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Classes run by sister-in-law of late PUP leader David Ervine at new language centre
9 Jan 2014
Development officer Linda Ervine and PUP founder member Sam Evans (left) with teacher Maitiú Ó hEachaidh at the new Irish language centre ‘Turas’ on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, which opened last night to cope with an increasing number of learners. (Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)
An Irish language centre has opened its doors, offering a sincere fáilte romhaibh to the people in loyalist east Belfast. It is on the Newtownards Road. That is Bóthar Nua na hArda.
In response to keen local demand, the Turas (journey) project offers conversation-style language classes to young and old, says development officer Linda Ervine, sister-in-law of the late David Ervine.
A former UVF prisoner, he was a significant voice at the peace talks which led to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP).
“People ring me on a weekly, even daily basis,” said Ms Ervine. “All we are doing is opening the door.”
A former English teacher at the local Ashfield school for girls, Ms Ervine developed her love of the language which grew alongside her interest in what she calls the “hidden history” of her part of Belfast.
“I tell people Irish is all around us – it’s in our placenames, it’s everywhere,” she said. “There’s gaGaelic language here, in Scotland, in Wales and in Cornwall. It’s not just an Irish thing, it’s British as well.”
Three years ago, an Irish class began on the strongly loyalist Newtownards Road where the fada and fáinne are rarely seen. About 20 people turned up, and now there are eight classes at various levels. Provision has expanded into one of the local schools.
Housed in the Skainos centre, a community facility linked to the East Belfast Mission church, Turas offers classroom facilities, offices and a social space.
A large indoor mural depicts the twin cranes of Harland and Wolff casting their shadows over a map of the working class streets below. “The mural was painted by David’s son Mark, my nephew. There is no peace line on the map, no politics. There is no agenda.”
That’s a reference to the inclusion of the republican enclave of Short Strand and the main electoral base of local Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donghaille, who attended the opening ceremony along with party colleague, bilingual Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
The opening honours went to Sam Evans, a founder member of the PUP, in the presence of unionists of all varieties and the Alliance Party.
Some 120 learners have signed up for the free courses which are supported by Foras na Gaeilge and the Stormont Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
1 October 2013
Liam Adams, Gerry Adams’ paedophile brother and former Sinn Fein community and child worker
Liam Adams – the younger brother of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams – has been found guilty of a string of child sex abuse charges.
Liam Dominic Adams, 58, from Bernagh Drive in west Belfast, was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting his daughter, Aine, over a six-year period between 1977 and 1983 when she was aged between four and nine.
Bespectacled Adams, who was wearing a grey suit, cream shirt and blue tie, showed no emotion as the guilty verdicts were returned.
Remanding him in custody Judge Corinne Philpott said: “Take him down.”
The jury of nine men and three women had heard more than two weeks of evidence at Belfast Crown Court.
They began deliberating at 11.05am this morning and took almost four hours to reach guilty verdicts with a majority of 11 to one.
Aine Adams has waived her right to anonymity.
There was complete silence as the jury foreman read out guilty verdicts on all of the 10 charges to the packed court.
Adams, who walks with the aid of a stick and used a court hearing aid to follow proceedings, stood between two prison officers in the dock with his hands clasped tightly.
Aine Adams, who was surrounded by family members, wept and clutched her younger sister Sinead for support.
On the other side of the public gallery, Adams’s second wife Bronagh and their daughter Claire, who gave evidence in his defence, also cried.
Adams nodded to them as he was led to the cells.
During the trial Aine Adams gave graphic details of the abuse, which started when she was aged four.
The first time she recalled being raped was while her mother was in hospital giving birth to her younger brother Conor in 1977.
In another incident she was raped by her father at a flat on Belfast’s Antrim Road while her brother was asleep in the bed beside her.
Adams, who was a heavy drinker, also forced his daughter to perform sex acts.
In a statement read out by a police officer outside the court, Ms Adams said she could finally begin to move on after a long and hard road to achieve justice.
“I do not see this verdict as a victory or a celebration as it has taken its toll and has caused hurt, heartache and anguish for all those involved.
“I can now begin my life at 40 and lay to rest the memory of the five-year-old girl who was abused,” she said.
The allegations were first made public when Ms Adams took part in a television documentary in 2009.
A short time later, Gerry Adams revealed his father Gerry Snr, a veteran IRA man, had physically and sexually abused members of his family.
Within days of the sex abuse scandal hitting the headlines, Liam Adams fled to the Republic claiming he could not receive a fair trial in Northern Ireland. He handed himself in to police in Co Sligo but could not be detained because the Garda officers did not have the correct documentation.
He was eventually handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) at the border in November 2011 after losing a lengthy and expensive extradition battle.
The trial opened in April this year but collapsed due to legal reasons and the jury was discharged.
At that time, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was called as a prosecution witness. He told the court he confronted his brother about the allegations during a meeting in Buncrana, Co Donegal, in 1987 and Liam Adams had denied the abuse.
He then revealed his brother later confessed while they were out walking together in the rain in Dundalk, Co Louth, in 2000.
Gerry Adams was not called as a prosecution witness for the latest trial, which re-opened before a new jury panel last month.
In her statement given outside Laganside court complex, Ms Adams thanked the media for helping her to tell her story.
She said: “I would like to give all my family a special thanks. Without their love, support and understanding I would not be here today.”
