Anthony D Buckley
'Presenting a divisive culture: two exhibitions at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum'.
In (ed.) Susan M Pearce Museums and the appropriation of culture New Research in Museum Studies Series. Leicester, Athlone 1994..
‘to learn to respect and value themselves and other people'.
'to know about and value both their own culture and traditions, and those of others with different cultures and traditions'.
'to learn the importance of resolving differences and conflicts by peaceful and creative means'. (Some aims of EMU', EMU Guide 1988)
In 1988 and 1990, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum presented two temporary exhibitions which directly addressed Northern Ireland's well known cultural or ethnic division and matters relating to Ulster's 'troubles'. The exhibitions were called, respectively, `Brotherhoods in Ireland' and 'Remembering 1690: the Folklore of a War'. I wish in this article to explain why it was thought appropriate to deal with these topics in the way we did.
There are two general reasons why the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has found itself increasingly concerned with what are called `community relations' (see also Gailey, 1990). The first is the Act of Parliament which set the museum up and which directs the museum to present 'the traditions and way of life of the people of Northern Ireland'. Much of this 'tradition and way of life' is generally recognized to be divisive and tending towards social conflict and violence. Individuals claim that specific cultural items 'belong' to one or other of the two main ethnic groups in Ulster, and they sometimes seek to perpetuate 'their own' culture at the expense of that of their opponents. The divisive aspects of Ulster's cultural heritage p84 have some considerable significance to the population of Northern Ireland. If the museum were to fail to present the divisiveness inherent in popular culture, it would be creating a picture of Northern Ireland and of its traditions and way of life which would be false.
A second reason for addressing Ulster's troubles is that, as a public institution, and in the face of the current mayhem, the museum has a certain responsibility to be constructive. Even to say or do nothing directly to address the troubles is effectively to say something; and members of museum staff need to justify whatever decisions they take in this context.
This second reason is given some extra force by developments in the broad field of education. Building upon a new sense of urgency in Northern Irish society at large, schools have become increasingly involved in 'Education for mutual understanding' (called EMU) and, more generally, educational institutions have been pressed by government to foster a sense of 'cultural heritage' with the more general aim of bringing a greater social harmony into Northern Ireland. Many of these new developments have grown up in relation to an often intuitively defined 'accepted wisdom' about the nature of ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland. I hope here to clarify and develop this accepted wisdom by drawing upon my own studies of community life in Ulster, and then to show how the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum's general approach to the troubles can be regarded as constructive in relation to this general diagnosis.
I want to argue that, in the context of Northern Ireland, it is both useful and desirable for a museum such as the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum occasionally to portray to the public aspects of Northern Irish culture which are generally known to be contentious and divisive. In so doing, however, I want also to indicate two important points. First, it would be a mistake to see the troubles as inherently a matter of 'cultural' division. The conflict arises, rather, out of patterns of social interaction. Educational establishments, including the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, should, therefore, and indeed do, take account of this in the way they deal with contentious issues. Second, it should also be noted that those traditions or items of culture which 'belong' to the two main ethnic groups are by far the smallest part of the culture of Northern Ireland. There is also a massive common culture, and the portrayal of this should form the central work of the Museum. Moreover, in focusing p85 attention from time to time upon the elements of the culture which have been appropriated by the two ethnic groups, one can paradoxically draw attention both to the common culture which sustains them and to the need for each partial aspect of the culture to be made complete by giving due attention to elements drawn both from the common culture and from the culture of the 'other side'.
I shall begin therefore by indicating what I take to be the basis for ethnic division in Northern Ireland in patterns of social interaction and by showing the importance of the common culture in Northern Ireland. It will then be possible to show the ways in which these are reflected in the educational work of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. I shall finally look at those aspects of the culture which have been appropriated by the two ethnic groups indicating how these were dealt with in the 'Brotherhoods in Ireland' and the 'Remembering 1690' exhibitions.
