The resurgence of populism in the United States and Europe in recent years has ushered in an explosion of popular appeals to the notions of heritage and identity to justify the preservation of controversial monuments and memorials. The history of Ireland offers a unique opportunity to study the development of both nationalist and imperial memorial traditions in a highly contested political environment. Yet historians of Irish memory have focused on particular memorial cultures in isolation either geographically or socially from the broader history of the island, thus marginalizing the central role of imperialism in the development of Irish memorial culture. This dissertation recovers that centrality by analyzing the development and shifts of memorial culture and conflict as Ireland progressed from a British imperial territory to a pair of multifaceted European nation states.
I apply memory and commemoration as units of historical analysis to understand how the Irish experienced their changing geopolitical position from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Following an introductory chapter that establishes the continued resonance of imperial iconography in Ireland long after the formal end of British governance, I focus on acts of violence and commemorative conflicts as they flared along several fault lines in Irish society. I examine these ruptures in the context of the eighteenth century development of an exclusionary, Protestant commemorative culture, the expressions of Anglo-Irish anxiety following the Act of Union in 1800, the rise of nationalist commemoration in the 1840s to 60s, and the years surrounding the centenary of the 1798 rebellion at the turn of the twentieth century.
This dissertation demonstrates that memory and commemoration were transformational forces that influenced the contours of public memorialization in pre-Independence Ireland. It recovers the hidden role of the empire in shaping nationalist memory, rendering its impact more visible and its contributions more accessible. In the process, it reveals the importance of violence and identity in the discourse of public remembrance, ultimately contributing to debates about the role of heritage and identity in modern Western culture.