She also expressed gratitude to the PSNI’s public protection unit and the Public Prosecution Service.
“I would now ask for some privacy for my family to reflect on recent trying times,” she said.
Adams is due to be sentenced next month.
Vile paedophile behind caring mask
For almost four decades he led a double life.
Liam Adams – a younger brother of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams – portrayed himself as a caring father, concerned community worker and ardent republican.
But the 58-year-old, who desperately tried to evade justice by going on the run, has now finally been unmasked as a vile predatory paedophile who exploited every opportunity to sneak into his four-year-old daughter’s bedroom and rape her.
Born into a staunchly republican family revered in their west Belfast community as aristocrats of the movement, Liam Adams was one of 10 children.
His father, Gerry snr, had been an IRA stalwart from the 1930s and also subjected members of his family to a torrent of physical, mental and sexual abuse over many years.
He met Sarah (also known as Sally) Corrigan when they were both 16. A short time later, she fell pregnant with their daughter Aine and the couple wed – not out of love but, because they had to.
It was an unhappy union frequently filled with rows and violence. Sometimes the domestic abuse became so bad Sarah had to flee the family home, leaving evil Adams alone to molest their vulnerable young daughter.
The couple shared three different houses across west Belfast – at Westrock Drive; Dunglow Gardens in the Lenadoon estate and New Barnsley area of Ballymurphy but, it was an on-off relationship and they were often apart.
It was the height of the Troubles and Liam Adams, who according to friends was on the fringes of the IRA, would be absent for days at a time. Indeed he was in prison around the time Aine was born.
By the end of 1981 and after four children – Aine, Liam, Conor and Sinead – Liam Adams split from his wife permanently. He was kicked out of the house and moved into a bedsit flat on the Antrim Road in north Belfast.
He took little interest in his children save for a few access visits during which he sexually abused Aine including on one occasion while her younger brother Liam slept in the bed beside them.
Adams was also a heavy drinker. Aine recalled she would always smell alcohol on her father’s breath when he forced himself on her.
He found it difficult to put down roots and his transient lifestyle led him to America, Canada, Donegal, Dublin and Dundalk.
During the early 1980s he struck up a new relationship with his second wife Bronagh – with whom he has two daughters – and who stood by him as harrowing details of child rape were revealed during his two-and-a-half week trial at Belfast Crown Court.
He spent up to four months at Lazarus House, a hostel in New York run by Fr Pat Moloney – a radical priest who is open about his support for the IRA.
Speaking from New York Fr Moloney said: “To me he wasn’t hiding anything. He didn’t conceal who he was. He had Bronagh with him and they were a lovely couple.
“But, he was not in the best of health. I don’t know whether he left Ireland because he was an embarrassment to the ambitions of anybody else in the family but, it did seem that they did want him to take a vacation for what reasons, I never knew.”
While in New York, Adams, who did not work, played on his famous family name and enjoyed minor celebrity status. He would be given free drinks in bars in Brooklyn and be invited to speak at republican fundraising events across the State.
And, when he returned to Ireland he continued to lie to friends and family.
Indeed, such was the level of his deception that he was trusted to work with children for almost 20 years after his daughter first went to police in 1987.
First, he was appointed youth worker at Clonard Monastery in the heart of his brother’s West Belfast constituency, where the former MP attended Mass and was good friends with many of the priests – including Fr Alex Reid, who was a mediator between the IRA and British government during the fledgling peace process.
One former community worker, who met Liam Adams during his time at Clonard, said: “He was pleasant enough. He had a lot of ideas about what to do with the young people. People were impressed by him, I suppose.
“When the allegations emerged it shook the community and the fact that a lot of people had known about it but did nothing was also shocking. People are asking questions that if people knew about it, why did they do nothing.”
Adams stayed at Clonard for about five years but in 2003 moved to Muirhevnamor Community Youth Project in Dundalk – the border town his brother now represents in the Irish parliament – where he worked with young people in their mid-teens.
A year later he returned north having secured a job the Beechmount Community Project, again in the heart of his brother’s former power-base. Adams moved his new family to Andersonstown.
When Aine went public with the allegations in a television documentary aired in 2009, the sex abuse scandal hit the headlines. Adams immediately fled to the Republic and ignored repeated appeals, including from his older brother, to take responsibility for his sickening crimes and hand himself in.
His cowardly attempts to avoid prosecution were only thwarted after a lengthy and expensive extradition battle in Dublin’s Four Courts. Adams was eventually handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland at the border in November 2011.
Securing the conviction was a long and complex journey. The protracted legal process was dogged by delays and difficulties which collapsed his first trial in April this year and loomed over the second case like a guillotine ready to drop.
Exposing Adams’ sordid secrets has also had implications far beyond his family circle.
The revelations sent shock waves throughout the republican movement and sparked widespread anger among the Sinn Fein party faithful, particularly in west Belfast and Dundalk.
Gerry Adams faced tough questions about why he did not tell police about his paedophile brother and explain how he was able to work with children for so long.
When he appeared as a prosecution witness during the first trial in April, the Sinn Fein leader shifted uncomfortably in his seat when asked if had tried to “save his own political skin” by not revealing the truth until nine years after he learned his brother was a paedophile.
Gerry Adams told the court he warned a priest, who is now dead, about his brother’s sinister past and the pair became estranged after the allegations emerged.