ULSTER'S TROUBLES AND SOCIAL INTERACTION
The first point to be made is that the troubles of Ulster are not to be regarded as primarily as cultural phenomena. Rather they are rooted in patterns of social interaction (Buckley, 1989a). In consequence, any attempt by educational institutions to heal the rifts of Ulster society must be centrally concerned with questions relating to social interaction.
The origins of the ethnic conflict in Ulster, as with interethnic conflicts elsewhere in the world, lie in invasions and migrations which long ago brought different peoples face to face. The groups which were thus formed in Ulster have continued to have a sense of separateness and, indeed, of `peoplehood' or 'ethnicity' (see Wallis, Bruce and Taylor (1986) for a justification for the technical term `ethnic' in this context). This, however, has been due to patterns of social interaction which have lasted into the present day. This interaction has not only perpetuated the division of society into two major segments, but it has also brought the two segments into competition for wealth, influence, prestige and power. In this conflict, and in the perpetuation of the ethnic divisions, cultural elements have played their part. They have not, however, been central.
In recognizing that social interaction has perpetuated the division of society into two, it is important not to oversimplify. Neither `side' in Northern Ireland is monolithic, and other non-ethnic divisions, of which class is the most important, have had a major impact. Both the nationalist and the loyalist sides are politically divided in a manner which corresponds loosely to other social divisions, and these internal antagonisms have important cultural repercussions (Boyce, 1982; Buckley, 1989b). There are also many people in Ulster who, while retaining their Protestant or Catholic ethnicity, are, in varying degrees, eager to avoid propagating it. Some of these are merely 'neighbourly' or 'friendly' in an informal kind of way with people of the other side (Buckley, 1982; Harris, 1972; Leyton, 1974), though the extent of this friendliness can vary from situation to situation. There is also an articulate 'plague on both your houses' liberalism. This liberalism systematically disparages sectarian division and is an important force in modern Ulster, not least because it is supported in principle (though not always in . detail) by the British government. There are also other groups to be accounted for – English, Scottish, Welsh, Southern Irish, Jews, Asians, Africans and others – who, in varying degrees, are detached from Ulster's central ethnic allegiances.
Of all the forms of social interaction and discrimination which perpetuate the 'sectarian divide', by far the most important concerns marriage. This is the widely obeyed 'rule' which 'forbids' intermarriage between members of the two ethnic groups (the endogamy rule). The impact of this rule can scarcely be overestimated. Without the intervention of any other factor it would inexorably sustain the existing social division. All of a person's parents, grandparents and great-grandparents; all of his or her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; all of the brothers and sisters of all of these people; and all of the spouses and in-laws of all of these people: all belong to the same segment of society.
In an important sense, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland believe themselves to be descended from the Gaels and Planters of the past. These beliefs are only plausible because of the lack of intermarriage. Had there been continual intermarriage, a sense that Catholics and Protestants are each a 'people' would have been impossible to sustain. This rule of endogamy has also had an obvious and immediate impact upon the socialization of children, compounded, however, by other factors. In effect, all of the major agencies of socialization in Northern Ireland are segregated by ethnicity. Not only family networks, but also churches, schools, p87 youth clubs and even sometimes neighbourhoods are ethnically segregated (on all of this see Buckley, 1982, 1989a,c).
In adulthood, these primary networks have a continuing importance, for it is widely disbelieved that anybody can gain employment, business opportunities, or access to other forms of power, influence or wealth except through carefully cultivated 'contacts' (Leyton, 1975). Of these, the contacts formed in childhood through family, school and neighbourhood have a special importance. From this base, other networks are formed in adulthood through, inter alia, continuing allegiance to family and to churches and voluntary associations. Ethnic groups, therefore, especially for people who have few formal qualifications, or who for other reasons have little direct access to people with power, provide a major network through which they may seek patronage.
