Unionists, Loyalists, and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland

Article excerpt

Unionists, Loyalists, and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland. By Lee A. Smithey. Oxford University Press. 304pp, Pounds 40.00 and Pounds 65.00 ISBN 9780195395877 and 99875382 (e-book). Published 15 September 2011

Historically, academic research into Northern Ireland was focused on segregated communities, paramilitary violence and, more recently, the dynamics underpinning a largely successful peace and political process. However, a significant amount of this literature has been dominated by the views, experiences and contributions of the Nationalist/Republican community and their political representatives. Therefore, Lee Smithey's account offers valuable insight into the previously under-exposed Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities, supplying a fresh perspective on an otherwise saturated field of literature.

From the outset, Smithey provides an excellent background to the nature of the conflict and subsequent segregation, polarisation, division and isolation that surrounds the two dominant communities in Northern Ireland. The book then grounds these contemporary issues within a number of theoretical approaches and perspectives on peace-building, identity and conflict transformation.

An interesting aspect of his work is the attempt to provide an understanding of what is meant by the terms Unionist and Loyalist. Historically, this discussion has largely been absent from the literature on Northern Ireland, so Smithey's exploration of this area through themes of religion and politics provides an insight into the complexities that surround the application and meaning of these concepts. However, the main thrust of the book is the analysis of Unionist and Loyalist symbols and events in the form of murals, parades and bonfires. Although as a subject this has been well analysed and documented by other researchers and academics, Smithey manages to engineer a new discussion through a lens of transformation and change. He takes these deep-rooted expressions of identity, culture and tradition and explores the macro- and micro-led processes that are attempting to transform them within a society undergoing monumental political and social change. …