He also said he moved to expel Liam Adams from Sinn Fein in 1997 after becoming aware he was a potential election candidate in Co Louth.
However, Liam Adams continued to mix with the republican movement and in 2000 involved himself in local party work in Belfast.
Pictures of the Adams brothers smiling together at Liam’s second wedding in 1987 and during an election canvass in Dundalk 10 years later, which were shown during the April case, contradicted claims the pair were not in touch.
Gerry Adams said the 1997 photograph was taken around the same time he found out that his father was an abuser and should be seen in the context of attempting to deal with that revelation as well as trying to make his brother face his responsibilities.
Timeline: Events leading to Liam Adams’ conviction
1977 – Aine Adams, aged four, is indecently assaulted by her father Liam Adams at her home in Westrock Drive, west Belfast.
May 1978 – Aine Adams recalls being raped for the first time while her mother is in hospital giving birth to her younger brother, Conor.
December 1981 – Liam Adams splits from first wife Sarah.
June 1983 – Gerry Adams elected as West Belfast MP and becomes president of Sinn Fein.
December 1985 – Aine Adams discovers Liam Adams has another young daughter with whom he is living in Donegal.
December 1986 – Aine Adams, aged 13, reveals in a letter to her mother that she was repeatedly raped by her father Liam Adams from the age of four.
January 1987 – Aine Adams and her mother report catalogue of child sex abuse to detectives at Grosvenor Road RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) station.
February 1987 – Aine Adams and her mother retract statements about abuse over attempts to exploit them for intelligence gathering. A detective tells Aine Adams the file will be retained on record.
March 1987 – Gerry Adams confronts his brother Liam at a house in Buncrana, Co Donegal, and threatens to hit him with a hammer. Gerry Adams is driven to Donegal by his cousin, Kevin Hannaway. Aine Adams and her mother are also present.
1990 – Sarah Campbell moves her family to Scotland.
1991 – Aine Adams moves to Scotland.
1997 – Gerry Adams is pictured smiling with his brother during an election canvass in Dundalk, Co Louth.
1997 – Liam Adams is expelled from Sinn Fein after his brother Gerry learns of his intention to stand as an election candidate for Co Louth. He continues to carry out work for the party.
December 1999 – While Christmas shopping, Aine Adams tells her younger sister Sinead she was sexually abused as a child.
December 2002 – Liam Adams confesses abuse against Aine when confronted by Sinead, during a meeting in Twinbrook.
January 2006 – Aine Adams returns to Belfast and goes to PSNI to have case re-opened against her father.
November 2007 – Liam Adams is arrested by the PSNI and questioned about child sex abuse allegations. He denies all allegations.
March 2008 – Aine Adams makes complaint to the Police Ombudsman.
November 2008 – Liam Adams fails to turn up at court in Northern Ireland to face child abuse charges. He fled to the Republic over fears he would not receive a fair trial.
December 2009 – Aine Adams waives her right to anonymity and goes public about the abuse in a television documentary. Gerry Adams urges Liam to hand himself in.
December 2009 – Liam Adams presents himself to Gardai in Sligo but cannot be legally detained because the necessary European arrest warrant has not been issued by the PSNI.
December 2009 – Gerry Adams reveals in a television interview that his father had been abusive.
March 2010 – Liam Adams is arrested at a Dublin police station, under a European arrest warrant which was issued by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
March 2010 – Liam Adams released on bail of 15,000 euros – half of which was put forward by his daughter Claire Smith after a hearing at Dublin High Court.
February 2011 – Gerry Adams wins seat as Co Louth TD.
July 2011 – Liam Adams launches a legal challenge against his extradition from the Irish Republic. His lawyers argue that he will not receive a fair trial in Northern Ireland because of publicity.
October 2011 – Liam Adams loses fight against extradition. Dublin High Court rules that he should be transferred to Northern Ireland to face child abuse charges.
October 2011 – Liam Adams instructs legal representatives to appeal against the extradition order.
October 2011 – Liam Adams loses bid to appeal against extradition at the Supreme Court in Dublin. He is taken to a jail in Dublin to await transfer to Northern Ireland.
November 2011 – Gardai hand Liam Adams over to PSNI officers at the Irish border.
November 2011 – Liam Adams is to stand trial accused of child sex abuse. A district judge grants a prosecution application for the case to progress to the next stage. Adams is remanded in custody.
December 2011 – Liam Adams is refused bail after appearing at Belfast Crown Court accused of child sex abuse. Belfast Recorder Judge Tom Burgess said he was concerned about a potential flight risk if bail was granted. He is later granted bail.
April 2013 – First trial against Liam Adams opens at Belfast Crown Court. Jury of six men and six women is sworn in.
April 22, 2013 – Gerry Adams takes the stand as a prosecution witness and denies claims he did not tell the authorities about his brother sooner because he was trying to save his political skin.
April 25, 2013 – Trial collapses because of legal issues and jury is discharged. Judge Corrine Philpott orders that a new trial be held in the autumn.
September 9, 2013 – New sex abuse trial against Liam Adams is due to open. Prosecution announced that Gerry Adams will not be called to give evidence in the new case. Proceedings are delayed because of further legal argument.
September 16, 2013 – Sex abuse trial for Liam Adams opens at Belfast Crown Court before Judge Corrine Philpott.
September 26, 2013 – Liam Adams takes the stand to defend himself and strongly denies abusing his daughter.
