Art of the Troubles: Culture and Conflict

Dr Stefanie Lehner (Queen’s University Belfast); Dr Laura McAtackney (University College Dublin); Dr Cillian McGrattan (University of Ulster)

The importance of culture in Northern Irish political life was reinforced in the events surrounding Pastor McConnell over the past week. It is clear that within Northern Ireland, the effects of fear, judgment, prejudice, hate and intimidation make themselves felt in various forms throughout society.

Cultural difference, then, shapes and informs the contours of political life – it works to valorise certain principles and beliefs and delegitimise others; it can be harnessed to ideas about whose voices should be listened to and whose ought to be muted; and it frames who and what is important while also excluding other ideas and values. In some ways this is part of what culture does: it provokes a response, an evaluation and a debate: We prefer or like certain things but not others.

When Richard Haass spoke of cultivating a ‘civic vision’ for Northern Ireland, he presumably had in mind the idea that these judgments and preferences can be filtered through channels that lead away from violence and threat and instead towards respect for difference.

The ongoing exhibition at the Ulster Museum explores how artists engaged in and represented these alternative and alternating visions throughout the Northern Irish conflict. Building on and complementing that exhibition, we are assisting the Institute for British-Irish Studies at University College Dublin with convening a public event at the Museum on Friday 6th June (free places can be reserved by RSVP

The aim of this event is to explore the role of art and artistic representations in reshaping social identities in Northern Ireland through the Troubles and through to present day.

The conference wishes to interrogate the ‘art of the Troubles’ as conceived and experienced in both its relationships and materialisations within and beyond the academy.

The conference will examine and highlight the role of art and artistic interventions in reshaping social relations in Northern Ireland, in moving beyond conflict and division and destabilizing long accepted polarizations within Northern Irish society.

Including, but moving beyond fine art, ‘art’ is conceived in its widest possible sense – to include all forms included in the exhibition but also broadening to encompass literature, theatre, music, comedy, public art, murals, memorials and film. In broadening this conception of art the conference wishes to address the following questions: How do artistic interventions shape the perception of division? How do (or even can) they work to reshape perceptions in ways that represent (or undercut) inclusivity and consensus? How do artistic interventions work to reveal forms of belonging and sharing that remain obscured and hidden by more mainstream ethnonational imagery? How do visual arts work to dismember reified memories and reconfigure alternative futures? What is the role of popular visual culture in fostering plurality, peace and stability? What lessons can be drawn from other post-conflict and deeply divided societies in promoting reconciliation through art? The overriding aim of the day is to highlight and explore the role of art and culture in defining, questioning and presenting alternatives to conflicts and divisions that still manifest – in both longstanding and new forms – in contemporary Northern Ireland.

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  • Mc Slaggart

    Its not the art its peoples perceptions. …. a bit of madness…

    “AN OMAGH primary school is to exclude the logo of one of Ireland’s leading sportswear manufacturers from its new PE kit following a row over the company’s links to the GAA. – See more at:

  • BarneyT

    The perception of the GAA needs to change in the PUL community and the GAA must drive that. I am sure there are irrational equivalents with respect to traditional “protestant” institutions and symbology.

    The GAA needs to get to the heart of the problem as viewed by the PUL community. There is no point in addressing this from an Irish perspective as much of it wont compute.

    It seems to me that they link the GAA wholeheartedly with the IRA when it was at its worst and I expect they are none to convinced that it does not continue to serve as a front for continued “evils”. This sense will be heightened in Omagh and surrounding areas for obvious reasons.

    What link, if any, did exist between the GGA and the IRA? Was it just a common cultural element? Is is not legitimate for those that actively engaged in conflict or supported it to have a genuine interest and love for everything GAA? Has the GAA been tarnished by the IRA for the simple reason that those that “rose up” came from the community that produced and furthers the GAA?

    Not withstanding the fact that Irish sports did and continue to race through the veins of both pro and anti republican movement Catholics (in general) can it be refuted that the GAA, and its network was not subverted in some way? What was discussed when the “Any other business” section of the agenda was presented, once the main footballing\hurling\community matters were dealt with..

    Anti SF elements in South Armagh (previously republicans) would tell you that the GAA served as a meeting point for the IRA and its active supporters and that sport was not always the main subject for discussion. Perhaps that is just a mischievous tactic from the anti SF brigade.

    However, if that is coming from within the “Irish” community, how can the “British” community be dismissed for their GAA\IRA perceptions and clear distrust?

    The myths need to be debunked or some honesty needs to emerge if this barrier is to be dismantled and the GAA is to be opened up to all, as any other sport would be.

  • snow white

    Art has the ability to speak volumes and question perceptions. In a Northern Ireland context it’s difficult to see how it could make a difference unless funded by taxpayers. Northern Ireland has many areas of disadvantage and art is expensive no matter what form it takes. To be honest I think the greatest gift you could give Northern Ireland to foster plurality, peace, stability and reconciliation is integrated education and that would probably save the taxpayer millions.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “The myths need to be debunked ”

    Even when you debunked a myth people will still choose to believe in the myth.

    For example you wrote

    “What was discussed when the “Any other business” section of the agenda was presented, once the main footballing\hurling\community matters were dealt with..”

    Martin Mc Guinness and Gerry Kelly are representative of leading IRA people. They are not so stupid IRA business in a GAA club. Now a busy cattle mart is an excellent place to have a meeting……


    “Many times the things we think of as common knowledge are little more than myths and urban legends. So, while there may be some experienced myth busters among you, we know that others of you will probably have to face some hard facts by the time you reach the bottom. At any rate, this list is by no means exhaustive so if you have any other myths or urban legends on your mind go ahead and leave a comment.”