(You can follow Brian Rowan on Twitter by clicking here)
An old saying comes to mind – that we’re all different.
We all have our own ways of doing and not doing things – including our different ways of remembering and trying not to forget.
One of my sisters died a few years ago after a long illness.
She was 49 and, every now and then, I sit at her graveside or remember her in a quiet prayer in some quiet corner of any church.
Sometimes I light a candle, and, every day, I say her name – not out loud but quietly.
Moya is not one of our conflict dead, but someone who as a youngster of the 70s growing up in the wrong place at the wrong time, knew the fear of what we call the ‘Troubles’.
I don’t have to march to let her know I remember, and I don’t have to tell anyone.
Remembering doesn’t have to be paraded, and doing it quietly and privately doesn’t diminish it in any way.
A few days ago my colleague Eamonn Mallie – the editor of this website – wrote these words on twitter: “Considering arguments put by unionists about IRA victims in Castlederg in context of planned SF march, republicans ought to be big.”
He meant they ought not to go where their commemoration would cause offence and where there are people who have been hurt by the IRA’s actions – people who have lost loved ones.
Mallie is right.
Such gestures aren’t easy, but they are necessary.
Yes, there are those within the republican community who would use any walking away to scream another betrayal of the ‘war’ and its dead, and no doubt there would be those within unionism who would want to point score.
Peace building – making peace – isn’t easy. It’s about doing the hard things.
Yes, republicans could point to other parades by the other community that cause deep offence; but if a way is to be found out of the marching maze, then someone or some side will have to take a big step.
Remembering, remembrance, commemoration can be done quietly and without the parade.
No one has to march through controversy and protest and hurt to prove they haven’t forgotten.
So, there is that challenge that Mallie calls being big, and that challenge doesn’t begin and end within one of our communities.
This place is being lost in another blizzard of marching controversies and claims of cultural war, and in the eye of that storm much damage is being done.
So, the Orange Order also needs to be big, the marching bands need to be big and republicans need to be big.
This needs to be sorted out by the Orange and the Green and sorted out for the right reasons; sorted with political and community leadership and international help.
Not to be winners and losers, not for victories in the peace that were unachievable in the war and not in some pathetic game of point scoring.
Walking away for the right reasons is not surrender or climb down or cave in or capitulation.
It can be brave. It can show leadership and example. It can be a good thing and it can open up all sorts of possibilities.
Indeed, it could be the moment that begins to take all the hurt and poison out of parading; something that begins to show the way out of that marching maze.
Is it too much to contemplate quiet remembering without the parade?
It’s time to be big.
(You can follow Brian Rowan on Twitter by clicking here)
NI is toxic dysfunctional and in denial- truth justice Accountability that means facing the killers challenge the godfathers and putting all victim’s before greed power egos.
On 25th May 1971 Michael Willetts, a SNCO with 3 PARA was in Springfield Road RUC Station when a PIRA Volunteer walked in and left a short fuse bomb. In a matter of seconds, Willetts evacuated the room, holding open a doorway before shielding that doorway with his body to protect those beyond. The bomb detonated and while 2 soldiers & 18 local civilians where injured, the reality is they would have died but for Willitts quick thinking & self sacrifice.
On 25th May 2013, someone placed a small poppy cross at the site of the former Springfield Road Barracks: Silently and anonymously without fanfare. A poignant and quiet act of remembrance to one of the many ‘soldiers’ killed in our recent conflict. Wee hoods went to desecrate the memorial and where stopped by someone I know to be a former senior Commander within PIRA, who ensured the memorial was not disturbed for the day, before, respectfully removing it.
The latter small gesture, by a former enemy, spoke volumes to me about common sense, respect and leading by example, today, as we pave the way to our future.
Glenn – this is what I mean.
Thanks for sharing that Glenn. A very moving story and symbolic moment.
Quite a moving contribution Glenn – thank you. Its important that such stories are told and retold in 2013 particularly if we are to ensure that conditions that gave rise to our conflict are never agin repeated.
Two points if I may: the first is that the actions of that soldier were brave and heroic. The ultimate act of self sacrifice as you say. This was clearly reflected in the gesture from the Senior Republican that you described.
Notwithstanding the contested frameworks of our conflict it seems to be a fair description that one soldier recognised the bravery of another. That they were probably protagonists or didn’t know one another does not diminish the act of respect. This type of bold gesture and symbolic act of acknowledgement is beyond words. It reaffirms a common humanity that is lost in war.
The second point follows on from the last and it draws on a contribution for Gerry Adams nearly 15 years ago – that has always stuck with me – when he reflects on the human dimension of conflict stating: “I recognise that the death of a British soldier or an RUC member causes great trauma and grief for their families and friends. No matter about their role in the conflict the loss at a personal level is massive and regrettable.”
