Redrawing cognitive maps of conflict

Lost spaces and forgetting in the centre of Belfast

From original publication on Memory Studies SAGE Journals

By Catherine Switzer and Sara Mcdowell


Northern Ireland is currently emerging from three decades of conflict. Belfast, its largest city, experienced some of the worst levels of violence. During these ‘Troubles’ it became a highly segregated city in which its citizens understandings of the urban fabric were mediated through their ethno-religious backgrounds. Yet as the region moves into a post-conflict situation, Belfast has been undergoing rapid physical change. One result of this has been an effort to remove evidence of the conflict from the ‘new’ city centre, despite more than 70 conflict-related deaths having occurred there. The article uses the example of Belfast city centre to explore: (1) how ‘normalization’ strategies employed after conflict seek to reshape cognitive understandings of violent spaces through reconstruction; and (2) how individual memory retains the potential to disrupt these efforts. We argue that the highly regimented spatial patterns of Troubles commemoration in Belfast may influence how the city deals with the challenges of its violent past.

Reprints and permissions: http://www. During these ‘Troubles’ it became a highly segregated city in which its citizens understandings of the urban fabric were mediated through their ethno-religious backgrounds. forgetting. Cognitively Belfast was.sagepub. © The Author(s). We argue that the highly regimented spatial patterns of Troubles commemoration in Belfast may influence how the city deals with the challenges of its violent past. 2009. One result of this has been an effort to remove evidence of the conflict from the ‘new’ city centre. Vol 2(3): 337–353 [DOI: 10.ARTICLE Redrawing cognitive maps of conflict: Lost spaces and forgetting in the centre of Belfast CATHERINE SWITZER and SARA MCDOWELL. its largest city. The article uses the example of Belfast city centre to explore: (1) how ‘normalization’ strategies employed after conflict seek to reshape cognitive understandings of violent spaces through reconstruction. moves to reshape perceptions and experiences of the city not just for outsiders but for its inhabitants have gained increasing currency. Northern Ireland Abstract Northern Ireland is currently emerging from three decades of conflict. and still is for many. 2003: 8). Many of these efforts. its streets witnessed some of the worst violence unleashed throughout the ‘Troubles’. Yet since the beginning of the peace process. experienced some of the worst levels of violence. 2005).sagepub.1 A ‘locus of memory’ (Hebbert. Belfast has been undergoing rapid physical change. Key words Belfast. University of Ulster. Belfast. a place synonymous with violence – a microcosm of Northern Ireland’s 30-year ethnonationalist conflict. conflict.1177/1750698008337562] http://mss. despite more than 70 conflict-related deaths having occurred there. 1750-6980. anomaly and deviance’ (Allen and . Yet as the region moves into a post-conflict situation. cognitive maps. and (2) how individual memory retains the potential to disrupt these efforts.nav MEMORY memory INTRODUCTION Belfast is ‘commonly undertood to be a place familiar precisely because of its unfamiliarity: its representation is supersaturated with images of strangeness.

are threefold. Thus memories of the Troubles are directly related to these cognitive maps of conflict. has necessitated a degree of forgetting. once a target for paramilitary attacks and the site of multiple deaths. In Northern Ireland during the Troubles. according to Hoggett (1992). Presences. 2002). we consider the spaces and voices in Belfast city centre that might be considered ‘lost’ by virtue of their absence from the urban landscape. alive in the burgeoning memorial landscape cultivated in the peacetime years (see Graham and Whelan. While attempts to distance the city centre from the Troubles have focused on reframing the public’s collective memory through rebuilding and repositioning Belfast globally. Our objectives.338 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) employed by a range of different agencies including government officials. only tell part of the story and for every presence there is an absence born out of expediency. Fear of the ‘Other’. 2007. activities and processes also influence how we cognize our environments (see Jameson. it has involved a sustained attempt to recondition cognitive maps of the conflict. time and people. our minds intuitively shape our responses to and behaviour in certain spaces (see Reay and Lucey. 1989) that stimulate remembering in fixed locales ‘actualize’ (Azarhayu. Shirlow. the enduring power of individual memory prevails – these are cognitive maps of the conflict that resist efforts at redrawing. 1995). producing cognitive maps that were highly attuned to spaces perceived to be safe or unsafe (Feldman. a striking contrast to many other parts of the city where the conflict and memories of it are omnipresent. In this article. First. however. Forgetting. 1988). however. an objective inextricably intertwined with conflict resolution. memory is innately related to place (Alderman. This transformation. . McDowell. necessity or inevitability (Connerton. investors and community organizations. involves many diverse layers of space. of course. 2003. as Till (2006) notes. we consider how personal or subaltern memories resist being silenced. 2008). into a multi-functional ‘shared space’ – a considerable challenge in such a deeply segregated city (Neill. we aim to show how normalization strategies produce lost spaces that are often crucial to the realization of peace. Our third and final objective is to examine the challenges facing memory when aspects of it are purposefully elided from the present. Charlesworth. dictated spatial patterns of movement while acts of violence engrained the fear of specific places on the minds of the city’s inhabitants. Dywer. Social interactions. 2000) and lieux de mémoire (Nora. 2003: 2) perceptions. Second. 2002. Conceptualized largely as a spatial construct. MAPPING GEOGRAPHIC SPACE: REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING One of the most pervasive ways in which people map geographic space. 1994. 2001). 2007). then. have focused on transforming the city centre. In effect. the political situation strongly influenced how people interacted with their surroundings. experiences and narratives of the past in the landscapes of the present. both real and imagined. is on a psychic level. influencing how people approach and negotiate space once associated with violence and suffering.