As a result of these and other factors, each of the two ethnic groups in Ulster have acquired what is in effect a corporate status comparable to that of a nation state. As within a nation, there are, within each ethnic group, individuals and institutions vying with each other for leadership of the whole group, and these competing subgroups often have their own distinctive emblems and mythologies (Buckley, 1989b). As between national states, the two ethnic groups are in a constant tussle for hegemony. The conflict over whether there should be a Union or a United Ireland (controlled respectively by Protestants or Catholics) is merely one version of the territorial battles found elsewhere, for example in district councils, in conflict for control over housing estates, and even in street battles between working class gangs of youths (see Darby, 1986). Political disagreements and the warfare of street gangs are found in most of the cities of Europe and America (e.g. Fogelson, 1970; Gill, 1977; Marsh, 1978; White, 1971). In Northern Ireland, however, the ethnicity of Catholicism and Protestantism provides a basis for such allegiances, and these small struggles are given a special force by the possibility of each side being completely dominated by the other in a final political solution of the Border question.
EMU IN THE ULSTER FOLK AND TRANSPORT MUSEUM
In the face of the interactional dimension to the division of Northern Irish society, there have been various attempts to ensure that p88 children from each of the ethnic groups will have an opportunity throughout their childhood, to mingle with children on 'the other side'. Government is now taking steps actively to assist parents who wish their children to attend wholly 'integrated' schools in which numerical proportions of Catholics and Protestants are carefully monitored and controlled. As yet, such schools are comparatively few, though they are flourishing and are well subscribed.
Education for Mutual Understanding, or EMU, was set up in face of a widespread recognition that to force the pace of integration in schools would lead to political difficulties. EMU is one of six cross-curricular themes built into the Northern Ireland Curriculum (NICC, 1990). Care is taken by its proponents to insist that it is not, in the traditional phrases, either 'a threat to particular traditions and cultures' nor`an attack on the concept of segregated education in Northern Ireland'. Indeed its critics suggest that as such it is insufficient and therefore ineffectual (e.g. Dunlop, 1987). A significant aspect of EMU has been the deliberate cultivation of regular and practical links between maintained and controlled (Catholic and Protestant) schools with classes from different schools coming together to undertake projects in common (EMU GUIDE, 1988: 26ff).
In this work, my colleagues in the education department of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum have taken an active part. On average, three EMU groups visit the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for EMU workshops per week. On these occasions the children are usually divided into small, mixed groups of six to eight to do practical work such as farming, cooking, candle-making, embroidery, laundry, etc. The children may then be divided into larger groups to take part in other activities such as a lesson taken by their teacher or a visit to one of the houses in the Museum's open-air collection to complete a 'work book'.
A pair of schools which have already been working in close co-operation will usually visit the museum on four separate days and 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 situated in the village area of the museum's open-air collection. This gives the children a chance to live together as well as working and socializing with each other.
In cultivating such contacts, much care has been taken to ensure that the effect of the contact will be positive and not negative. On p89 the basis of research in this field (e.g. McWhirter, 1983; Smith and Dunn, 1990), care is taken that the work should encourage practical interdependence between the participants and be part of a long-term relationship between groups of Catholics and Protestants rather than a transitory relationship between individuals.
COMMON CULTURE: DIVIDED CULTURE
I have argued that the ethnic division in Northern Ireland is not primarily a matter of 'culture'. This is underlined by the transparent fact that nearly all of the culture of the people of Northern Ireland is common to both sides. Since I have argued this at great length elsewhere (Buckley, 1988) I do not propose to labour the point. Briefly one may say that with only a few (but significant) exceptions, the cultural heritage of a Catholic or a Protestant of the same social class living in the same geographical area is likely to be much the same. There are no distinctively Catholic or Protestant dialects, nor agricultural practices, nor house types, nor pottery techniques, nor styles of cooking. Family life is much the same on both sides, as indeed is the broader social morality (Buckley, 1988: 54). Much of the widespread talk about 'two traditions' or 'two cultures' in Ireland should be seen if not always as a form of rhetoric, then as a rather misleading form of woolly thinking.
