On November 2, 2021, CERS hosted an online lecture by Matthew McCoy. In his talk, McCoy addressed cultural pessimism within the Loyalist community in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The event was sponsored by CERS and UCLA Department of Anthropology.
During the heights of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and a "Northern Ireland Protocol" that mandated a de facto customs border on the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The ensuing April 2021 riots in Loyalist areas of Belfast made international headlines. Dubbed the “betrayal act” by Loyalists who understand themselves as defenders of British culture and Northern Ireland’s place within the Union, the Northern Ireland Protocol was the latest sign of their marginalization and anticipated disappearance of their way of life. Major media outlets were eager to create a narrative link between past and present troubles, recalling the old familiar rhythms of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Based on six years of ethnographic fieldwork in the working-class, post-industrial social housing estates of east Belfast, this presentation argues that pessimism has become a cultural resource for Loyalists to make sense of the political "betrayal" begun with the signing of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in the wake of “the Troubles” conflict (1969-1998). The peace agreement and the latest Brexit economic negotiations, Loyalists argue, have pushed aside their interests to promote the Irish Republican “Trojan Horse” of a United Ireland. This presentation focuses on the lives of those residing in a small Loyalist district as they prepare for a commemoration for the Centenary of the WWI Battle of the Somme coinciding with the initial 2016 Brexit referendum. As they memorialize lives lost to British wars, the Troubles, and post-conflict trauma, my Loyalist participants describe their resignation at losing their way of life as they cope with a suicide epidemic, mental health crises, and rampant drug economies usurping the traditional Loyalist paramilitary and working-class structures in their community.
Matthew McCoy, PhD, is a medical and psychological anthropologist at Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation, and Policy (CSHIIP) at the VA Greater Los Angeles. He is also an implementation scientist at the UCLA Center for Health Services and Society where he researches gravely disabled homelessness and outpatient conservatorship in Los Angeles County. Combining existential and psychoanalytic approaches, his current book project, All Will Have Been for Nothing: The Consolation of Pessimism and the Ethics of Futility in Belfast is based on ethnographic research conducted with current and former paramilitary members, ex-combatants, conflict victims, and residents of Irish Republican and Loyalist social housing estates in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Dr. McCoy’s also researches experiences of trauma, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, substance use, suicide, and homelessness among US Military Veterans. At the VA, Dr. McCoy conducts a range of qualitative projects, including applying ethnographic approaches to the quality improvement of new initiatives for Veterans experiencing homelessness. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. McCoy has been researching a novel “safe-camping” site for Veterans experiencing homelessness built on the grounds of the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. He was recently awarded a major grant from the VA National Center of Homelessness Among Veterans as the Principal Investigator to continue this research.
Watch on YouTube
The lecture is also available for viewing on our YouTube channel.
Listen to Audio and Load Transcript
Please upgrade to a browser that supports HTML5 audio or install Flash.
Transcript * This might take a few seconds to load.