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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Plural Identities, Singular Narratives: The Case of Northern Ireland
Mairead Nic Craith

Berghahn Books
ISBN: 1-57181-314-4, 235pp, 2002

In November 2002 a 23 year old man living in a nationalist area of Belfast was beaten and left with his hands nailed to a wooden stile near a loyalist estate. The man's identity was believed to be one of the causes of the attack, four years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

In this much needed and compelling book, Nic Craith explores the nature of the two traditions paradigm in Northern Ireland, a paradigm that has blinkered Northern Irelands understanding of itself, and has been used to reinforce a culture of opposition and difference. Nic Craith's book is divided into nine chapters and focuses on an in-depth study of how the two traditions have evolved, and the complexity of ethnic identities.

The significance of history lies at the heart of this book. In chapter two 'Dis-membering the Past' Nic Craith comments 'While unionists and nationalists agree on the contemporary relevance of history in Northern Ireland, they disagree strongly on the interpretation of the past. History has been dis-membered and some episodes are considered of greater importance than others' (p29). The nationalists focus on the Plantation and the unionists focus on the Siege are illustrated as examples. Likewise in chapters seven and eight, Nic Craith explores how symbols that have been used to re-inforce the 'cultural link' between the nationalists and their kin in the Republic (p135), and the unionists and their 'fuzzy' relationship with Britain (p156).

Intertwined within the book Nic Craith reminds the reader of the multicultural dimension to Northern Ireland society which includes the Chinese, Pakistani and Travelling communities, as well as the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh faiths. In embracing this approach the reader is given a powerful wake up call to the notion that Northern Ireland only accommodates the Catholic -Protestant, Nationalist - Unionist traditions. As Nic Craith points to in her conclusion 'An increasing appreciation of the extent of cultural diversity in Northern Ireland and the greater inclusion of other minority groups such as the Travellers, Chinese and Pakistani would ensure that concepts of essential British and Irish cultural traditions would no longer totally dominate political discussion. They would not be positioned in constant opposition to each other' (p200-1).

Hopefully by offering a detailed study of the history and complexities of the two traditions in Northern Ireland, and by shining alight on the other cultures at home there, this book will go some way to widening and deepening the concept of identity in Northern Ireland, and allow individuals to see their histories in more fluid and flexible ways.

Sarah Alldred

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
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