Dominic Bryan




Dominic Bryan is the Director of Institute of Irish Studies and Reader in Social Anthropology.

Dr Bryan has developed a research agenda exploring rituals, symbols and memory as they influence identity and social space in Ireland. Much of his early research focused upon Orange parades in Northern Ireland (see Orange Parades: Ritual tradition and Control, Pluto Press 2000) but the research now covers a much broader range of rituals and activities including St Patrick’s Day, The Lord Mayor’s Show and Carnival in Belfast. In addition, Dr Bryan has a major four year project looking at the popular flying of flags in Northern Ireland.

In November 2001, Dr Bryan and Dr Gill McIntosh were awarded substantial funding under the ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Research Programme to explore attempts to represent or imagine the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland through rituals and symbols. The research focused on official endeavors by public bodies to intervene in symbolic conflict through policy and practice as well as examining historical changes, discourses, formal and informal policies and practice over the use of symbols and rituals. It particularly examined the ways in which issues of representation have been dealt with since the signing of the Belfast Agreement and the start of devolved government. Included as cases studies in the research were royal visits, the flying of flags and the support of popular public events.

In 2005 Dr Bryan, Prof Sean Connolly and Dr Gill McIntosh won a further major ESRC grant to study of the formation and public expression of identity in Belfast, combining a long term historical study with an anthropological investigation of recent developments. The historical study constructed a comprehensive festive calendar for the city across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, then proceed to more detailed research into specific events and practices, and into particular points of discontinuity. The anthropological research, conducted with Dr. John Nagle (University of Ulster), identified changes and continuities in the contemporary festive calendar, exploring policy towards the use of public space in the city and the implications for future policy in the changing nature of such space.

Since 2005, Dr Bryan with Dr Clifford Stevenson (University of Limerick) and Dr Gordon Gillespie (Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University), have been examining the use of flags and emblems in public spaces in Northern Ireland (funded by the First and Deputy First Ministers Office in Northern Ireland). This research includes surveys of public space in Northern Ireland examining when flags and other emblems are being displayed and when they are being taken down. In addition, attitude surveys (conducted by the Northern Ireland Life and Times) and ethnographic case studies add richness to understandings of these public practices.

From 2008, a further ESRC/IRCHSS funded project in partnership with Prof. Steve Reicher (St. Andrews University) and Prof. Orla Muldoon and Dr. Clifford Stevenson (University of Limerick) will examine St Patrick’s Day and the commemoration of the Easter Rising in Belfast and Dublin. Our research aims to examine these events to see how they work to represent the Irish national community and to transform this shared understandings. Firstly we will examine how those organising each of the event use the symbols and images from the events to broadcast their own 'brand' of Irishness through the media. Then we will talk to people attending the events, as well as those who do not, to see how actually being present at these public occasions affects the way people think about their own Irishness.

In all this research Dr Bryan examines the policy implications of the way public space is utilised and how it influences people identity. As such, the outcomes of the research have implications for conflict resolution and understanding why violent conflict has been such a part of Northern Ireland’s recent history and why violence has diminished.

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Sep 14th 2015

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