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Trinity Long Room Hub hosts Online Symposium to Commemorate Partition

11 May 2021 - A joint symposium between Trinity College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast explores Ireland’s partition through the lens of culture and literature and examines its political and social legacies 100 years on.

‘Partition and its Legacies’ was hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, on the 7 May 2021, bringing together two panels in a cross-border event which examined some of the underexamined legacies of the Irish partition in 1921.

In the first panel, exploring the cultural and literary legacies of partition, Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub joined Dr Stephen O’Neill, a recent Fellow at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, and Dr Guy Woodward of Durham University. Ciaran O’Neill, Ussher Associate Professor in Nineteenth-Century History at Trinity College Dublin and Deputy Director of the Hub, chaired the panel and commented on the value of comparative and inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding what happened in Ireland a century ago. He said that although the future of this partition is now a “matter of heated public debate” this symposium serves to “think of the Irish identities that were emboldened, supressed or simply ignored in the new reality ushered in by partition.”

Dr Stephen O’Neill spoke of the early literature and culture of partition in Ireland and the subject of his forthcoming book, Irish Culture and Partition 1920-1955 with Liverpool University Press. Dr O’Neill is an alumnus of Trinity’s School of English and from 2016-2017, he was an Early Career Researcher at the Trinity Long Room Hub. Quoting former Trinity Provost and historian F.S.L Lyons who spoke of the fixation on physical boundaries to the detriment of considerations of cultural differences,  Dr O’Neill challenged some of the long-term assumptions of partition and the way that it has traditionally been ‘read’.

Dr Guy Woodward discussed border crossings in Irish wartime writing with his talk focusing on the dramatist and journalist Denis Johnston, a native of Dublin, who worked at the BBC during the Second World War. Professor Patten’s talk explored depictions of the Irish border in English film and literature, and in particular Frank Launder’s 1946 spy film, ‘I see a Dark Stranger’ and other works which look at the border as a site of "play" or "comedy". Professor Patten is currently completing a monograph for Oxford University Press entitled Ireland, Revolution and the English Modernist Imagination.

The political and social legacies of partition was the subject of the second panel from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) with Dr Gladys Ganiel, Professors Katy Hayward and Olwen Purdue and chaired by Professor Cheryl Lawther. A reader at the School of Social Sciences at QUB, Prof Gladys Ganiel spoke of the socio-political roles of religion and commented that although “a century on from partition the public role of religion is much diminished”, the political and social power that religion played at the time of partition--and right through the Troubles-- is important to understanding the impact of its legacy today on the island of Ireland.  

Katy Hayward is a Professor of Political Sociology at QUB and in 2020 she received a special award from the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for her use of Twitter to illuminate and explain the implications of Brexit for the island of Ireland. Highlighting the importance of an emphasis “on relationships” rather than borders, she described Northern Ireland as “a place obsessed with its history but ultimately helpless to do much about it” because its history is also more often than not about Ireland and Britain and the relationship between the two countries.  Speaking on the role of public history in “helping us confront difficult or contested pasts” Professor Olwen Purdue, Director of the Centre for Public History at QUB,  described the “divided” landscape of Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit and said in relation to commemorating partition, there is “no consensus as to what we should be remembering, if we should be remembering it and how”.

Under the Decade of Centenaries Programme, Mairéad McClean has been appointed as an artist-in-residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub in partnership with the Beyond 2022 project at Trinity College Dublin. An extended version of her film ‘A Line Was Drawn’ was shown to audience attendees at the recent symposium. The film weaves together material from a number of different sources and explores issues of how our world is structured through the creation of borders and boundaries limiting movement, thinking, questioning and agency.

A LINE WAS DRAWN Trailer from Mairéad McClean on Vimeo.

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