Individuals belonging to virtually . 1972d) The city centre therefore became something of a battlefield and with this status came the inevitability of death. 2003). In response to the bombs. 1972b). For many of Belfast’s residents. a no-parking zone was implemented around the city centre. 2006). Security precautions. A 1972 Belfast Telegraph photo caption observed with a certain black humour that the scene around the Grand Central Hotel in Royal Avenue (then used by the British Army): looks more and more like the western front as time goes by. while tilted surfaces placed over windowsills attempted to make them less inviting places to leave bombs. 2004). bars. both large and small. a post office. The security precautions. newspaper offices. 1995: 54). and in March of that year the Northern Ireland government. turned the city centre into a fortress. 2004: 14–15). Figures compiled using the landmark publication. Between 1970 and 1974. Blocks and bollards placed on the pavement prevented car bombers getting too close. an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing campaign against high-profile commercial targets resulted in the destruction of 300 retail outlets and over one quarter of the total retail floorspace (Neill. (Belfast Telegraph. had serious disruptive effects on shoppers and those who worked in the city centre: shoppers’ bags were searched and security personnel boarded buses in the search for concealed bombs (Jones. BELFAST DURING THE TROUBLES: SPACES OF FEAR Belfast city centre The role of Belfast city centre within the Troubles varied over time as the dynamics and focus of the conflict changed. now concrete dragon’s teeth. Ryder. cognitive understandings of the city are dictated by memories of violence. discussed how shop windows could be adapted – for example covered with invisible tape – to reduce the chance of injuries being caused by flying glass (Belfast Telegraph. First there was the sandbagged sanger. incendiary-type devices against city centre targets (Murray. a ‘ring of steel’ was erected around the city centre.. Steel gates were constructed across 41 streets in an effort to protect commercial premises from attack. 2000[1989]: 123). By Christmas pedestrians will probably need wire clippers and mine detectors in their shopping bags. then in its final week. Lost Lives.SWITZER & MCDOWELL REDRAWING COGNITIVE MAPS OF CONFLICT 339 As Hebbert (2005: 581) notes: ‘the very process of remembering grows out of spatial metaphors of connection and topography’. suggest that a total of 73 individuals died in the city centre as a direct result of the Troubles (McKittrick et al. and all incoming pedestrians were searched by army personnel (Potter. using smaller. however. a car park and public streets – thus became sites of violent death. At one point. From mid-1972. the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street was reputed to be the most bombed place in the world (Scoular. This ‘ring of steel’ forced the bombers to alter their tactics. The places of the everyday – a hardware shop. 2001: 82. then the barbed wire entanglements. a restaurant. an amusement arcade.

but also where they choose to work and socialize.340 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) all of what might be considered the ‘participant groups’ in the conflict died in the city centre: members of the local security forces. a situation that continues to impact not only upon where people live. 2003: 208). 2005: 489).. (2006: 254) The physical division of communities thus not only serves to render the ‘other’ a ‘menacing spatial formation’. Belfast remains a physically and mentally divided city in which identity and geography are closely linked. the built environment of the city itself became fragmented. their conversations. when Troubles death rates were calculated for each electoral ward in Northern Ireland. names and even tattoos ‘are alive with symbolic meaning’ (Bairner. only 15 of the 57 highest-ranking wards were found outside Belfast (Fay et al. Outside the city centre Although the centre of Belfast was the site of a considerable amount of Troubles-related violence. Bairner’s flâneur-influenced analysis of the ‘new’ Belfast revealed how the clothes people wear. it is’. but has also helped to underpin community solidarity for each group (Bairner and Shirlow. the British Army. 2005: 637). 2001: 36) ‘For inhabitants of the city. and ‘the journeys individuals make and therefore their understanding of place and sense of space are always marked by their ethnic background’ (Jarman. In response to the violence and an attendant rise in the pre-existing residential segregation. 2006: 225–9). not only in terms of identity formation. For Graham and Nash: Identity remains vested in traditional principles of ethno-nationalism that locate cultural belonging and citizenship in a ‘living space’ defined by clearly demarcated boundaries and zero-sum models of space and place. More than 1500 people died violently in Belfast as a result of the Troubles in the 30 years following 1969. A full decade after the Belfast Agreement. with cultural. Leaving the more obvious markers such as murals. and particularly that of the recent conflict. 2006: 130). however. 362 occurred in north Belfast and 440 in the Falls area to the west of the city centre (Murray. 1999). divided by walls separating each community from the other. but also in the physical geography of the urban and memorial landscape (Wilson and Stapleton. ‘almost impossible not to know where you are (or at least make an educated – or bigoted? – guess). . of a total of 1527 deaths in Belfast between 1969 and 1999. has a part to play since it provides ‘a point of identification and demarcation between the communities’. Research published by Fay and colleagues in 1999 found that. Levels of violence were particularly high in the north and west of the city: Murray finds that. It is here that commemoration. Such physical segregation created clearly defined areas that were seen as dominated by one community or the other. Particular places and routes through the city are seen as ‘safe’ and others as ‘dangerous’. paramilitaries and civilians are all represented in the total. flags and painted kerbstones aside. it is important to put this in the context of the city as a whole. political and religious markers ranging from the obvious to the extremely subtle’ (Reid. as Reid puts it. Senses of belonging correspond to a geography of territoriality. the newspapers they read.

