Terror and the Troubles in English popular memory

Posted on: 4 August 2017 by Barry Hazley in 2017 posts

Bombings plaque blog
Birmingham pub bombings 1974 memorial. Image by Elliott Brown via Flickr Creative Commons.

There is something decidedly uncanny about the emotionally charged aftermaths of the recent terrorist atrocities committed in the Manchester Arena and London Bridge. While journalists and broadcasters, politicians and police chiefs exclaim the unprecedented nature of the attacks, there is a strange familiarity about the widespread invocation of a redemptive ‘blitz spirit,’ calls for tighter security, and of course, the popular attacks on a minority population associated with the terrorists by ethnic designation.

I'm currently a Busteed Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Irish Studies and my new project re-examines the hidden cultural and psychic legacies of the Irish Republican bombing campaign in England between 1973-1997. As a result of this campaign, the most sustained and statistically important domestic terror campaign in British history, some 300 civilians lost their lives, with thousands more injured and bereaved. In addition, the campaign created special problems for England’s large Irish population, which was regularly subject to popular stereotyping, police surveillance and popular attacks in the wake of major atrocities.

I aim to recover this hidden emotional and cultural history of the campaign, using it to develop broader insights into the social, cultural and psychological mechanisms by which the legacies of terrorist violence are negotiated by societies and individuals over the long term.

My preliminary research suggests that official ‘amnesia’ concerning the Troubles in England has concealed - and helped to generate -  unacknowledged cultures of counter-memory in England.  This counter-memory, embodied within local cultures of myth, informal rituals of commemoration, and the formation of official pressure groups such as ‘Justice for the 21’ has been a way for individuals and groups affected by Republican attacks to negotiate their long-term psychic legacies.

Where existing work on the IRA’s ‘English campaign’ has tended to downplay its significance, stressing the resilience of British constitutional policy objectives during the period, these findings suggest the importance of refocusing attention on the social and cultural consequences that Republican attacks had for English society.

By reconsidering these consequences, my project aims to reframe England as a post-conflict society, opening in the process a new critical space for assessing the human experience of terrorist attacks in contemporary western societies.