Identity, authority and myth-making: Politically-motivated prisoners and the use of music during the Northern Irish conflict, 1962 - 2000
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In this study I examine the use of music by and in relation to politically-motivated prisoners in Northern Ireland, from the mid-1960s until 2000. For both republican and loyalist prisoners music was a key component in identity-construction, bonding and coping with the pains of imprisonment and demands of paramilitary life. The prison reflected the wider conflict, and the cultural struggle outside was affected by the prison context. Music boosted morale and facilitated emotional release. It provided an ideological connection between prisoners and the outside world, and had a practical function through fundraising and the gathering of other resources. Music was a means of contesting the authority of prison staff and rejecting the claims of the wider state. It played symbolic and functional roles in prisoners’ campaigns for legitimacy, power and control within the prison. Music also projected a carefully constructed image of the prisoners beyond the prison, seeking to generate communal support, which reinforced prisoners’ own self-image and narrative. Fundamental themes such as bonding, defiance, self-expression and passing the time are traced and examined throughout three decades of paramilitary imprisonment. However, prisoners’ musical production was not static. Shaped by paramilitary affiliation, it also responded to the different penal phases of the conflict. These included internment, Special Category Status, prison protests and their aftermath, which affected the form and content of prisoners’ musical production. Prisoner-related groups on the outside were similarly affected in their use of music. The genres used by prisoners were dynamic and evolving, fusing the mainstream and the political to create a fluid, hybrid musical context which intertwined paramilitary culture with entertainment and social life. Music linked, maintained and bolstered varied and overlapping communities and identities: within the prison-based paramilitary world and in the communities outside, which the prisoners claimed to represent and upon whose support they depended.
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