2000: 113). The architectural use of glass in particular is a statement of confidence that the bombers will not return. such as the Peacelines (which have paradoxically increased since the advent of peace). Look at Café Deauville or the trendy Chokdee on Bedford Street. Normalization. these defensive landscapes have been partially dismantled and neutralized as part of ‘normalization’ strategies adopted to eradicate ‘spaces of fear’ (Shirlow. There is ‘a propaganda drive to make Belfast appear normal … led by retail interests and their architecture’ (Brett. the ‘construction of the Castle Court shopping mall. 2003) and instil faith in the peace process. out of glass in a zone of conflict … was a key symbol of … increasing confidence’ (Shirlow. has permitted the removal of many of the more obvious elements of the existing security infrastructure. Neill (2006: 114) also notes that: ‘Glass is now the representational form of choice for development in the post-conflict city as an obvious contrast to the brutalist terror-proofed buildings of “the Troubles”. 2002). That’s a big change.’ One of the most prominent new additions to the city centre is Victoria Square. Some of the new buildings erected during this time would have been unthinkable during the worst of the Troubles. enabling much greater freedom of movements and has lifted the psychological strain of living in a city under siege’ (Ellis and McKay. The impact of other remaining elements of the Troubles landscape. In the post-conflict years. has been softened through aestheticization and the planting of trees and shrubs (Jarman. 2004: 26). 2007. 1995). a term first coined by British Prime Minister. The decreased level of violence has also encouraged commercial interests to invest in the city centre. five-sixths of which came from the private sector (Northern Ireland Executive. 2006: 100). John Major. Paramilitary attacks. in 1994. The architecture of city and town centres was altered to defend against paramilitary attacks with steel barriers. We can now see people eating and drinking from the street. Jones observes that: ‘In modern “civilized” Belfast we now have glass windows. see also Fitzsimons.’ (Jones. 2004: 15). was (and still is) aimed at introducing degrees of normality to Northern Ireland through the removal of military structures and the re-integration of society. This street was very popular with our bombers.SWITZER & MCDOWELL REDRAWING COGNITIVE MAPS OF CONFLICT 341 NORMALIZATION AND UNMARKED PLACES IN THE CITY CENTRE Cognizing peace through normalization As we have seen. Money has poured into the city. removed many vestiges of normality from urban centres. the face of which has changed radically in recent years. In the 1980s. which estimated that between 1989 and 2007 it has overseen an investment of some £1 billion in the riverside area adjacent to the city centre. the Troubles resulted in large-scale material interventions in the urban landscape of Northern Ireland’s towns and cities. Ellis and McKay observed in 2000 that: ‘The major security presence in the shape of army patrols and road blocks have almost all now been removed. a £320 million shopping centre spanned by a glass . iron shutters and ‘terrorist-proof’ buildings. In Belfast the normalization process. much of it via the recently wound-up Laganside Corporation. and the ongoing effort to prevent them. assisted by advances in the political situation.

