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The contours of memory in post-conflict societies: Enacting public remembrance of the bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland

Johnson, Nuala C
June 4, 2015

Source: (2011) Cultural geographies 19(2) 237-258

Drawing on the theoretical insights of Paul Ricoeur this paper investigates the geographies of public
remembrance in a post-conflict society. In Northern Ireland, where political divisions have found
expression through acts of extreme violence over the past 30 years, questions of memory and
an amnesty for forgetting have particular resonance both at the individual and societal level, and
render Ricoeur’s framework particularly prescient. Since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in
1998, initiating the Peace Process through consociational structures, discovering a nomenclature
and set of practices which would aid in the rapprochement of a deeply divided society has
presented a complex array of issues. In this paper I examine the various practices of public
remembrance of the 1998 bombing of Omagh as a means of understanding how memory-spaces
evolve in a post-conflict context. In Omagh there were a variety of commemorative practices
instituted and each, in turn, adopted a different contour towards achieving reconciliation with
the violence and grief of the bombing. In particular the Garden of Light project is analysed as a
collective monument which, with light as its metaphysical centre, invited the populace to reflect
backward on the pain of the bombing while at the same time enabling the society to look forward
toward a peaceful future where a politics of hope might eclipse a politics of despair.


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