September 27, 2013 – Defence and prosecution legal teams complete their cases.
October 1, 2013 – Jury of nine men and three women take about four hours to return guilty verdicts in all 10 charges with a majority of 11 to one. Liam Adams is remanded in custody.
16 June 2013
More pictures onsite
BELFAST, Northern Ireland — When President Obama comes to Belfast, he’s expected to praise a country at peace and call for walls that separate Irish Catholics and British Protestants to come tumbling down.
Barely a 10-minute walk from where the U.S. leader is speaking Monday, those walls have kept growing in size and number throughout two decades of slow-blooming peace. Residents today on both sides of so-called “peace lines” — barricades of brick, steel and barbed wire that divide neighborhoods, roads and even one Belfast playground — insist the physical divisions must stay to keep violence at bay.
Belfast’s first peace lines took shape in the opening salvos of Northern Ireland’s conflict in 1969, when impoverished parts of the city suffered an explosion of sectarian mayhem and most Catholics living in chiefly Protestant areas were forced to flee. The British Army, deployed as peacekeepers, erected the first makeshift barricades and naively predicted the barriers would be taken down in months.
Instead, the soldiers’ role supporting the mostly Protestant police soon inspired the rise of a ruthless new outlawed group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, committed to forcing Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland.
For all the unlikely triumphs of Northern Ireland diplomacy since the U.S.-brokered 1998 Good Friday peace deal — a Catholic-Protestant government, troop withdrawals, police reform, and disarmament of the IRA and outlawed Protestant groups responsible for most of the 3,700 death toll — tearing down Belfast’s nearly 100 “peace lines” still seems too dangerous a step to take.
“I’d love to see that wall taken down and I could say hi to my neighbors, but it isn’t going to happen. There’d be cold-blooded murder and I’d have to move out,” said Donna Turley, 48, smoking a cigarette at her patio table in the Short Strand, the sole Irish Catholic enclave in otherwise Protestant east Belfast.
Right behind Turley’s backyard refuge towers a 50-foot (15-meter) wall. It starts as brick, transitions into fences of corrugated iron, and is topped by more steel mesh fence. Each layer marks the history of communal riots like the growth rings of a tree. Higher still, two batteries of rotating police surveillance cameras monitor Turley and her Catholic neighbors, as well as the Protestant strangers living, audibly but invisibly, on the far side.
“It’s terrible looking. But I wouldn’t feel safe if it wasn’t there. I couldn’t imagine that wall being torn down. Nobody here can,” said Tammy Currie, 21, who is Turley’s nearest Protestant neighbor, standing in her own small cement patio backed by the wall. Her 3-year-old son jumps on a trampoline that a few months ago had to be cleared of shattered beer bottles thrown from the other side.
Both families rent state-subsidized homes provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is responsible for making their homes as safe as possible from the risk of further rioting. That means both have triple-layered Perspex windows that are foggy-looking and unbreakable, and metal-tiled roofs that can’t be set on fire.
It was a lesson hard learned. The Protestants of Cluan Place and the Catholics of Clandeboye Drive used to be able to look, from upper floors, into each other’s back yards until 2002, when militants on both sides sought to drive each other out with homemade grenades, Molotov cocktails and even acid-filled bottles. An IRA gunman shot five Protestants, none fatally, while standing atop what was then only a brick wall. Most homes in the area were burned, abandoned and rebuilt, and British Army engineers doubled the height of the wall in 2003. Nobody’s been shot there since, even though both sides continue to host illegal paramilitary groups billing themselves as community defenders.
This stretch of wall connects with other security lines that date back to the early days of the modern Northern Ireland conflict in 1970, when IRA men in Short Strand shot to death three Protestants allegedly involved in attacking the district’s lone Catholic church. To make it less of an eyesore, Belfast City Council has funded imaginative art works all along that stretch, but it still leaves Short Strand looking a bit like Fort Apache.
Last month, the Catholic and Protestant leaders of Northern Ireland’s unity government announced a bold but detail-free plan to dismantle all peace lines by 2023. British Prime Minister David Cameron formally backed the goal Friday. Obama is expected to do the same Monday.
The politician working closest to the Cluan-Clandeboye wall, Michael Copeland, says both G-8 leaders are out of touch.
“Removing the walls would be a catastrophic decision,” said Copeland, a former British soldier and a Protestant member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who keeps his office just around the corner from Cluan Place.
“The biggest walls to be addressed are in the minds of the people. And what people in here remember is being shot at, being bombed, having their street burned,” Copeland said while sitting on a Cluan Place bench outside one resident’s home. He knows everyone living in all 23 homes on the Protestant side and, in fact, helped get many of them get their housing assignment.
“The walls will come down when the people who live in the shadow of these walls, and look to those walls for a sense of security, can feel secure without them. Memories will have to fade. It will take another generation at least,” he said.
The two sides mark their cultural divide in ways petty and profound. Each morning, two sets of children depart in different directions, wearing different uniforms, as Catholics head for their own church-run schools, the Protestants for state-run ones. At night, the two sides usually order fast-food deliveries from their own areas, fearful that someone from “the other side” might spit in their food. They use separate taxi companies and favor different newspapers.
Short Strand’s community association has erected house numbers bearing each family’s name in Gaelic, the little-used native tongue of Ireland that is loathed by most Protestants.