1997: 57). In the case of Belfast. can be read as the mending of ‘fissured social tensions on a material environment’ (Ariff. architectural negotiation of disputed pasts and idealized futures that are entwined with efforts to reconcile and resolve (Ariff. Yet the ‘post-conflict’ situation of today provides a rather different context for the same process of normalization. The destruction of seemingly ordinary or functional architecture can. partly through the demilitarization and removal of visible security apparatus that is part of the peace process. Reconstruction is laden with symbolism. 2006: 100). a term that has permeated official rhetoric since the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. It is synonymous with peace-building and inexorably linked not just to the economic regeneration of a city or country but to the social and political well-being of the population more generally (Harme and Sullivan. 1982: 694). 2002: 89.. Historically. 2004). is imperative if the centre is to become one of the few truly neutral public spaces in a deeply segregated city. Yet even if it cannot be viewed as neutral per se. albeit one in which ‘people are often happier to be closer to the particular road that leads to and from their . but the process of ‘normalization’ in the city centre is nothing new. Leaving aside for a moment the conflict-related deaths that occurred there. Tzifakis and Tsardandis (2006: 67) believe that the main goal of post-conflict reconstruction is to ‘instigate a major shift in the ideology and operations of the political structure’.342 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) dome 35 m in diameter. Amnesia. It has been argued that these ‘postmodernist aesthetics . 1995: 69). partly through the ‘beautification’ of remaining elements such as the Peacelines and police stations and partly through redevelopment and private enterprise. at least in Belfast’s city centre. businesses cleaned up the damage and re-opened (Shirlow. For Irish republicans. 2004). in practice the city centre remains an ‘important shared space’ (Boal. 2006). seek to induce historical amnesia’. he believes. the spaces of urban civic culture represent the Union with Britain that they seek to reverse. The peacetime reconstruction of cityscapes scarred by conflict is not as Ariff (2004) suggests borne solely out of sheer economic necessity. be viewed as ‘urbicide’: a symbolic attack on the existence of shared spaces. Mediating reconstruction. Vayryen. which sought to end violence in the region (see Graham and Nash. as Coward (2006) observes. 1992).. no doubt a formidable task (Neill. even at the height of the republican bombing campaign. Neill asserts. The redevelopment of the city centre may be indicative of a ‘desire to present a normal place’. grounded in the physical. and as a result the City Hall in particular has been the focus of republican protest. The return to use of buildings scarred by conflict (Foote 1997) can symbolize strength and hope while the physicality of new innovative designs serves to facilitate journeys from a troubled past to a brighter future. the city’s ideational representation is entwined with governmental imaginings of the ever-elusive ‘shared society’. Achieving a shared future and a shared space would appear to involve a degree of forgetting. The urban landscape is thus being divested of evidence of the conflict. the City Hall also has relevance for Unionists through its role as the symbolic focal point for resistance to Home Rule in 1912 and also for protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 (Jackson. framing Belfast city centre as a neutral space is perhaps an unrealistic venture given the diverse meanings it encapsulates for many of the city’s inhabitants.

Clearly sites of trauma and violence. the landscape surrounding the site of violence may become totally changed over time as the cityscape evolves: buildings may be demolished and others erected. 1997: 24). 1997). and for the uninformed. while the demands of traffic may result in alterations in the layout of roads and the . The subtleties of these negotiations of place are beyond the grasp of a visitor to the city. both of which are examined in Foote’s book. the lack of the more obvious markers of territory evident elsewhere in the city make this area neutral space. The third category is that of rectification. for example.SWITZER & MCDOWELL REDRAWING COGNITIVE MAPS OF CONFLICT 343 segregated neighbourhood’ (Bairner. sanctification. assassins. usually through the creation of a monument or other memorial intended for perpetuity. This latter category is the fourth identified by Foote. 2006: 41). former battlefields. such events ‘fail to gain the sense of significance that inspires sanctification or designation and lack the shameful connotations that spur obliteration’ (Foote. ruins and apparently barren tracts … [can be] … seen as “historical traces”’. While the quest for shared space is undoubtedly crucial for post-conflict Northern Ireland. for example. The first category. mounds. and thus effectively writing the conflict out of its history. In the urban case. namely that a combination of interests have led to the removal of most of the checkpoints and other security precautions that were visible evidence of the general conflict. In many respects. while the rural landscapes of. the more obvious change visible in the urban landscapes being discussed here provides a rather different context for physical memorialization (Gough. We have discussed the first above. include both urban and rural locations. mass-murderers. in which the site of violence or tragedy is tidied up and re-used without reference to what has occurred there. The second category is that of designation. Places that are designated arise from events acknowledged as important but lacking the heroic or sacrificial qualities associated with sanctified places. It results from the desire to forget sites associated with notorious characters and events: gangsters. Damage has been repaired and new buildings erected that consciously break from the past. making the city look more like any other city – has the effect of eradicating evidence of the Troubles from the city centre. 2006: 129). Generally. obliteration involves not just removing the immediate signs of traumatic events but effectively effacing the evidence from existence: ‘the site is not just cleansed but scoured’ (Foote. Unmarked places Writing the Troubles out of the centre of Belfast entails dealing with two contributing factors. The second factor that must be considered relates to specific locations within the city centre and the lack of any visible commemoration of the Troubles-related acts of violence that have occurred there. Foote’s well-known typology divides the continuum of societal response to such sites into four (Foote. which also involves the marking of particular places but without the element of consecration that distinguishes sanctified sites. 1997: 23). The memorial will be publicly consecrated and attract continued ritual commemoration. may provide a sense of moral resonance and authority as ‘ditches. the opposite of sanctification. involves the creation of a sacred place. normalization – in effect. However. whether marked through sanctification or designation.