The elements of each ethnic culture which are comparatively distinctive are related to versions of rhetorical histories or what Smith has called 'ethnic myths' (Smith, 1984). On the Catholic side, the main distinctive features of the culture are religion and matters relating to religion, certain sports, notably hurling and Gaelic football, the Irish language, Irish music and dance, and certain types of 'folk tradition', notably folk tales (see Ballard, 1986), healing (see Buckley, 1980), particular seasonal customs and the like.
These items have a certain emblematic significance in their own right, forming a focus for allegiance. Participation (or non-partici pation) in them can therefore provide an indication of ethnic allegiance. When they are participated in by Protestants, they can also signify a certain inter-ethnic sympathy.
In addition, these types of activity also have a significant place in the overall ethnic mythology of nationalism. There is a widely
believed nationalist version of history according to which successive British invaders systematically destroyed these specific elements of Irish culture, replacing them with the culture of Great Britain. To sing Irish tunes, to play Irish games, to speak the Irish language and so forth, may therefore be seen metaphorically as a way of rolling back British influence in Ireland (see Buckley, 1988, 1989b).
Distinctively Protestant culture, to a considerable extent, is defined rather negatively by non-participation in those activities which are specifically Catholic. There is, however, a distinctive Protestant culture to be found not only in the different forms of Protestant religion, but also in the various organizations which are open specifically to Protestants, many of which have their own emblematic forms. Associated with these are not only distinctive forms of music played for example by flute bands or by the Lambeg drum (Scullion, 1981). Some of these organizations (as I shall shortly indicate) are intended directly to uphold Protestant political ambitions, and many of them hold festivals which commemorate the events of the Williamite wars of 1688-91 which have a major place in the rhetoric of Ulster Protestantism (see Buckley, 1989b).
The fact that there exist vast tracts of culture which are common to each of the two ethnic groups has had a profound effect upon the presentation of the traditions and way of life of the people of Northern Ireland through the various displays in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
In the heady and exceedingly unpleasant days of the early 1970s, the Museum wisely focused its attention upon that proportion of the culture (the overwhelming majority) that was unconnected to questions of ethnicity. Thus it attempted to cultivate that sense of a common humanity and a common heritage, closely related to the sense of being 'a good neighbour' which, as anthropological research has indicated (e.g. Buckley, 1982; Leyton 1966, 1974) is widespread in Northern Ireland, and which regularly is able to overcome ethnic division in day to day interactions.
Although I am here trying to show the importance of illustrating the divisive — or 'appropriated' — elements in the culture, I do not in any sense disagree with the museum's emphasis upon illustrating a common Northern Irish heritage. First, it is wholly appropriate that the museum should emphasize the common culture of the people of Ulster because in fact the proportion of the culture which is common to the two ethnic groups is overwhelmingly large. To p91 give prominence to the divisive elements would be, simply, to mislead. Second, whatever halting attempts have been made to portray specifically Protestant or Catholic culture in the Museum, these have heavily depended and will continue to depend on the carefully nurtured idea that the museum is not a battleground but is, in some sense, neutral territory.
It would be a mistake, however, to believe that encouraging a sentiment of common humanity, or of 'good neighbourliness', with a pan-Ulster or pan-Irish identity will necessarily lead to peace. It is possible to 'understand' somebody's point of view, and still be prepared to murder him for it.
It should be noted, for example, that there already exists among people in Northern Ireland a strong sense of not being, for example, English or Welsh, or even Scots or Southern Irish. This sentiment emerges most notably at the time of such events as the World Cup, but it forms part of the more general ethos. There is also in many parts of Ulster, notably in the countryside but also elsewhere, a strong sense of the importance of good neighbourliness. This sentiment enables people frequently to have close, co-operative and even affectionate relationships across the sectarian divide. Yet both of these elements, the sense of belonging to Ulster and the values of good neighbourliness have not in themselves been sufficient to maintain the peace. An 'Ulster' identity is but one of the elements in a composite social identity (Goffman, 1963) embracing all sorts of other identities: ethnic, class, gender, recreational and others too subtle to be listed in this manner. Sometimes people find their pan-Ulster identity useful to them. Sometimes, however, they do not. So also with values of good neighbourliness. Sometimes people find it pleasant enough to be neighbourly to people on the other side. Sometimes, however, to have someone 'of the other persuasion' as a neighbour can be an embarrassment or even worse. In some circumstances, one may find oneself turning a blind eye or shedding crocodile tears as 'the boys' harass them out of their homes (Darby, 1986).