Reflecting their anxiety that the faster-growing Catholic community wants to push them out, the Protestants of Cluan Place have painted the gable end of one house with a mural featuring a massive Union Jack and a list of attacks on their street since 2002. “Still loyalist, always British, no surrender,” it says.
The house opposite Currie’s, belonging to an aunt, has a dog strutting about sporting a Union Jack collar, and Ulster loyalist music blaring loudly enough from a stereo to carry to Catholic ears beyond the wall.
Across the divide, 56-year-old Maggie McDowell cocks an ear at the sectarian tune. “Och, him again,” she said, identifying her Protestant neighbor not by a name or face she’s never known, but by his musical taste. Unlike most living on both sides of this wall, she was here for the 2002 rioting — and credits the wall’s extension with ensuring no repeat.
She and her husband, James, keep a collection of the most interesting objects that have crashed into their house or back garden, including one smooth stone used as a doorstop. He points out holes in their home’s brick wall marking strikes from past violence. Golf balls, a favored weapon for both sides, she collects by the bucket to give every so often to her golf-enthusiast brother.
When asked if she’d like the wall to come down, Maggie McDowell said, “It’s a terrible thing to say, but I wish they could make it higher.”
By Patrick Sawer, in London, and Bob Graham, in Dublin
23 Sept 2012
For former IRA bomber Dolours Price, who has accused Gerry Adams of betraying the cause of a united Ireland, republicanism runs in the blood.
Dolours Price pictured at home in Dublin (Photo: PACEMAKER BELFAST)
Today she looks like any other 61-year-old, the type you might pass in the street without noticing, should you be walking through the quiet Dublin suburb where she lives.
But the story which Dolours Price has come forward to tell has the potential to derail the process which has brought peace to Northern Ireland for the past 15 years.
She claims Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein who helped bring about the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement, has not always been a man of peace.
In fact Price, herself a convicted IRA bomber, accuses him not only of having approved the bombing of targets on mainland Britain – including the Old Bailey – but of personally ordering the abduction of several people the IRA considered to be traitors. Adams categorically denies her claims.
It is an extraordinary charge sheet, which has a deep personal motive behind it: she feels that Adams has “betrayed” the Republican cause by being involved in the peace process, and that he has betrayed her and other IRA members by denying he was one of their number.
The Price Sisters, Marion, Left, and Dolores, right outside 10 Downing Street in London (Camera Press/Colman Doyle)
It would be easy, therefore, to say that these are the words of an embittered woman, out for revenge – and indeed, that may be true.
But these are claims which she says are contained in recordings which the Police Service of Northern Ireland has gone to extraordinary lengths to obtain, invoking a legal “mutual aid” agreement with the American government to obtain the testimony she – and other former terrorists – gave to researchers working for Boston College in the United States.
The college made the recordings with an offer that their contents would be kept secret until the death of the 28 former terrorists from the IRA and its Loyalist equivalent, the Ulster Volunteer Force to whom they spoke.
The belief was that the offer would guarantee candour – but it also piqued the interest of the police, when a book based on the recordings of two dead terrorists was published by Ed Moloney, the documentary maker who led the research.
It disclosed that Brendan Hughes, who had been an IRA commander, spoke of the “disappeared”, the group of people killed by the IRA and buried in secret graves. He said that Jean McConville, the most high-profile of the victims, was killed by a squad called the “unknowns” and added: “Gerry had control over this particular squad.”
The allegation prompted the lengthy legal action.
However, Price has agreed to be interviewed about her knowledge of the “disappeared” and The Sunday Telegraph today publishes what she said.
Price and her younger sister, Marian, now 59, followed a family tradition of Republicanism.
“It is not enough to say we were born to be Republicans, it’s more precise to say Republicanism is part of our DNA,” she said.
“My father used to sit us on his knee and tell us stories about how he’d gone off to war in 1939 at the age of 19 to bomb the English.”
It was the reintroduction of internment in 1971, when hundreds of Republican activists, along with many who had no involvement with the IRA, were arrested and imprisoned without trial, which led Dolours and her younger sister to join the organisation.
Jean McConville , left, with three of her children (PA)
She approached Seán MacStiofáin, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA and said she wanted to be a “fighting soldier”, not part of Cumann na mBan, the women’s wing of the republican movement. An IRA Army Council was convened and Price was sworn into the organisation, followed by her sister.
Marian Price later boasted how she also used the fact she was wearing a miniskirt to talk her way through a British Army checkpoint after being stopped in a car packed full of explosives.
Speaking of the period, Dolours said: “It was an exciting time, there was no real order or structure to everyday life, the war had taken away all normal routine . . . I should be ashamed to admit there was fun in it in those days.”
In 1972 the Price sisters rose to prominence in the single bloodiest year of the Troubles.
In 1972 alone, 249 civilians were killed as a result of the conflict, among them the 13 victims of Bloody Sunday, along with 148 British security personnel, 70 Republican paramilitaries, 11 Loyalist paramilitaries and one Irish security forces member.
Price was adamant that the IRA should target mainland Britain and in particular London.
She claims the plan to bomb London was hers and was explicitly approved by Adams, in what she claims was his role as “Officer Commanding” of the organisation’s Belfast brigade.
She said: “I was convinced that a short, sharp shock, an incursion into the heart of the Empire would be more effective than 20 car bombs in any part of the north of Ireland.”