One site of rectification is linked to an infamous incident in March 1972. causing considerable controversy and raising questions of ownership. Although there are some examples in Northern Ireland of the marking of sites of death in this way. killing two women sitting nearby and injuring more than 100 others. On the first anniversary of the IRA ceasefire in 1995. for example. art student Hilary Gilligan wrote the names of more than 3300 of the Troubles dead in chalk on the pavement in Royal Avenue. for example.. Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). in the heart of the central shopping area. In Dublin. so do the spaces through which memories take form’. An IRA bomb. Rather than being subject to the processes of either sanctification or designation. The centre of Belfast has been the scene of more than 70 Troubles-related deaths. In 2007. The bomb provoked outrage: the Belfast Telegraph published on the following Monday . memorials have been placed in Regent’s Park and Hyde Park at the places where bombs were detonated. but none of the sites where these incidents occurred have been marked in any permanent way. was detonated in the Abercorn Restaurant in Castle Lane on a busy Saturday afternoon. obliterated. for example. the same artist attempted to tie cards bearing the names and details of more than 3700 Troubles casualties to the City Hall railings. and to journalist Martin O’Hagan inside Transport House – they are very low key and not located in public space.344 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) areas immediately surrounding them. all of which would fall into either Foote’s categories of sanctification and designation (see. It is certainly the case that there is virtually no permanent public commemoration of the Troubles in the centre of Belfast. At Easter 1996. used an advertising screen at one of the busiest thoroughfares in the centre to launch her ‘Counting the Cost’ exhibit. are marked with plaques and other memorials marking sites associated with the various resistance movements of the Second World War. a memorial stands in a shopping centre where two boys were killed by a bomb blast in 1993. they are relatively rare. Gillen went on to hang the cards from a nearby tree. The city centre has also witnessed several other public. Adduci et al. 2001: 9). a cross-community worker from Lurgan. British Army and victims of ‘Bloody Friday’ in the City Hall. Passers-by were thrown across the street by the force of the blast. sites of violent death have been both sanctified and designated in cities other than Belfast. the sites of violence have instead been rectified or. when he chalked the names of the Troubles dead on the pavement around the City Hall. forms of commemoration led by community workers and artists. to Ulsterbus and Citybus employees in Laganside Bus Station. In Warrington. less frequently. A number of European cities. the sites of bomb explosions in Talbot Street and Sackville Place are marked with memorials. to the UDR in St Anne’s Cathedral. 2005). while in London. apparently left under a table. if temporary. who threatened to inform the police that he was defacing council property. but he was prevented from completing the exercise by Belfast City Council. In the more specific Troubles context. It is undeniable that ‘as the city’s fabric changes. Isobel Hylands. Although a number of permanent memorials do exist – to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Names of all those killed during the conflict scrolled down the screen continuously throughout the day. A similar exercise was performed by Christoff Gillen in 2003. equality amongst the dead and the appropriateness of bringing private grief into the public arena. but urban change does not necessitate the erasure of physical markers of memory from the landscape (Pinder.

Other infamous sites have been treated in ways closer to Foote’s category of obliteration. while another. Once the damage had been cleared. 1996). ‘looked like a battlefield in seconds. a Hilton Hotel. There is nothing to indicate the past presence of the Abercorn restaurant. ‘Barrel Man’ pays tribute to 100 years of brewing in Belfast. and remained in use until 1996 when the new Laganside Station was opened. ‘Smoke was everywhere and I could hear people screaming … There was a horrible smell and a lot of blood on the pavement. One. the site of death and trauma was returned to something approaching the state it had been in before the violent event occurred. it was hoped. bomb-damaged building. the Bus Station resumed business. The building was subsequently demolished and the site became part of the Laganbank development. where IRA volunteer William Reid died. the site now houses prominent office buildings occupied by British Telecom. and the Waterfront Hall. Thus. or the occurrence of the bombing. reported the Belfast Telegraph. but none references the location’s link to Bloody Friday (Laganside Corporation. Perhaps the most prominent of these sites is that of the former Oxford Street Bus Station. which. 1972a). 1972). ‘could become the symbol of the way forward in the Province and provide a pleasing and positive environment close to the city centre’ (Fitzsimons. a ribcage on the roof of a nearby building: ‘I’ve tried to put it at the back of my mind for twenty-five years’ (quoted in Taylor. for example.’ More than two decades years later. the building still stands. used as a conference and concert venue. The restaurant was then. a particular act of extreme violence . or in High Street. Curtis Street. But the pain … cannot be erased. 2002). what sort of people are you?’ (Belfast Telegraph. The station was attacked by one of 22 bombs planted by the IRA on 21 July 1972 on what became known as ‘Bloody Friday’. where RUC officer Sam Todd was killed. a body partially blown through railings. as the article observed: ‘just another boarded-up. The dead and the injured have gone. 1972c). In each of these cases. a head stuck to a wall.’ Behind the boards. the old station remained ‘irretrievably associated with the bombing … in 1972’ (Hill.SWITZER & MCDOWELL REDRAWING COGNITIVE MAPS OF CONFLICT 345 bore the headline ‘For God’s sake. housing a number of retail premises. Nothing marks the sites in. When the smoke and dust from the blast cleared injured people were seen lying in pools of blood on the roadway’ (Lindsay et al.’ said one bystander. Today. ‘Suddenly there was a tremendous bang. parts of which were flung up to 30 yards away by the blast. rather. History is therefore not absent from the site.’ The same report described how ‘Police and troops carried plastic bags as they went about the gruesome task of collecting the mutilated bodies. No less than five works of art exist on the site. 1995: 78). a policeman described his memories of seeing a human torso lying in the road. entitled ‘Sheep on the Road’ and placed outside the Waterfront Hall. however. Six people – two soldiers and four Ulsterbus employees – were killed when the bomb explosion turned an everyday place into what a Belfast Telegraph headline dubbed a ‘death terminal’ (Belfast Telegraph. The street. 1997: 149). Even then. alludes to the past history of part of the site as a sheep and cattle market. the building was rectified and the restaurant remained open until the late 1980s. The same is true of the vast majority of sites where Troubles-related violent events have occurred in the city centre.. Nor is this absent history reserved for sites of individual death: four civilians were killed along with two policemen in Donegall Street in 1972 when a car bomb exploded as people fled another bomb scare in an adjacent street.