Values and identities (whether those which unite or those which divide) are available to people to use and assert when it suits them, and to be discarded when they are not needed. This is not to deny the existence of principled behaviour or even self-sacrificing courage in certain circumstances or in specific individuals. For example, kindliness for some people is a short-term tactic for immediate p92 advantage; for others, it can be a life-long strategy. In general, however, and in the longer term, the interaction of social pressures and self-interest tend to prevail (I discuss this point at greater length in Buckley, 1983, 1989c).
To say this, however, is not to abandon the idea that one should indicate the commonality of much of the culture of Ireland or indeed that one should fail to point out the historic importance of neighbourly values. Indeed, these elements may prove to be the very bricks and mortar from which a peaceful society in Ulster is finally built.
Given, then, that for all its limitations, it is a good idea to try to foster a sense that the cultural differences between the peoples of Ireland are not all that great, we must ask whether the museum and other educational establishments ought only to concentrate upon those elements in the culture which are neither Orange nor Green, or whether it ought also to portray the divisive and so-called `sectarian' elements.
THE CULTURE OF ETHNIC DIVISION
Apart from reasons of professional integrity, the most compelling reasons not to exclude the divisive elements in the culture from the museum and from educational curricula have to do with the constitution of mythology. If educational establishments are to try to create or foster a degree of 'mutual understanding' between the two endogamous groups, this is not to be achieved by pretending that the two groups do not exist. Even if, by some unlikely miracle, everybody in Ulster was suddenly to begin selecting his or her spouse randomly between the two ethnic groups, the effect on society would not be felt for at least a whole generation. The ethnic groups have existed, and are very likely to continue to exist for a good long while. More than this, however marginal might be the ethnic cultures, the ethnic social division has an importance in Ulster rivalling the distinctions between generations, genders and social classes. Any notion of a common cultural heritage which tries to exclude ethnicity is therefore disbelievable. And if it is disbelievable, it has also a very limited value as mythology.
There are of course (theoretically) a number of ways in which peace can be achieved in Ulster. Most of the possibilities seem to p93 require that each of the main ethnic groups should be given due recognition. The main forms of such recognition must inevitably be political and economic, for, as I have insisted, 'culture' is not the major source of the present conflict. Symbolism, however, does have a major part to play, for through the symbolism, the different ethnic identities can be seen to be given due recognition.
It is important, therefore, to ensure that in portraying the 'cultural heritage of Ulster', there should be at least two elements. First, there should be clear indication that there are very many elements in Ulster's culture which are not particularly Orange or Green. Second, there should occasionally be Clear indications of the elements which are Orange and Green. These should, however, be presented in such a way as to indicate at least some of the complexities of social identity in Ulster (see also Gailey, 1990: 27ff).
One final question also needs to be dealt with. This is the danger that attempts to allude to ethnicity, whatever their long-term benefits, will, in the short-term, stir up trouble. The problem is that for many individuals, especially those most directly involved in political life, the presentation of ethnic emblems and ethnic rhetoric forms part of what game theorists call a zero-sum game. In such a game, one player's gain is regarded as the other player's loss. In Northern Ireland, the appropriated 'culture' of each side is often regarded in this type of framework. So when a street-name in Irish is displayed, or a procession travels down an unfamiliar street, or a particular flag is put up, one side regards this as a victory, while the other side sees it as a defeat.
