Past Research

Flags survey confirms territory still being marked out in N.I. (full report in PDF format)

A survey of flags being flown on main roads in Northern Ireland conducted by Queen's University, confirms that flags are still being used to mark out territory but progress on the flags and emblems issue has been made.

The Flags Monitoring Project 2006 undertaken by the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's and funded by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, set out to see how much people took responsibility for flags and other emblems displayed over the summer months and how many flags were then left.

Two significant surveys were undertaken in 2006, one at the start of July, the second in mid-September during the period covering the Loyal Order marching season and the 25th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes. Results show that when displays were placed in areas people took responsibility for, such as on private houses or on Orange Halls and around Orange Arches, then the flags and bunting were nearly always taken down. However, there were large numbers of flags left flying at the end of September on major road routes all over Northern Ireland. By far the greatest number of flags was displayed on lampposts and at the end of the summer 2499 flags and emblems remained on display.

Dr Dominic Bryan at the Institute of Irish Studies said: "We are aware that there has been much work undertaken in communities to try and reduce the flying of flags to periods in which commemorations and celebrations are taking place. These surveys demonstrate that a large number of flags are being left on lampposts to apparently mark territories. At the same time there is increasing evidence that such marking of territories is economically detrimental to the affected area.

"There is also evidence of a reduction in the flying of paramilitary flags in recent years. The initial survey in July 2006 recorded only 194 flags at main roads but just 17% of these came down by mid September".

For further information please contact: Brendan Heaney, Communications Office Tel: 028 9097 5320 or Dominic Bryan 028 9097 3386.

Notes for Editors:

Interviews with Dr Bryan can be arranged through the Communications Office.

The Government's policy of a Shared Future sets as one of its major aims 'freeing the public realm from threat, aggression and intimidation while allowing for legitimate expression of cultural expression, creating safe and shared space for meeting, sharing, playing, working and living'.

Since 2005 the PSNI have led a multi-agency joint-protocol in relation to the display of flags which calls for the removal of flags and emblems from arterial routes, town centres and areas such as interfaces, schools, hospitals and places of worship. This is to be done, as much as possible, with the support of communities.

The full report in PDF format can be viewed at

or by visiting


Ordnance Survey Memoirs Series
In recent years, one of the Institute's most important ventures has been the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland publication programme. This project, to make available to the public a very valuable resource for history and society before the famine, comprised no fewer than forty volumes covering Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of Ireland (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo).

Based on the original manuscripts held in the Royal Irish Academy, the OS Memoirs are a veritable doomsday book of the years 1830-40, documenting the community through individuals and their way of life, and, as such, represent an outstanding resource for cultural heritage. Well-known historian Sir Charles Brett, writing in Ulster Architectural International (vol. 12 no. 9, 1995), described the OS Memoirs series as "a colossal contribution to Irish literature and history."

Vol. 40 of the series, covering the Border Counties of South Ulster, was launched in the Royal Irish Academy by the President of Ireland, Mrs Mary McAleese, in September 1998. In 2002, a 770-page index, covering all place and personal names in the 40-volume series, was completed, bringing to completion one of the Institute’s most important research projects. Amounting to a total of nearly 6,000 pages, this series amounts to one of the largest single publishing programmes ever undertaken in Ireland. Further information on volumes listed by parish and by country.


Moral Conflict and Complexity in Northern Ireland, Dr Norman Porter
This research, funded by the Ireland Funds, has three parts:

1. Background

It begins with an analysis of the 1998 Belfast Agreement and its aftermath in Northern Irish society. The Agreement was an historic achievement. It won the support of a majority of political parties, including those that were traditional enemies. It also won the support of a substantial majority of citizens, North and South. the Agreement promised the dawn of a new political era. Among other things, it appeared to resolve long-standing constitutional disputes between unionism and nationalism. It initiated far-reaching institutional and structural changes within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain.

Implementing the Agreement has not, however, been a straightforward task. Diverging interpretations of its meaning are apparent among its supporters, and a significant number of unionists (probably now a majority) and a smaller number of so-called dissident republicans oppose it. No doubt formal relations between some traditional political foes are now more civil than they have been for thirty years. But formal civility does not disguise the considerable mistrust that continues to exist between unionists and republicans especially.

This mistrust has political, cultural and religious roots. It is linked to the ongoing reality of sectarian attitudes that have persisted in post-agreement Northern Ireland. These attitudes are most obviously reflected in disputes over marches, symbols, police reform and weapons. But they also appear in a variety of everyday practices that sustain cultural, religious and political divisions. For those citizens who entertained high hopes of the Agreement leading to a recasting of sectarian mindsets, the disappointment has been that at the level of attitudes so much remains unchanged. Unaltered practices, beliefs and dispositions pose a formidable challenge to the realisation of the kind of new society that the Agreement anticipates.

Part of the task of understanding why this challenge is as great as it is involves exploring the moral conflicts and complexities that are disclosed through different practices, beliefs and dispositions. Surprisingly little serious exploration of this sort has been undertaken.