along with a river intended to symbolize ‘the journey from one life to another’ – the panel as a whole comes across more as a piece of art than as a memorial. a building that did not exist until some 20 years after their deaths. a part of the personal . The two soldiers killed in Oxford Street Bus Station on Bloody Friday are not amongst those commemorated. ‘its physical foundations on a site of extreme violence’ (Reid. been obliterated. The names of the dead employees feature only around the edges and it is only on close inspection that it becomes obvious that the panel is a memorial. on a ceramic panel inside the station building.346 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) that is part of that history is left unnarrated. Two of the other IRA volunteers commemorated by the mural died outside Northern Ireland: Mairead Farrell was killed in Gibraltar in May 1988 by an SAS unit whilst on ‘active service’. the places where Farrell and Black died are too distant and inaccessible for local activists to mark. unveiled when the new station was opened in May 1996. but that has. Although their deaths are not marked in the centre itself. this would appear to be a case of a site initially being rectified and put back into use. The violent aspect of the site’s history has effectively been erased. they are commemorated elsewhere. For example. Hertfordshire in December 1991. killed in December 1975 alongside fellow volunteer Paul Fox when a bomb she was carrying went off prematurely. The process of displacing memory. 2005: 505). but Crawford is commemorated elsewhere in the city. Although heavy with symbolism explained by an accompanying plaque – the design includes images representative of both Belfast and Northern Ireland. a Republican estate in west Belfast. often more than once. eventually. The site of the explosion is unmarked. Located in other countries. evident in the case of the Citybus/Ulsterbus memorial. these alternative places of commemoration are carefully constructed and often attuned to a particular Troubles narrative. in another case of a bomb exploding prematurely. a car park in King Street is the site of death of IRA member Laura Crawford. THE CHALLENGE OF INDIVIDUAL MEMORIES Returning to the city centre. the lack of any physical markers on the sites of violence means that the memory of such events remains intangible. only a few miles from the mural in west Belfast. Yet the fact remains that under its current polished façade. but it is indicative of the nature of space in the city centre. the location has. She is commemorated alongside three other female IRA members who lost their lives during the Troubles by a street mural in Glenveagh Drive in Lenadoon. along with several other employees of both Citybus and Ulsterbus. as Reid observes. whilst Patricia Black died in St Alban’s. They are commemorated. the site at which it occurred unmarked and thus invisible in the urban landscape of present-day Belfast. The physical memory of the four Citybus employees killed on Bloody Friday has thus been displaced to the new Laganside Station. through redevelopment. has also occurred in the cases of other individuals who died in the city centre. In striking contrast to the unmarked sites of death. that the site of Crawford’s death there is equally inaccessible to local memorialists. To return to Foote’s typology.

