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'From thorn to thorn': commemorating the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland

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Although the literature on memorialisation often stresses the role of the national, there is a growing understanding of the polyvalency and dispersal of memory. Here, we address the rather difficult process of memorialising the security forces of a state which denies that it was a participant in a conflict. In Northern Ireland, the British state pursued a policy of 'Ulsterisation' of security forces, the result being that the memorialisation of their dead is either a partisan unionist process or confined to private institutional space because these forces were seen as an impediment to the Peace Process. We focus in particular on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which was disbanded in 2001. The paper establishes the context for commemorating both the RUC dead but also the institution itself, a dimension to commemoration that has been largely elided from the vast literature on the Troubles in Northern Ireland and their consequences. We then examine the non-state memorialisation of RUC personnel in public space within Northern Ireland, an ambiguous and fragmented process that is then contrasted with the formal but closed institutional space of the RUC George Cross Garden, sited within the bounded and heavily monitored precincts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Headquarters at Knock in east Belfast.

Keywords: Northern Ireland; Royal Ulster Constabulary; memorialisation

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649360802652129

Affiliations: School of Environmental Sciences, University of Ulster,

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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