Mythical Re-construction of the Past: War Commemoration and Formation of Northern Irish Britishness


  • Eva Batista Independent researcher


war commemoration, mythic past, national identity


In this paper, I explore the relation between the novel version of the commemorative ceremony, Orangefest, and the formation of the Northern Ireland national identity. War memory and war commemoration have, in the late 20th century, been attributed with a new role and meaning in societies and have lead to many contestations over memory and history. Commemoration of the Battle of Boyne, known as the Twelfth Orange Parade, has been re-enacted in Ulster for over three centuries. Since 1921, after the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the mythic past has represented one of the main components for the formation of national identity in Northern Ireland. In 1926, the war commemoration was made a national holiday and had up represented the dominant symbol of the state to the middle of the 20th century. During the period of the thirty years of ensuing civil violence, known as the Troubles, the war commemoration became the opposing symbol of the state and was undertaken by the rising ethno-nationalist movement: loyalism. The commemorative performance became alienated from majority of the Protestant community and from political and state groups. At the beginning of the 21st century, over the course of several peace agreements, leading to political and social changes, the role of war commemoration was considerably altered and modified. The parade was festivalized and renamed as Orangefest. The meanings of the myth of the Battle of Boyne were symbolically reconstructed by political and state groups. The memory of the war hero and of the military victory was implemented with memory of the Troubles, in order to reconstruct the notion of a common past within the Protestant community. This common past redefines the sense of a shared identity and represents the key source for members of the Protestant community in identifying themselves with the imagined community, i.e. the British nation. The process of identification thus excludes those, who do not see themselves as a part of this nation, i.e. the Catholic community.