2001). but the flowers also reveal the otherwise invisible link between place and personal memory. 1997). Each February. The command wire that detonated the 250 lb device had been run through the site the new shopping centre was to occupy (Potter. There are too many memories – we will never get over what happened. They walk by it. the internal geographies of individuals take in many unmemorialized sites where traumatic events occurred but that are also part of their everyday lives. Some even take alternative routes through the town in an attempt to avoid it. as if it’s nothing … It means nothing to them. Writing about sites associated with the Berlin Wall. the spaces where their loved ones died during the Troubles are synonymous with pain and suffering. For many families. flowers are placed around the base of a tree opposite the Castle Court shopping complex.SWITZER & MCDOWELL REDRAWING COGNITIVE MAPS OF CONFLICT 347 memories of individuals. The centre of Belfast might be wiped clean for the collective ‘good’ of society. As Dawson (2005) has shown. have found it difficult not only to negotiate but to escape the site of the tragedy which occurred in the town’s main street (McDaniel. for example. 2002). but personal memories of the violence that occurred there remain. remain laden with memories: ‘in Fermanagh and South Tyrone … we can see the crossroads where someone was shot in the back. Doss (2006: 300) has remarked on the intensely physical nature of these kinds of tributes: they are ‘spaces that must be walked around … places that demand our physical interaction’. they simply do not exist in the cognitive maps and everyday geographies of others: My brother was killed in our town centre. (Personal interview. March 2006) As this statement infers. internalized understandings of place may gain an outward physical manifestation through the placement of flowers at particular sites. the tarmac patch where the bomb exploded and where several people were murdered. 2005: 156). While these boundaries are very real for those with a significant attachment to the site. When the issue of memorials was debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2002. Other people are completely oblivious to it. jarring uncomfortably with the polished modern face of the city centre. one member spoke about such sites that. Schlör (2006: 104) suggests that the realization that violent events could have taken place in an apparently innocent . These internalized understandings of place ‘are derived from – and complexly related to – the material sites of violence within social environments’ (Dawson. Their presence also confronts us with the city’s violent past. Occasionally. however. for example. Violence and remembering violence has a profound effect on how people cognize their surroundings. We cannot forget that’ (Carson. In this instance the mind produces invisible boundaries that prohibit physical access to the site. people interpret their environments differently and this is determined or defined by what they remember. close to the place where two UDR soldiers were killed by an IRA bomb during the Centre’s construction. Floral tributes of this sort are clearly part of how those people who knew the soldiers attempt to maintain their memory. over it. I try and avoid that site any time I go in. although unmarked. Relatives of those killed by an IRA bomb during an armistice Sunday commemoration in Enniskillen.

they also serve as reminders of the violence that has occurred in the city centre. so too may their internal historical narratives.348 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) landscape holds the potential to ‘disrupt the whole area from its friendly cultivated harmlessness’. we show how geography – here the segregated urban geography of Belfast – may combine with the unfixed nature of memory to have serious implications for the future development of the memory of the Troubles. In doing this. 2005: 498). Such knowledge forces us to confront everyday places and their connections to the violent events of the past. Hartig and Dunn (1998: 10) have argued in the context of fatal road accidents that memorials on the sites of sudden death can ‘jolt’ passers-by: ‘these intrusions of the sacred into everyday space … serve as reminders of mortality’. in the city’ (Till. Temporary and ephemeral . in this case that of the Troubles. In the final section of this article. The open wound asks visitors to confront their feelings of being haunted (or not) by violent national histories that remain present. a more complex picture emerges. perhaps more appropriately. CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE: MENTAL GEOGRAPHIES AND HISTORIES Thus far. Despite myriad government efforts. 2006: 101–2). In the case of Northern Ireland. These cognitive maps. with their linked understandings of which places are safe and unsafe and how each of these categories may be defined. a genuinely inclusive shared future in Northern Ireland remains elusive. novelist Jennifer Johnston has written of how ‘witnessing change is a persistent challenge … Within the processes of regeneration. the centre of Belfast is devoid of physical evidence of the Troubles. are much more resistant to change than the material realities of brick and mortar. The ‘open wounds’ referred to above point both to the unresolved nature of memory. yet invisible. and also to the challenge that memory continues to pose for contemporary society. a clear contrast with the extensive memorial landscape present elsewhere within the city’s boundaries. Despite being the venue for more than 70 deaths and many hundreds of non-fatal acts of violence. This is a picture in which personal memory retains the potential to undermine efforts to induce historical amnesia. which lags behind the physical transformation. a reluctance to acknowledge the facelifts’ (cited in Reid. Yet the new commercial developments in Belfast city centre do appear to be having some effect: the very fact that memories of the conflict appear out of place amidst the high-end retailers under the Victoria Centre’s glass dome illustrates the extent to which the centre of Belfast has moved on or. This is. these kinds of ephemeral memorials create something of what Till has called ‘open wounds’ that appear ‘out of place’ in today’s urban setting since they are ‘defined by (re)surfacing and repressed memories of violent pasts. has been moved on from that past. we have explored the effects that geography can have on the creation and maintenance of memory and forgetting. In this case. And just as these individual mental geographies can lag behind the contemporary urban landscape. a piecemeal and necessarily incomplete process. however. there is an internal mental geography. since in other areas of the city centre that have not undergone such wholesale change.