Her plan was presented to Gerry Adams and, she said, discussed and agreed by IRA commanders, before Adams convened a meeting to find volunteers.
She went on: “Adams started talking and said it was a big, dangerous operation. He said ‘This could be a hanging job’. He said ‘ If anyone doesn’t want to go they should up and leave now through the back door at ten minute intervals.’ The ones that were left were the ones that went. I was left organising it, to be the OC of the whole shebang.”
First there was a botched attempt to firebomb Oxford Street, but then came the serious attack, four car bombs targeting symbols of the British state: Old Bailey, New Scotland Yard, an Army recruiting office in Westminster, and Whitehall.
The 300lb bomb outside the Old Bailey went off at 3pm on March 8, 1973, as police evacuated the area. One man, Frederick Milton, 60, died of a heart attack and more than 200 were injured. In Whitehall, 33 were injured; the other two were found and defused.
Price and the rest of the terror gang were arrested before the bombs went off, as they tried to board flights and ferries back to Ireland, as police were already hunting them.
A police officer later recalled how, at 3pm, Marian Price looked at her watch and smiled.
Price remains unapologetic about the use of violence, stating in her memoir: “There were warnings phoned in but people had stood about curious to see, some had even stood at office windows and been sprayed by broken glass when the car went up.
“In Belfast we gave 15 minute warnings, in London we’d given them an hour.”
At their trial at Winchester Castle in November 1973, the Price sisters, along with Gerry Kelly – who went on to serve as a Sinn Fein minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly – were jailed for life.
The Prices, Kelly and fellow conspirator Hugh Feeney immediately began a 203-day hunger strike, demanding to be transferred to prisons in Northern Ireland.
Price says: “Make no mistake about it, when I made the decision we’d be on hunger-strike, I had a vision we’d starve to death, it was that simple.”
They were eventually moved to Northern Ireland, as part of an agreement struck with the IRA during its truce of February 1975 to January 1976.
In 1980 Price was granted the royal prerogative of mercy and the following year was freed on humanitarian grounds, suffering from anorexia nervosa. She had served eight years of the “minimum” 20 years of her life sentence.
However, she remained committed to her cause and during the late 1990s spoke out against the Good Friday Agreement.
Until now Price, who claims to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of being force fed, and has attempted suicide on a number of occasions, has said little publicly about her role in the IRA. Between 2001 and 2006 she agreed to be interviewed for the college’s oral history Belfast Project.
In 2010, she offered to help the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains to find the graves of three men abducted and killed by the IRA, Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee – although she has not offered to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Dolours’s sister Marian is currently in prison hospital in Northern Ireland after falling ill while on remand for charges relating to aiding the dissident Real IRA’s campaign of violence.
Adams denies Price’s claims. He said: “I reject again, as I have consistently rejected, the allegations contained in The Sunday Telegraph interview.”
Price herself remains unrepentant about her role. Asked if she is happy that what she now says may disrupt the peace process, she says: “I don’t believe in the process. ,” she said. “I think the process should be undermined, I think the process should be destroyed in some way and I think Gerry Adams, deserves to admit to his part, in all of the things that happened.”
21 July 2012
Emergency service workers at Oxford Street in Belfast in the aftermath of explosions on July 21st, 1972. (Photograph: PA)
POLITICIANS AND religious leaders have been remembering the Bloody Friday bombings carried out in Belfast 40 years ago on Friday, July 21st, 1972.
A succession of more than 20 timed Provisional IRA bombs exploded around the city. In just over an hour, nine people were killed and 130 people were injured, including 77 women and children. Six people were killed by a car bomb at Oxford Street bus station, and three died after a bomb went off at a shopping centre on the Cavehill Road.
The IRA claimed it had sent sufficient warnings of the attacks and accused the security forces of deliberately ignoring some of them. The security forces and emergency services were stretched to the limit by the number of bombs and bomb warnings, which caused widespread chaos and panic.
The city’s Royal Victoria Hospital was inundated with victims badly injured by flying glass and debris from the powerful blasts.
Robin Hogg, a local, has spoken out for the first time of his memories of the day. He was shopping with a friend, 14-year-old Stephen Parker, on the Cavehill Road when one of the bombs went off. Mr Hogg escaped unhurt but Stephen was killed. He said: “It’s something that I do not think I really have ever got over. I vividly remember that day, the shock of it.”
On Thursday, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds tabled a House of Commons motion to commemorate the 40th anniversary. He said Bloody Friday was “one of the most horrific days in our history”, adding the attack was aimed “not at any military or security target but at the ordinary people of Belfast”. In the motion, he said “justice demands that those in the republican movement and Sinn Féin leadership with information should even now come forward to provide truth and closure for the victims”.
Afterwards, he said “there has been a great deal of talk about reconciliation amongst some republicans but an important first step must be that those who were involved in this terrible atrocity might come clean and admit their role”.
Those involved should step forward with information, and explain why ordinary people were put at risk, said Mr Dodds.
Acknowledging Northern Ireland could now look forward to a better future, Mr Dodds said “we must not forget the horrors which were visited upon Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland by those who were intent on wreaking havoc on our society”.
The Rev Kenneth Lindsay, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, said many victims still bore the scars of the atrocity.
South Belfast News
20 May 2012
IN 2012, Belfast’s tourism scene is more about Titanic than the Troubles, but the city would be wise not to forget the political and historical value of what was once dubbed “dark tourism”.
