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Previous Research

Past Research Projects

Flags Monitoring Project

Dr Dominic Bryan


Who Respects their Flag?

One third of flags put up on main roads in Northern Ireland over the summer months are still flying at the end of September. That’s according to new research by Queen’s University.

Surveys conducted by the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s in July and September over the last four years show that, on average, over 4,000 flags are put up on lampposts and houses, in town centres and on arterial routes every July. The surveys found that those flying from lampposts were often not removed and left to become torn and tatty over the winter months.

Yet questions asked in the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2008 reveal that 83 per cent of people in Northern Ireland do not support the flying of flags from lampposts in their area.

The survey results are being published in Public Displays of Flags and Emblems in Northern Ireland. The study is funded by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, to evaluate the creation of shared space and the effectiveness of the multi-agency Flags Protocol, which was introduced in 2005.

The vast majority of the flags flying represent the unionist or loyalist tradition (over July 2006-09 the average number of unionist flags was 3868 compared 245 nationalist and for September the average number of unionist flags was 1411 compared with 505 nationalist). At Easter, two thirds of the flags on arterial routes are unionist.

The research shows a significant reduction in the number of paramilitary flags flown on arterial routes during July - down from 161 flags in 2006 to 73 in 2009. By far the largest proportion of those flying in July 2009 belonged to the UVF. The research also shows some reduction in how many people feel intimidated by such displays (in 2003 21% of people said they had felt intimidated by loyalist or republican murals and flags, in 2008 13% of people were intimidated by republican displays and 15 % by loyalist displays).

The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2008, however, revealed that over half of those surveyed believe the Union flag and Tricolour were usually put on lampposts by paramilitary groups. And importantly, over a third of people said they were less likely to shop in neighbourhoods with loyalist and republican flags and murals.

Dr Dominic Bryan, Director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s said: “Over the last thirty years the Ulster tradition of flying flags on houses appears to have declined, while there has been an increase in hanging flags from lampposts.

“Instead of celebrating identity, tattered and torn flags are left to demarcate territory. In Northern Ireland, where national identity is so keenly felt, the national flags are treated with little respect.

“There is a difficult balance to be struck between legitimate expressions of identity and prolonged displays that lead to greater territorial divisions and potential community relations problems, which can ultimately have detrimental economic effects. Festivals and parades offer potential benefits to many communities, but it makes sense to take flags down after a couple of weeks.

“We hope this research contributes to an informed debate on how expressions of identity can be managed to foster greater respect between people in Northern Ireland.”

Public Displays of Flags and Emblems in Northern Ireland available online at:   Flags Monitoring Report 2010


TV Interview on BBC Newsline - Dr Dominic Bryan talks about the status of the Northern Ireland flag and the possibilty of an alternative. (28 September 2010)

Imagining Belfast: Political Ritual, Symbols and Crowds

Dr Dominic Bryan (Anthropology) and Prof Sean Connolly (History)

This two-year project commencing in June/July 2005, studied the formation and public expression of identity in Belfast, combining a long term historical study with an anthropological investigation of recent developments. The historical study will construct a comprehensive festive calendar for the city across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, then proceed to more detailed research into specific events and practices, and into particular points of discontinuity. The anthropological research will identify changes and continuities in the contemporary festive calendar, explore policy towards the use of public space in the city and the implications for future policy in the changing nature of such space, and examine future options for a failed 'city of culture'.

The result will be an analysis that may challenge perceptions of Northern Irish society as a society characterised by two monolithic and inflexible 'traditions'. At the same time it will seek to move beyond simplistic debate as to the authenticity of particular cultural forms to an understanding of the way in which historically-based identities can be both sustained over time and redefined in response to changing circumstances. We hope this report will result in both a new perspective on issues of culture and identity in Northern Ireland and a theoretical contribution to debates on the nature of 'tradition' and the use of ritual in the formation of identity. This project is being funded by the ESRC Identities and Social Action programme and is held jointly with the School of History. The principal researchers are Dr Dominic Bryan of the Institute and Professor Sean Connolly, School of History. Additional research fellows will also be appointed.

St. Patrick's Day Project

 Dr Dominic Bryan (Anthropology) An independent report on St Patrick's Day (Belfast 2006), undertaken by researchers the Institute of Irish Studies for Belfast City Council, has been published. It can be downloaded from the following link: St Patrick's Day Report (2006): St Patricks Day

Representing a new Northern Ireland

Sites of creation and contest in devolved governance

Dr Dominic Bryan (Anthropology) This project, which received substantial funding under the ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Research Programme in 2001, will explore attempts to represent or imagine the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland through rituals and symbols. The central focus will be upon official endeavours by public bodies to intervene in symbolic conflict through policy and practice. The research will examine historical changes, discourses, formal and informal policies and practice over the use of symbols and rituals. It will particularly examine the ways in which issues of representation have been dealt with since the signing of the Belfast Agreement and the start of devolved government. Included as cases studies in the research will be royal visits, the flying of flags and the support of popular public events. The work at the Institute will be undertaken by Dominic Bryan, Gillian McIntosh and Brian Walker.

In Brief
This project explores attempts made to represent the new political dispensation In Northern Ireland through rituals and symbols. It will develop case studies on the use of emblems and flags by public bodies, popular events such as parades and concerts, and civic events Including royal visits. It will show how far the 'two traditions' model of community relations persists, or Is It being recast, as the peace and devolution processes unfold, and how far any new, civic Northern Irish Identity Is developing.

On 10 April 1998 'The Agreement' on devolution In Northern Ireland and a new political relationship between the UK and Ireland was published. But not only has there remained a sizeable minority In Northern Ireland which Is opposed to the agreement, but the meaning of the agreement Itself has been fought over by those who endorsed It. Even Its name - the 'Good Friday Agreement' or 'Belfast Agreement' Is contested. This kind of symbolic contest Is common In Northern Ireland. There, as In other divided societies, symbols provide the material through which communities 'Imagine' themselves. Northern Ireland has a wide range of rituals and symbols, many present In both communities, but more often contested than shared. The agreement sets these symbolic traditions In a new context. It Is conceivable that the agreement may bring about the opportunity to bring about changes In the sense of the community In Northern Ireland which go beyond Irish and British Identities.

Grounded In theories of ethnicity and Identity, the project will 'map' attempts by official bodies to play a role In the symbolic meaning and rituals In Northern Ireland. It will:

  • Examine the symbolic strategies and policies developed by public bodies In Northern Ireland In their use of fags and emblems, and In the context of both popular and civic events.
  • Analyse the political forces at play In the contestation over symbols and rituals.
  • Observe the Interplay of official and alternative discourses and practices associated with symbols and rituals.
  • Map the development - or lack of - senses of common Identity for Northern Ireland. Will a civic notion of being from Northern Ireland develop alongside Identities of Britishness and Irishness?
  • Draw out Implications from the research for the management of conflict In Northern Ireland.

Research Plan
The research will be organized around a number of case studies, Including the flying of Union and Irish flags, St. Patrick's Day events, the Belfast Carnival; royal visits and the changing and multiple use of the Stormont Parliament building as a symbol of government and a venue for popular events. The work will rely heavily on ethnographic methods, Including Interviews with a range of Informants and extensive participant observation. Supplementary analysis of media coverage of official and alternative symbolic discourses will be carried out.

Ordnance Survey Memoirs Series Dr Angelique Day 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.