For me the Adams statement has set the bar for what a starting point that defines respect and acknowledgement may look like. That there was a conflict and people took sides does not excuse the awfulness of our conflict and the huge loss to life and serious injury. What I mean is that while people may have a different view of the nature, causes and consequences of our conflict at a minimum is it possible to agree that all families grieve equally?
In March 2013 Declan Kearney reiterated his desire that: “Reconciliation is the only way to replace divisions with new human and political relationships among our people.” It is clear we need a new approach to remembering and addressing the legacy of the past – there is now a political if not a moral imperative that this society addresses and learns from the mistakes of the past.
This situation of how people remember and commemorate has the potential to reopen unhealed wounds for future generations.
The example you share demonstrates that there is an appreciation of the human dimension to conflict. People were not all bad even though they may have done terrible things on all sides – these issues are too serious for politicking.
So there is a challenge before us all which is how to remember all conflict deceased in a manner that is sensitive to the issues of others who have been hurt.
So back to your moving contribution and I leave you with a parting question: Do you think it is possible to upscale the type of respectful act of remembrance that you describe? Could you see or do you know of other reciprocal acts? Or at best can we tease out the values and principles that informed that small gesture of remembering from the most unexpected quarter outside Springfield Road Barracks in the hope that new knowledge and thinking can be brought to this process?
John – we learn something new every day, and Glenn shared a story of respect with us here. It is an example of what is possible.
You write: “This situation of how people remember and commemorate has the potential to reopen unhealed wounds for future generations.”
That’s true, but there is also the possibility of doing things differently – in new and better ways.
That challenge is not asking the impossible. It just asks us all to try – to stand in the shoes of others and think.
Thank you for your comments.
The most obvious reciprocal act was when HM Queen Elizabeth led by example in how Unionists should behave when she completed that historic act of reconciliation by paying respect to Irish Republican dead in Dublins Garden of Remembrance, as well as Islandbridge and Croke Park, during 2011.
Some here may state that the wounds are still fresh in this North Eastern part of the Island but 1969 was 44 years ago;1994 was 19 years ago; the Belfast Agreement was 15 years ago; Operation Banner officially concluded in 2007 which is 6 years ago and PIRA were officially confirmed disbanded in 2008 which is 5 years ago. How many years must pass before people make move to break down barriers, nurture trust & build interdependent communities?
I am not suggesting people forget. As a Woodvale lad I hail from an area that lost 421 members of the community (237 innocent civilians and 184 who where members of the Army / Police / UDR / Loyalist Paramilitaries). You can’t grow up in such an environment and simply forget, however, let us all refuse, to let that or similar suffering fester to hatred or implode on the opportunity of a positive future.
One way way to upscale matters is to talk: officially or unofficially; above the radar or below the radar. The more people seriously engage or present to former enemies the more understanding is assisted. That understanding eradicates the veils of ignorance, myth and false propaganda. It brings together lost neighbors and out of recognizing that loss comes an inner acknowledgement, call it a quiet education, that changes perception to our actual reality.
Talking isn’t doing and so this nurturing needs to grow with positive action. Leading by example in thought, word and deed: showing that despite past & present cultural differences or political ideologies, it is possible to work together for a positive future.
It is in that co-operative collaboration of hard work where real dynamics will spring forth. It is happening. Influence & friendships are being forged that will achieve parity of esteem.
However none of us can be complacent because there are minorities here who fear change, and are so out of touch with the pace of modern Britain & Ireland (let alone this process) that they continue to marginalize themselves through violent acts; unfounded flawed perceptions & sectarian beliefs. Their lack of coherent politic should not, ever, be allowed to set the pace.
Gestures, large and small, continue…..
magnanimity, always magnanimity
The facts are, Castlederg is a Nationalist majority town. Loyalists/unionists have paraded around its commercial town centre at their pleasure on no less than 17 times this year alone without objections, they will parade it twice more the day before the Republican volunteers day commemoration and will host Black Saturday at the end of August with more parades to follow in September. These parades included a commemorative UDR parade, there is a rememberance Sunday parade in the town centre which pays tribute to all the armed forces of the British army, all unopposed by Nationalists.
One would have to go back to 1994 to find a time when Republicans held a parade in Castlederg…by the way, that parade was also not allowed to access the Commercial town centre either.
Is it Republicans or Unionists that need to ‘be big’ in relation to parading in Castlederg Brian?
There are alternative commemorative events and memorial processes occurring that do not receive a spotlight. They can be events and processes which contribute to individual healing and collective understanding of conflict related loss and ongoing pain and needs. Often these go unrecognised and certainly without being highlighted or promoted.
This leaves the only commemorations that are seen in the public eye being the contentious ones, which ratchets up tension and undermines broader confidence.
For those who have experienced conflict related loss and injury peace is particularly valued as those who experienced the very worst of our conflict. However this is in no way to underestimate the need for acknowledgement or for a process to substantively deal with the past.