Those were the words of West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, who issued a challenge to local tourism chiefs, citing the huge interest that remains in the Irish conflict from a historical and educational perspective – an interest that still brings hordes of international visitors into the heart of his constituency on a daily basis.
With this year marketed as ‘Our Time, Our Place’, the One City debate of the same name saw Mr Maskey joined by Tim Husbands, the CEO of the Titanic Signature project, which hosted a section of the conference.
As One City took place in the conference rooms upstairs in the spectacular building, the hundreds of visitors downstairs – even early on a Friday morning – proved that a new chapter in Belfast tourism has truly opened. And Mr Husbands revealed that since opening less than two months ago, the building has had over 120,000 visitors through its doors.
“We have enjoyed worldwide media coverage and it’s important we build further on that,” he said. “We are pleased to see that every agency is helping bring visitors to us, and product development is key. We are keen to link our project to other historically related sites in the city, including, for instance, Conway Mill.”
Mr Maskey told the debate, which was chaired by the NI Tourist Board’s Howard Hastings, that although the Titanic legacy was key in bringing visitors to Belfast, it may not be enough to keep them here.
“The fact is, political tourism is big, and I don’t think it’s given enough attention by the Tourist Board,” he said.
The murals and memorials across West, North and East Belfast are still a highlight for many visitors keen to learn about the conflict and social history of the city, and numerous black taxi, bus and walking tours keep cash flowing into the local economy.
“This political and historical tourism needs to be invested in,” he continued. “Unfortunately there was a stage when it was called ‘dark tourism’, which I think was horrendous.”
Mandy Patrick of the Park Avenue Hotel highlighted how other cities have dealt with a difficult legacy – while also forging a new identity – to the benefit of the local tourism industry, including Berlin.
11 May 2012
The Ulster Hall is 150 years old
For 150 years, the Ulster Hall has been at the heart of Belfast’s cultural life.
It has witnessed the changes across Northern Ireland and the world, since 1862. The Grand Dame, as it is fondly known, has housed protest speeches and peace gatherings, rock legends, boxing matches and classical concertos.
Over the years it has played host to a diverse range of personalities: from the son of an American slave to the Dalai Lama and from Charles Dickens on his early literary tours to Led Zeppelin and their first-ever performance of Stairway to Heaven.
Robert Heslip, heritage officer for Belfast City Council said the Ulster Hall was “a window to the wider world for people in Belfast; it was the TV of its age”.
“It was designed as much for working class labourers as it was for wealthy socialites,” he said.
The Belfast Newsletter on 13 May 1862 described it as a place “the rich and the poor, the manufacturer and the sons and daughters of toil, may meet together beneath the arched roof of the new hall, to listen to sweeter sounds and more melodious strains than machinery can produce”.
Charles Dickens, who brought literature to the masses on his pioneering literary world tours, had entertained a small crowd in Belfast in 1858, but the newly built Ulster Hall allowed him to perform for a much larger audience – and in the process, sell many more tickets.
In 1867 he read from David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol, and he returned again in 1869.
The great storyteller noted that Belfast was a “fine place with a rough people” and “a better audience on the whole than Dublin”.
illustration of Charles Dickens Charles Dickens noted that Belfast was a “fine place with a rough people”
Historian John Gray said that one reason for the Ulster Hall show was that Dickens “really enjoyed performing, and was, rather unusually for an author, a great performer, but also – he desperately needed the money”.
In 1874, The Ulster Hall hosted a controversial speech which, according to historian of science Frank Turner, sparked “perhaps the most intense debate of the Victorian conflict of science and religion.”
It was delivered by physicist John Tyndall – the man who would later explain why the sky is blue – to the British Science Association.
Tyndall claimed that matter could create life on its own and that cosmology (the study of the universe) was the domain of science not religion.
The speech came to be known as The Belfast Address and would incur the wrath of religious leaders.
The Ulster Hall is not just famous for those who performed within its walls, but also for those who were barred from entry.
In February 1912, Winston Churchill, who was due to talk in the Ulster Hall in favour of Irish Home Rule, found himself locked out.
Unionists, who favoured direct rule by Westminster, filled it wall to wall and refused to move. To add to the humiliation, the men who locked him out had been inspired by Churchill’s own father.
Performers at the Ulster Hall
Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Twenty-six years previously, Randolph Churchill had rallied supporters against Home Rule in the very same hall.
He had urged unionists not to let Home Rule come upon them “like a thief in the night” and famously told his supporters that “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right”.
The hall’s place at the heart of Unionism is epitomised by the Ulster Day rally on 28 September 1912.
Unionists gathered here before marching to City Hall to sign the Ulster covenant – a petition to oppose Home Rule, which contained almost half-a-million signatures.
At the height of the Troubles in 1977, another lock-out would bring more change to Northern Ireland.
Punk band The Clash were due to play, but when insurance was cancelled for the gig, hundreds of disappointed fans were left outside the Ulster Hall with nothing to do and nowhere to go. They were soon met by riot police and violence erupted.
Terri Hooley, whose Good Vibrations record label galvanised the Northern Irish punk music scene and would later launch local band The Undertones to a worldwide audience said it may have been “the only riot of the Troubles where Catholics and Protestants were fighting on the same side”.