What we are presumably trying to achieve is a situation in which another person's ethnic culture is perceived, at least to some degree, as contributing to a common heritage, not detracting from one's own. This is not a wildly impossible ambition. There are countless activities in which one does not oneself participate – my own private list includes Country and Western music, hang-gliding, darts, transcendental meditation – but which one is glad that somebody does because they enrich the society in which one lives. And this is as it should be with such things as Irish dancing and the Lambeg drum.
Given, however, that certain types of culture do have a place in the Manichaean zero-sum games of political life, it is necessary to tread warily. 'Balance' is, of course, a prerequisite; though here one should aim towards a 'balance' over a medium or long term; not always within every event. Another element is tact. The best approach,I believe, is to play down the fact that one wishes to present directly ethnic elements in the culture, while carefully and systematically doing so and demonstrating that each side is correct to take a pride in its 'own' culture. In general, as Dunlop recommends, the representation of the ethnic elements of Ulster's culture in educational establishments should be part of a hidden agenda, seldom publicized overtly, but quietly accepted as the sort of things that organizations like schools and museums are about (Dunlop, 1987).
THE PRESENTATION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE: PRINCIPLES AND APPLICATION
Let me then draw together some general principles applicable both to museums and to schools in presenting 'cultural heritage' in the face of ethnic division. I may then consider how these principles have been applied in two projects with which I have been associated, namely in the exhibitions 'Brotherhoods in Ireland', and 'Remembering 1690: the Folklore of a War'.
Schools, museums and other educational institutions should drectly and with energy strive to draw people, and especially groups of people together from different ethnic backgrounds for shared activities.
The Common Heritage
Schools, museums and other educational establishments should show that ethnic identity itself is not a simple matter and that much of the culture of Northern Ireland is not peculiar to one or other of the two main ethnic groups. This general approach should form the basis of any curriculum development concerned with 'cultural heritage', and it has, indeed, been a cornerstone of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum's policy since its early years.
The Separate Identities
Schools, museums and other educational institutions should foster among all ethnic groups, and also among those other groupings which disparage ethnicity itself, a sense that the individuals who belong to these groups have an equal value and that their emblems p95 and characteristic activities are worthy of due recognition. The aim here is gently to lead people to discover that the emblems and practices of other people do not themselves constitute a threat. It can be shown that individuals from different groups frequently do `get on well', and it can be suggested that the different emblematic and rhetorical aspects of the culture and the people represented by them might even have some positive value
Questions of Tact
Care should be taken to make it difficult to use whatever items are presented in a zero-sum game whereby the display of one group's emblems are identifiable as a threat or slight to the other side. This can be achieved by balance and tact, and by placing contentious materials in a non-contentious context.
`BROTHERHOODS IN IRELAND' (1988)
The 'Brotherhoods in Ireland' exhibition arose out of an extended and evolving piece of field research, both anthropological and oral historical, from which it became clear that there was in Ireland a widespread tradition of forming 'brotherhoods'. These brotherhoods were characterized by complex ceremonials, ritual initiations, secret signs, passwords, hierarchies of degrees and of officers and elaborate regalia, all of which was placed in a framework which was more or less consciously mediaeval.
The brotherhood tradition, we determined, was an old one which had proved to be exceedingly flexible. Brotherhoods had been formed to satisfy a wide variety of human needs in fields such as religion, politics, recreation, economic life and even insurance. The brotherhood tradition had been (and to some extent still was) an all-purpose form of social organization (see Buckley and Anderson, 1988).
A major problem to be addressed in the exhibition was the fact that so many of the different brotherhoods in Ireland were identi¬fied with one or other of the two main ethnic groups. The task of the exhibition was first to present what was undeniably a major part of the 'tradition and way of life of the people of Northern Ireland', but secondly to do so with tact and in such a way as to encourage `mutual understanding'. P96
The first of the principles given above — to encourage social integration — hardly seemed to have much relevance to a museum exhibition where individuals or groups merely looked at a display. There was nevertheless an inadvertent but real co-operation in the process of constructing the exhibition. I was fortunate in receiving assistance from a wide number of organizations and their members. To all I made it clear that my exhibition would include materials belonging to each of the two 'sides'. In response, all properly acknowledged the right of the other groups to be represented. It was interesting therefore, at the time of the official opening, to note the presence of Orangemen, Hibernians, National Foresters, Freemasons, and the clergy and religious of many different denominations, all of whom had participated in the creation of a single exhibition.
