The Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories, a collection of twenty-four essays compiled and edited by Graham Dawson, Jo Dover, and Stephen Hopkins, traces the impact, legacy, and experience of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ in Britain. This collection is interdisciplinary and includes contributions from a mix of academics, political activists, writers, artists, and community organizers. In doing so, it challenges the dominant narrative of the conflict of ‘binary oppositions’ and allows for a much richer discussion of the Troubles (p. 12). The editors are successful in their intention to ‘establish a new field of enquiry, generating and setting an agenda for further research and debate’ (p. 13). They attempt to expose the silences in this history, while at the same time giving voice to a variety of different actors who experienced and engaged with the conflict. Some of the strongest contributions stem from these community organizers who relay their experience of the Troubles in Britain in harrowing detail. They add to our understanding of the effect of the conflict, not just on the Irish in Britain, but all who lost loved ones or were injured as a result of Provisional Irish Republican Army bombings in England. These essays confront the overwhelming silences of the Irish in Britain and the failure of the British state to address the impact of the conflict on British shores. The lack of ‘dealing with the past’ initiatives, both in Northern Ireland and Britain, means there are no opportunities to assess the lasting impact of the conflict. As one of the contributors, Jo Berry, articulates in her essay, those who were bereaved or injured were just told to ‘let go’ of their trauma (p. 335). Laura O’Reilly’s interviews with her father explore her family’s reaction to the Birmingham pub bombings and reveal the repercussions felt by one Irish family as being part of a ‘suspect community’ (p. 284). O’Reilly notes the waves of ‘anti-Irish feeling’ after the bombings, which included attacks on Irish community centres, businesses, and pubs (p. 287). Annie Bowman describes the death of her father who was killed while cleaning a bomb factory in Derry, and her own journey of dealing with the conflict, noting ‘there’s no way out but through’ (p. 279). Therefore, this collection provides an opportunity for those individuals affected by the conflict to voice their accounts while offering new narratives to this otherwise often binary story of the conflict. Another highlight is Paul Dixon’s ambitious essay on British military families. He covers British public opinion and calls for withdrawal from Northern Ireland providing an excellent breakdown of the ‘Bring Back the Boys from Ulster’ campaign. This is complimented by Aly Renwick’s evocative essay on the Troops Out Movement. Further, Tony Murray’s rich piece on William Trevor’s portrayal of the Irish in London during the Troubles adds to our understanding of artistic expression during and after the conflict. Equally, Ann Rossiter’s perspective on Irish and British feminist encounters in London during the Troubles provides an alternative view of feminist discourse during this period. However, it is in the use of language where this collection, at times, falls short. So much is wrapped up in an author’s choice of phrase in Northern Irish historiography. For example, the editors use the acronym PIRA to refer to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, traditionally viewed as the language of the British military, and employ ‘Great Britain’, ‘United Kingdom’, and ‘Britain’ interchangeably, seemingly without thought to their different meanings and connotations. Often language in this historiography is a constraint, so the editors may use these word choices as a way of breaking through previous barriers in the discourse. While some institutions referred to in this text are British, for example the Army or the State, this collection fails to address the experience of the Troubles outside of England, at times conflating ‘English’ with ‘British’. Also, at times, this collection presents a London-centric view of events. Admittedly a chapter is devoted to the Warrington bombings, but the collection makes little mention of the 1996 Manchester bombing despite recent academic and artistic discussions on the event (see the play ‘On Corporation Street’, June 2016 at HOME Theatre, Manchester). The Welsh and Scottish experience has been overlooked in this collection. The collection includes two chapters on memoir writing; a field in the early stages of serious academic study. While John Newsinger and Steven Hopkins chapters engage with the flaws of memoir writing, Newsinger notes ‘memoir literature is not a reliable source, inevitably self-centred, dependent on memory’ (p. 24), the collection would have benefited from an in-depth discussion of oral history and memory. A rigorous textual analysis of the chapters on memoir would have been useful in relation to the essays on first-hand testimony which produce some fascinating insights. All in all, this edited collection offers an excellent foray into the Irish experience in Britain during the conflict. Discussion of the complex relationship between Ireland and Britain, as well as the experience of Irish diaspora in Britain, offers fresh insight in the current political climate. This collection should be read not just by the academic community but by anyone who wishes to understand the life of a minority community in a contemporary conflict situation. © The Author . Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twentieth Century British History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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