Guy Beiner at the grave of the United Irish protomartyr William Orr. Templepatrick, County Antrim

Guy Beiner: Commemorative Possessiveness and Envy in Ulster

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In 1898, a year when statues commemorating the rebellion of the United Irishmen were being erected all over Ireland, the monument to Betsy Gray in Ballynahinch, county Down – the only statue of the 1798 centennial dedicated to a woman – was violently destroyed….detailed inspection of this outburst of vandalism reveals conflicting impulses of intra-community ‘commemorative possessiveness’ and ‘commemorative envy’.

Dr Guy Beiner

In April 2014 Dr Guy Beiner (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) visited UCD to give a lecture as part of the Irish Memory Studies Network’s Memory and Community lecture series. The lecture – Intra-Community Remembering and Forgetting: Commemorative Possessiveness and Envy in Ulster – was recorded for the Network’s podcasts.

About the lecture

“In 1898, a year when statues commemorating the rebellion of the United Irishmen were being erected all over Ireland, the monument to Betsy Gray in Ballynahinch, county Down – the only statue of the 1798 centennial dedicated to a woman – was violently destroyed. In what would seem to be a classic case of late-nineteenth-century ‘invention of tradition’, Betsy Gray had been just previously hailed ‘Ulster’s Joan of Arc’. Memory of the local heroine was actually rooted deeply in folklore and vernacular history. The iconoclastic act of ‘decommemorating’ her monument all too readily lends itself to a straightforward interpretation of Ulster Protestants deliberately purging troublesome recollections of their ancestors’ involvement in militant republicanism. However, detailed inspection of this outburst of vandalism (labelled by nationalists ‘Orange rowdyism’) reveals conflicting impulses of intra-community ‘commemorative possessiveness’ and ‘commemorative envy’. Rather than resulting in oblivion, practices of social forgetting, which thrive on tensions between private remembrance and public silence, paradoxically serve to regenerate memory in muted forms” – Dr Guy Beiner.

Related articles

Guy Beiner, ‘Disremembering 1798?: An Archaeology of Social Forgetting and Remembrance in Ulster’ in History & Memory, 25, no. 1 (2013), pp 9-50.

Guy Beiner, ‘Forgetting to Remember Orr: Death and Ambiguous Remembrance in Modern Ireland’ in James Kelly and Mary Ann Lyons (eds.), Death and Dying in Ireland, Britain, and Europe: Historical Perspectives (Dublin, 2013), pp 171-202.

About Guy Beiner

Guy Beiner, who holds a PhD in modern Irish history from University College Dublin, is a senior lecturer at the Department of General History of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. He was a Government of Ireland Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies in the University of Notre Dame, a Government of Hungary Fellow at the Central European University, and, most recently, a Gerda Henkel Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Oxford. Beiner specialises in the study of memory, with a particular interest in forgetting. He has also researched and published on other topics relating to cultural and social history and is the author of the prize-winning book Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007). His next book is on ‘Rites of Oblivion’ in Ulster (forthcoming: Oxford University Press).

Irish Memory Studies Network

This Network arises from the emergence of memory studies, and trauma studies, as critically important discourses in understanding culture and society. Whether discussing the recent past or more distant histories, our conversations are marked by an interrogation of what and how we remember; what and how we choose to commemorate; and what we forget.

The Irish Memory Studies Network is hosted by the UCD Humanities Institute and represents a key strand of the Institute’s research infrastructure. The Network aims to open up a critical dialogue across multidisciplinary aspects of, and international contexts for, memory studies, with a view to generating discussion across disciplinary boundaries and, it is hoped, laying the foundations for collaborative research work. These collaborations are made possible through lecture series, workshop events, and conferences. The purpose of these events, and of the Network more generally, is to raise the visibility of our research, to promote interaction and exchange, and to provide a hub for researchers both nationally and internationally in the fields of memory studies.

If you would like to find out more about the Network, attend an event, or join the mailing list, please contact Dr Emilie Pine (Emilie.Pine@ucd.ie). You can access podcasts from past Network events on the UCD Humanities Institute website.

Image: Guy Beiner at the grave of the United Irish protomartyr William Orr (another celebrated hero, who was subject to social forgetting), Templepatrick, County Antrim.