The `storyline' of the exhibition was intended to reflect what had been the basis for this co-operation. Despite the very real differences which existed between the different bodies, there was nevertheless a perceptible common cultural heritage to be found in the brotherhood tradition.
On the one hand there were obvious divisions, and these were not confined to the ethnic one. There were, for example, temperance societies represented — for example the Rechabites and the Sons of Temperance — but there were also the Buffaloes who have always been primarily a convivial society, and others, Freemasons, and many of the friendly societies, for whom drinking was a significant part of their meetings. There was a Roman Catholic sodality — the Arch-confraternity of the Holy Family — whose purpose was to encourage piety. As a 'religious guild', materials from this organization stood alongside regalia from craft guilds, from the Freemasons and the trade unions, each of which in their different ways are drawn from the guild tradition. Near to a section on the loyalist Orange Order was one relating to the nationalist Hibernians. The Irish National Foresters, now primarily a social club for Roman Catholics, was given a place among the friendly societies of which it was once the largest in Ireland.
Yet within all this diversity, demonstrated by the different sections of the exhibition and by their captions, there was an obvious similarity arising from the aprons, collars, sashes, certificates, the lists of degrees, the hierarchies of officers and so forth displayed in each of the different sections.
The theoretical basis for the storyline was, in fact, the rather p97 abstract ideas of Alvin Goldman (1970) who argues that actions are organized at different 'levels'. The exhibition showed while at certain levels (their purposes, details of ritual, regalia, etc., recruitment and others) the activities of the different brotherhoods were quite diverse, there was nevertheless an important similarity between them. They all in effect shared in a common tradition derived from a common mediaeval heritage. Without, I believe, labouring the point, the exhibition also demonstrated that, even where particular brotherhoods asserted specific sectarian or ethnic goals, they nev¬ertheless drew upon a set of cultural traditions that are common to both sides in Ulster and found elsewhere in the world.
`REMEMBERING 1690: THE FOLKLORE OF A WAR' (1990)
The exhibition 'Remembering 1690' marked the 300th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, and was part of a much broader response in Ireland to this centenary. For example, my colleagues in the Ulster Museum, which is our sister organization in Belfast, decided to mount a substantial exhibition which sought to depict the histor-ical events of the Williamite Wars in the context of a broader European history. Our own effort was much more modest, and its emphasis was significantly different. Instead of dealing with the historical events as such, we tried to deal with the traditional history.
The traditional history of the Williamite Wars, and more generally of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is one which is pregnant with rhetorical significance for the two ethnic groups in Ulster. The Catholics have typically regarded the defeat of James II by William III as the culmination of successive encroachments by imperialistic Protestant England, imposing its will and its culture upon hapless Catholic Ireland. Protestants have, since a very early period, celebrated the Battle of the Boyne and other victories as a triumph of both liberty and truth over a tyrannical king and a false and repressive religion.
In gathering together the traditions associated with the Williamite Wars it proved useful to see the war as a sequence of events which had taken place in different locations. There was, for example, the Siege of Derry, the landing of King William at Carrickfergus, the Battle of the Boyne itself, the first sieges of Athlone and of Limerick, the second siege of Athlone, the Battle of Aughrim, and the final siege and treaty of Limerick. Each of these localized events had its own set of traditions, and many of these events were commemorated through songs, processions, pictorial art and so forth. Also interesting, from my point of view, was the fact that the traditions associated with each place had been effectively hijacked (or appropriated) by one or other of the two ethnic groups.
Because of this, the storyline of the exhibition was able to tell the story of the war (or much of it) through tradition, with each set of events reflected in the traditions of one or other of the two ethnic groups.
