The use of public art and ritual in Northern Ireland leads to the creation of cultural landscapes heavy with symbolism – ideological landscapes – that maintain social divisions and incite conflict. Mural and curbstone painting, flag bearing, the construction of memorials, and parading are activities that inscribe messages in the landscape. This study documents the types of symbolism prevalent in Northern Irish landscapes, the meanings attributed to them, and the reactions and subsequent cultural landscape re-creations that result.
Loyalist and nationalist marches that incite riots and civil disorder have disrupted and delayed peace efforts in Northern Ireland for decades. Both loyalists and nationalists parade, but it is the annual marching season of the loyalist fraternal orders through nationalist neighborhoods that, in some cases, result in chronic violence. Nationalist residents attempt to forestall and combat loyalist parades through their neighborhoods, while loyalists insist on their “right to walk the Queen’s highway” within the “Queen’s domain.” Loyalists claim that the nationalists misunderstand their intentions, and that their parades celebrate their culture and not their cultural domination, thereby being a rightful expression of their civil liberties.
This study compares two communities in relation to their July Loyalist parading events. In Coleraine, the ‘twelfth holiday’ is conducted peacefully each year, while in Portadown, the July parade results in contention and violence. A landscape analysis was conducted in each community, with particular attention paid to symbolism and the loyalist July parade. The two parades in question appear to celebrate the same historical moment, contain the same symbolism, and follow the same traditions, yet each community responds to their parade differently. This landscape analysis is supplemented by ethnographic data from each community to determine how their respective parade events evolved, and how each community negotiates sectarian and political conflict.
Residents create ideological landscapes that divide Northern Ireland into two distinct communities – Protestant/unionist/loyalist and Catholic/nationalist/republican. This ideological landscape reinforces that division, by creating spatial separations, and reminding residents of their history, loyalties, and goals. Residents read and interpret these messages, and negotiate and recreate divided ideological landscapes. This landscape perpetuates socio-cultural divisions, making the attainment of peace more difficult.