However as Eames Bradley said in their report
The past should be dealt with in a manner which enables society to become more defined by its desire for true and lasting reconciliation, rather than by division and mistrust, seeking to promote a shared and reconciled future for all
Dealing with the past and acknowledging harms, loss and pain must all contribute to a peaceful future where we vow to never repeat our mistakes.
Commemoration has a critical role in that. How we commemorate and respect each other – and how we value those who do so with respect and generosity is undoubtedly the challenge.
For an example of just one project of this type please come to the Kennedy Centre this week to see the Remembering Quilt. Made by those who lost loved ones to all actors to the conflict, it promotes a process of memory, understanding and equality. It is challenging on many levels and contributes fully on that basis.
The ugly scenes that we have seen on our streets not just in the last year but also in recent days prove clearly that deep issues remain unresolved and raw within our divided society. The tensions and feelings associated with legacy, memory, place, identity and belonging remain as problematic as ever. What we have seen in in recent weeks is a sinister undercurrent of antagonism, menace and misplaced zealous pride as well as blatant narrow-mindedness – it is worrying.
A key question is how do both loyalists and republicans commemorate and honour their respective members who died during the Troubles. Respective groups, communities and organisations are entitled to remember and indeed protest but the scenes in Belfast on Friday evening demonstrate that loyalists appear determined on creating disorder and mayhem.
Parades should be peaceful, respectful and dignified, as should any form of counter protest. The issue that we have as a society is how do contentious and sensitive displays take place without causing offence. How do anniversary’s of individuals, or perceived contentious events be marked without causing offence? Can we remember the past and pay tribute to events and people ethically?
Commemoration is a form of history making yet it can also be
a contested form of remembrance in which cultural memories slide through and into
each other, merging and disengaging in a tangle of competing and adversarial local
Memorials, acts of remembering and the manner in which it is done here in the North remains divisive, problematic and very much at odds with certain sections of society. Those who organise marches, rallies, protests and potentially disruptive events should consider how they are accepted and perceived by others.
Events, which may exacerbate tensions and worsen divisions, should be carefully considered and planned. There is absolutely nothing wrong with respective and different events being carried out as a display of respect and as an act of remembering or even as a form of awareness raising for justice or peace. The event that took place in Castlederg at the weekend, for example,thankfully passed off peacefully and was respectful but there were those that felt uneasy and distressed. So how then do our politicians deal with this hurt?
We need to get to a place where commemorations, gestures of remembrance and the act of honouring those loved ones are recognised, observed and genuinely respected. Whether it is a musical tribute to the murdered British soldier Lee Rigby by the Orange Order, residents remembering state injustices, communities and families honouring hunger strikers, widows paying tribute to prison officers and events organised around historical atrocities of the past – it is how they are done that is paramount. People have to find a way to remember – they also have to find a way to do it, as we continue to
Everyone who has experienced pain and personal loss is entitled to honour, remember and pay tribute to their dead – it is the ‘how’ of doing this, which is extremely challenging and there is much more work to be done in this area if we are to move forward as a society.
During the Great War over 37 million people died of which 31000 came from Ireland.
During the War for Irish Independence over 5000 people died ( I include the ’16 rising casualties in this figure).
During World War 2 over 60 million people died of which 23000 came from Ireland (both jurisdictions).
During subsequent NATO / British or Irish Army deployments some 33000 died of which 2100 came from Ireland (both jurisdictions).
During our most recent period of troubles here just over 3500 died (both jurisdictions, Britain & abroad)
The dead know only one thing: they’d rather be living.
In death, there is no religion; no political ideal; no nationality; no ego; no army & no culture.
‘Remembrance’ is very much a matter for the living so lets be honest: given the casualty figures of the last century (our living memory) we could all (if we decided) march and commemorate daily but what, honestly, would it achieve?
For those that insist on public acts of remembrance, why not quietly resolve that all of a ‘British’ aspiration, here, utilize the existing annual Allied Forces and British National Day of Remembrance Commemoration completed on the second Sunday of November that is closest to 11th November, the anniversary date of hostilities ending the Great War 1918?
For those of an ‘Irish National’ aspiration why not quietly resolve that those, here, utilize the existing National Day of Commemoration (Lá Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta) which is completed on the Sunday nearest the 11th July that is the anniversary date of hostilities ending the Irish War of Independence in 1921.
Until communities here in this north eastern region are reconciled to interact as easily as our neighbors in other jurisdictions on these Islands perhaps remembering, with dignity and respect, 1 day a year is the logical answer?
The Castlederg parade was by any standards lacking in sensitivity. How Sinn Fein believed that the parading of the tricolour and paramilitary emblems, and speeches by failed terrorists praising failed terrorists would be acceptable as laudable, beggars belief. This event must have been noted by observers world-wide, especially in countries which have suffered the consequences of no-warning bombs. The organisers of parades which are intended to rub salt into barely healed wounds are both callous and calloused, and need help. They are being deliberately provocative. Contrast that with the dignified response of the victims’ relatives, which is where the hope lies for the future.