Eventually the exhibition was presented in four sections. The first depicted the Siege of Derry, the first of the major events of the war in Ireland. This event is twice annually commemorated by a Protestant brotherhood, the Apprentice Boys of Derry. Every December, the Apprentice Boys burn a gigantic five-metre effigy of Lundy the Traitor. With the help of Mr Robert Jackson and his family, who for three generations in Londonderry have built this effigy, we were able to erect a full size model of the Lundy. Mr Jackson also provided paintings and models relating to the siege. The paintings, though artistically inventive and of a very high quality, were firmly in the tradition of loyalist wall-painting with which, again, his family has long been associated. The section also contained banners, and backlit copies of stained glass commemorating the siege.
The second section of the exhibition portrayed the events leading to the Battle of the Boyne itself. Once again these traditions were specifically Protestant. This time it was the banners and regalia of the Orange Order which were relevant, for annually, on the 12th of July the Orange Order celebrates the victory of King William at the Boyne.
The third section was entitled 'The fight for the Shannon' and was concerned with the sieges of Athlone and Limerick. These events have a scant place in Protestant commemorations, but they are much remembered in nationalist tradition. Consequently, there was a National Foresters' banner which depicted the second siege of Athlone; a copy of a painted triptych by a Limerick artist, John Shinnors, of the sieges of Limerick and a large range of memorabilia depicting the Jacobite hero, Patrick Sarsfield.
The final section, concerned with the aftermath of the war was portrayed by a single banner of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This showed a well-known scene of an eighteenth-century 'mass p99 rock' at which, because of repressive laws, Catholics were forced to hold their religious services in the open air.
Because so much of the folklore and tradition relating to the Williamite Wars has the form of narrative, music, dance, bonfires and processions, it was necessary to supplement the exhibition with videotape. Two videotapes were produced, one concentrating on Protestant tradition, the other on Catholic tradition – the two together making a single continuous narrative.
As I was assembling this material, I was aware that colleagues, teachers and others with whom I discussed it were afraid that, in portraying the undoubtedly biased traditions of the different groups in Ireland, a false picture of the seventeenth century would be given. What surprised me was that the traditions of the different events and localities of the war were often based in quite sound scholarship. What made them biased accounts was that certain events and localities had been emphasized whereas other events or localities had been missed out or played down.
The hidden message (if such I may call it), therefore, of the exhibition was not that the traditions of any one side were mistaken, for, with only occasional lapses, the facts indicated by the different traditions were correct. What was wrong with the partial traditions of each side was that they were incomplete. If the two sets of traditions were placed side by side, it was possible to obtain an almost complete picture of the entire war. The complete picture, however, had to be made up of at least both points of view.
I have argued that in a museum such as the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum whose task, in a torn society, is to present that society's traditions and way of life, there is a need to have a clear idea of how to make use of contentious materials. In particular, where histories, traditions, types of artefact, music, dance or other forms of culture have been appropriated by one or another major grouping in society, one may need to approach the presentation of such materials with caution.
I have suggested that to overemphasize the importance of cultural division in ethnically divided societies was, generally speaking, a mistake, and that this is particularly the case in Northern Ireland. P100 A sensitive approach to ethnic conflict, therefore, will tackle not merely the cultural, but also the interactional aspects of social life, attempting to heal social rather than merely cultural rifts.
In an institution whose main task is to present culture, it may sometimes be necessary to present contentious materials with the aim (to use an old phrase) of 'presenting the people to the people'. It should also, however, be recognized that, certainly in Northern
Ireland but perhaps also elsewhere, there are often universal concerns which reflect a more universal humanity. A preoccupation with conflict and with that part of culture which has been appropriated should not allow us to forget those other elements which bind people together.
I wish to thank my colleagues Dr P.S. Robinson and Mr T.K: Anderson for their help in formulating the ideas which lay behind the exhibitions, and hence this paper, Miss A. Bell for furnishing me with an account of her work with EMU and Mrs D. Brown for her ideas on museum policy and her useful editorial comments.
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