construct their own identities in the worlds that they themselves create in their day to day social interactions.
Schools and museums can, however, provide calm and neutral territory where members of the two sides can come and sometimes meet. In such neutral territory, people can learn about the things they have in common and the things that divide them. Here they can find building blocks with which they can themselves socially construct harmonious relationships. They can hope to renegotiate their identities.