Decolonizing Irish Public Heritage

Dr Donal Hassett (School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures has has received funding from the IRC’s New Foundation 2019 call for the project Decolonizing Irish Public Heritage.

The last decade has seen the escalation of the so-called ‘memory wars’ over the representation of colonial and imperial pasts across the Global North. These debates were driven by coalitions of activists and academics who identified public heritage sites as crucial spaces for the reproduction and perpetuation of hegemonic (neo-)colonial discourses. In their efforts to challenge the exclusionary narratives of past and present promoted by certain forms of public heritage, the supporters of decolonization have developed both theory and praxis that have the potential to radically change the way we think about heritage in Ireland.

Ireland’s status as a former colony has meant that it has rarely featured in discussions of the inherent coloniality of public heritage in the Global North. And yet, the museum collections, the stately homes, and the civic buildings the new state inherited from its former colonial rulers were, in part, the products of the exploitation not just of Ireland but also of colonies throughout the British and other Empires. The uneven efforts of local and national authorities in post-independence Ireland to remove the most blatant symbols of the former colonial masters resulted in a very limited decolonization of the Irish public space. It also largely ignored the ways in which the participation of thousands of Irishmen and women in the administration, spoliation, and oppression of other colonial territories has always shaped public heritage in Ireland. This project, by bringing researchers, activists and heritage professionals together to reconsider Irish public heritage, past and present, through the lens of contemporary debates about cultural decolonization, can help forge a cultural policy that better reflects the new multicultural Ireland.

College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences

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