2. Moral Conflicts

The second part of the proposed study takes up the theme of moral conflict in Northern Ireland. This conflict manifests itself in the ethical impasse that creates such barriers between, say, the republican movement and mainstream unionism: where apparently different moral vocabularies are drawn upon and where the moral outrage expressed by one side has no effect whatsoever on the other. There are two aims here: (1) to elucidate the moral differences by contrasting the rules-based moral thinking of unionism (which derives in large measure from Protestantism and receives its most sophisticated articulation in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant), and the contextually-based moral orientation of republicanism (which derives inspiration from the vocabulary of national liberation struggles and fits with much contemporary work on the politics and ethics of difference); and (2) to ask whether common ground between these conflicting moral approaches may be found through recourse to the language of human rights.

3. Moral Complexity

The third part of the proposed study focuses on the theme of moral complexity as it appears within, and not merely between, competing traditions within the North. It starts from a hunch that what I call 'being implicated' is a peculiar, and hugely under analysed, moral condition, especially as it emerges in conflict situations such as Northern Ireland. It moves behind the offical moral rhetoric of unionism/loyalism and nationalism/republicanism dealt with in part two. It highlights the tragic moral choices faced by various activists who have felt compelled to involve themselves in a politics of 'struggle', and the subsequent difficulties they have experienced in making moral sense of their choices. In a sense, what is being dealt with here is a manifestation of moral complexity embodied in messy, even if committed, lives. This poses a challenge to any number of convenient stereotypes of 'extremists', as well as to conventional moral theories and approaches to conflict resolution. It is a challenge that will be illustrated through the lives of specific republican and loyalist (former) paramilitaries. It is hoped that by showing how moral conflict and complexity are an integral part of our Northern Irish condition, we may be better equipped to understand each other and to work out how we may live together in peace.


The History of the Irish Book
The History of the Irish Book Project is a major undertaking in Irish research and scholarship being undertaken jointly by the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's University, Belfast and at the Centre for Irish Literature and Bibliography at the University of Ulster, Coleraine. This involves research towards a five-volume History of the Irish Book to be published by Oxford University Press, jointly edited by the project leaders, Robert Welch and Brian Walker. It is an important project for the understanding of Ireland's written and printed heritage over a period of 1500 years, and by its nature it is of profound cross-cultural significance, embracing as it does all the written and printed traditions and heritages on this island and placing these in the global context of a world -wide interest in the book histories of many cultures from Scotland to Japan.

This is an entirely new and original undertaking in writing and scholarship, and will be of lasting value to the communities of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and beyond. There is no History of the Irish Book in existence. There are many accounts of authors, their social and political milieux, their lives and works; there are some accounts of publishers; and there are analyses of manuscripts and their transmission and contents. But there has been no history of the book as a created object in its own right and of the various circumstances of its creation, production and dissemination. In addressing the history of a created object this undertaking is itself a creative and innovatory venture uniting writing skills, analysis, editorial work, scholarship and historical method.

Professor Welch, in conjunction with Professor Walker, made an application to the British Academy for the major funding for a shared institutional Fellowship in May 1996. This was awarded in August, and the sum committed is £146,000 over four years, with each university promising funding for a further three years to the Fellowship. This post is now filled. The person appointed, Dr Anne McCartney, is a literary scholar and historian with a doctoral thesis on modern Irish fiction, and ongoing research into the fiction of the Land War. She will take editorial responsibility for Vol. 4, The Irish Book in English 1800-1900.


Popular Loyalism in Ireland, 1798-1848

This research project conducted by Dr Allan Blackstock investigated the vital but neglected topic of Popular Loyalism in Ireland, 1798-1848 by using a range of primary sources, manuscript and printed, local and central. This research will be used to address questions on the nature, organisation, activities and focus of popular loyalism: how it came to be monopolised by Protestants, how it both responded to and perceived the issues of emancipation and repeal, how this response was manifested in riots in parades (including the territorial dimension to parading), and the extent to which loyalism was spontaneous or directed by the gentry.


Loyalism in Northern Ireland

The original goal of this project was a study of modern day loyalism, with special emphasis on Gusty Spence, the former UVF leader. The aim was to combine oral history with documentary evidence and to produce a publication on this subject. The outcome was an important study with many new insights into Loyalism in Northern Ireland. This was published in June 2001 by Blackstaff Press as a biography of Gusty Spence by the researcher, Mr Roy Garland.


Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP)

In 1993 the then Environment Service: Historic Monuments and Buildings [ES:HMB] of DOE [NI] initiated MAP. The project is currently based at the Institute of Irish Studies. MAP's primary purpose was to create a computerised database of all underwater archaeological sites in Northern Ireland's coastal waters. The first stage of the project was to accumulate references relating to these sites from three main source types: documentary, cartographic and illustrative.

The primary documentary sources included government publications, Lloyd's List, local newspapers and the Ordnance Survey Memoirs while cartographic information relating to site location was extracted from Admiralty charts and coastal Ordnance Survey maps. A large archive relating to wreck and coastal sites has now been established. Over 3000 wreck incidents have been documented dating from 1740. The next stage of the project carried out a large scale remote sensing project around the coast of Northern Ireland in an attempt to locate sites on the seabed. This survey was be carried out by the University of Ulster at Coleraine. The survey involved the use of side scan sonar, sub-bottom profiler and magnetometer supported by D.GPS. MAP acquired extensive net-fastening data from fishermen around Northern Ireland which proved useful in aiding site location.