with clearly defined categories of victim and perpetrator. In areas outside the city centre. Yet if the first of those roles puts the city forward as the obvious site for some kind of commemorative reference to Northern Ireland’s Troubled past. The splintered patterns of commemoration in the areas of Belfast outside the city centre are representative of the current fractured nature of Troubles memory. and point to the influence this can have: ‘By telling children about their own past experiences and those of their community.. more widely. A study by Smyth et al. their silence is part of a different narrative. its major urban centre and the driver of its economy. the highly segregated division of space combines with the partisan commemorative landscapes contained within to reproduce simplified understandings of the Troubles. The maxim that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ is scarcely relevant if only one of those stories is being told. Like all understandings of the past. in which each partial history becomes ‘the’ history for its adherents. and as these individual memories die with the people who hold them. Dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past is a key element in the region’s future. on the spatial and narrative constructs of the commemorative landscape. Where the city centre is concerned. that parents introduced the Troubles to their children in ways coloured by their own. particularly. complexities and contradictions of recent history. will not lead to any kind of shared understanding of what occurred. however. the segregated and sectarianized nature of the second role and. (2004) found. may be lost on young people growing up largely without direct experience of the Troubles. interpretations of events. one which would seek to deny that the Troubles ever happened.SWITZER & MCDOWELL REDRAWING COGNITIVE MAPS OF CONFLICT 349 memorials. parents ensure that their experiences are woven into the narratives available to the next generation’ (Smyth et al. and their community’s. such as the laying of flowers on the sites of violent events. It is perhaps here that the present-day unevenness of Troubles commemoration will have its most crucial impact. 2004: 28). but when the absences are defined by single identity readings of recent history the likelihood of them contributing to any kind of future conciliation with members of the ‘other’ community is slim at best. But in another sense. memory – in the more communal sense of the term – will increasingly come to rely on the historical archive and. The subtleties. the need to maintain and encourage the third mitigate against this. reveal these hidden. and. and whose historic and geographic knowledge of them is drawn from their single-identity surroundings. but also the ways in which bigotry and sectarianism continue to be . in one sense. perhaps unsurprisingly. the issues are different although no less potentially important. Clearly. for the most part. but a fractured commemorative landscape. Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital. The kinds of personal memories that result in ‘open wounds’ are. including not only controversies relating to the past. clearly time limited. internalized. geographies and in doing so challenge society more generally to look again at its past. the unmarked places of death and violence in the centre of Belfast do not contribute to the larger single identity narratives worked out elsewhere in the city. The narrative of the ‘new’ Northern Ireland attempts to downplay the ongoing legacy of the Troubles. still present in older generations. these narratives are replete with silences and absent voices. but they also have a key role in the constitution of future Troubles memories.

at times. which had dominated the political landscape in Britain for much of the 19th century. embraced an armed struggle. culturally and historically British. This narrative seeks to present Belfast as a ‘normal’ place. The ‘abnormal. Loyalism. incorporating the sites of renewal into their personal geographies. which highlights certain elements of its past – for example the legacies of shipbuilding and Victorian architecture common to other cities in the British Isles – while sidelining other less palatable aspects of the past. . There is something almost schizophrenic about a city that wipes virtually all evidence of the Troubles from its newly polished centre. Unionists want to maintain the link with Britain and see themselves as politically. monuments and painted kerbstones of some of its residential suburbs are among its most popular and distinctive tourist attractions. The divide between Catholic and Protestant.’ Northern Ireland-specific Troubles are instead relegated to other areas of the city where they continue to exist in the fractured and partial ways already referred to.350 MEMORY STUDIES 2(3) reproduced and the extent to which ‘the new sites of renewal … are also signifiers of social unevenness and exclusion’ (Shirlow. which is an inherently working-class ideology. Note 1 Northern Ireland’s existence emanated from the Irish problem. 2003: 9). Unrest was particularly acute in the North. The partition of the island occasioned much resentment manifested in waves in successive violence. They write that ‘the city’s perpetual change defeats the established. is beginning to push for an independent Northern Ireland and distance itself from Unionism. intimate communities of political association’ (Allen and Kelly. for example. What role the legacy of the Troubles has in the ‘new’ Belfast remains to be seen. Nationalist and Unionist. Belfast’s citizens are developing new ways to interact with their city. 2006: 100). intensifying throughout the 1960s to become the period known colloquially as the Troubles. is in a state of constant change. Both ideologies see themselves as politically. Nationalist ideology. and can be observed in the present city centre. but to argue that this change can ‘defeat’ the pre-existing associations between the material city and the communities who live in it is surely wishful thinking. but alongside these internalized understandings of place. like any other city. There is also a religious dimension to this division with many Catholics seeing themselves as Nationalists and many Protestants seeing themselves as Unionists (this is not absolute). We conclude by returning to the piece by Allen and Kelly with which this article began. focuses on the unification of Ireland through constitutional means. The deafening silence of the centre of Northern Ireland’s capital on the subject of the 30-year conflict which killed more than 3500 of the region’s citizens also raises uncomfortable moral questions. and Republican and Loyalist appeared to characterize the seemingly sectarian nature of the conflict (Tonge 2002: 1). Belfast. Republicanism shares this objective but has. even as it finds that tours of the murals. The occasional marking of the ‘lost’ spaces of violence and trauma in the city centre provide evidence of the resilience of people’s mental geographies. but the evidence presented here suggests that this statement is only partly true. culturally and historically Irish.

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