“This was a time when the IRA were blowing the city apart and loyalist gangs were killing Catholics – punk was a very united force against that – to be a punk was to be different from the past. The kids were fed up with the Troubles for the first time and the Ulster Hall would have played a big part in that,” said Terri.
Winston Churchill and The Clash were both locked out of the Ulster Hall Winston Churchill and The Clash were both locked out of the Ulster Hall
Many believe that what became known as the Battle of Bedford Street kickstarted the punk movement in Belfast.
Led Zeppelin debuted Stairway to Heaven at the Ulster Hall. Although the nonplussed audience were presumably unaware of the moment of history they were watching. John Paul Jones, the band’s bassist, recalled that the crowd were “all bored to tears waiting to hear something they knew”.
The Rolling Stones only managed to play around 13 minutes of their set before hysterical fans broke up the show. The hall was so packed that fainting girls had to be passed overhead and onto the stage, before being removed from the hall – some of them strapped to stretchers to contain their excitement.
A changing world
On Easter Tuesday 1941, Irish singer Delia Murphy was performing in the Grand Dame when Belfast was blitzed by German bombs.
As the city turned to an apocalyptic scene outside, Murphy played on, entertaining the crowd who could do nothing but wait to see what morning would bring. Around 900 people were killed that night, and more than half of the homes in Belfast were destroyed.
During World War II, Belfast was the first port for American soldiers before the battlefields of Europe. The Grand Dame was an important centre for entertaining the troops.
They jitterbugged the nights away with such enthusiasm, that on one occasion the floor gave way. So important was that dance floor to the morale of the troops the American Embassy paid for a new solid oak replacement.
Rinty Monaghan and Barry McGuigan Rinty Monaghan and Barry McGuigan both won titles at the Ulster Hall
Unfortunately, the American floor was not quite strong enough to match the dancing force of the fans that flocked to support Dexy’s Midnight Runners in 1980.
The floor again collapsed as the crowd danced to Come on Eileen, but they simply moved to the back of the hall and kept the show going.
The Ulster Hall hosted many high profile boxing bouts including Rinty Monaghan winning his Ulster title there – he would later become flyweight champion of the world.
The promoter of many of his fights in the hall was Clara “Ma” Copely.
This 22 stone woman from a circus family was awarded a silver fruit bowl by the patrons of the Ulster Hall “for services rendered to the sport of boxing.”
Rinty Monaghan paved the way for another slight but powerful boxer: Barry McGuigan, who won his first Ulster, British and European titles in the Ulster Hall in 1983 and 1984.
The Grand Dame of Bedford Street has stood for 150 years, and watched the changes in Ireland, Britain and the world.
Just like its founders said “it will stand without a compeer, at least till the generations now living will all have passed away. This building has been well named The Ulster Hall.”
The Ulster Hall: A select chronology.
Led Zeppelin debuted Stairway to Heaven at the Ulster Hall
• Built in 1862 – making it older than the Royal Albert Hall, London
• Dickens read there in 1867 and 1869.
• 1874 – John Tyndall’s ‘Belfast Address’
• 1886 – Randolph Churchill’s speech against Home Rule
• 1909 – James Joyce tries to buy the Ulster Hall for use as a cinema
• February 1912 – Winston Churchill is locked out by unionists
• September 1912 – ‘Ulster Day’ rally is held in the hall before Unionists marched to City Hall to sign the Ulster covenant
• 1936 – Paul Robeson, singer of ‘Ol Man River’ performed, the son of an American slave, turned civil rights activist said at his concert “I’ve been made to feel you people understand me, the warmth of your welcome has gone to my heart”.
• 1942 – The dance floor gives way during the war
• 1964 – The Rolling Stones played, but it was too much for many young girls who fainted during the concert
• March 1971 – Led Zeppelin played Stairway To Heaven for the first time
• 1977 – The Clash gig was cancelled, kick starting Belfast’s ‘Punk era’
• July 1980 – Dexy’s Midnight Runners fans broke the solid oak dance floor, bought by the American embassy during the war
• 2000 – The Dali Lama gave a guest lecture for Amnesty International
Buses drive into Belfast to allow tourists to gape at the massive walls and sites of bombings. This is simply exploitation
Guardian – Comment is free
7 May 2012
Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister, described the redevelopment of the Maze prison site (pictured here in 1979) as a ‘mecca for tourists’. (Photograph: PA)
Visit Northern Ireland. Come to Belfast and see our magnificent city – rejuvenated, regenerated and re-energised. Take a walk through the streets in the shadows of the division walls. Why not stop to get your photo taken beside a mural of men in balaclavas? If you really want, why not write a message of hope and peace on one of our walls, a truly symbolic sign of human solidarity?
It is surprising that given the lack of humility in Northern Ireland’s exploitation of conflict, that an advertising campaign using the language above has not been launched yet. Tourism in Northern Ireland has rocketed within the last decade. The continued perception of increased stability and relative peace has attracted people from all over the world to see the many things that Northern Ireland should and does advertise to the world – the Giant’s Causeway, the Antrim glens, the Fermanagh lakes.
However, there is something deeply immoral about the rapidly expanding “conflict tourism” sector. Buses drive into the heart of inner city Belfast to allow tourists to gape at the massive walls dividing Belfast’s communities – murals depicting violence. Tourists take photos of the division lines that are not consigned to history, but are a part of living Belfast: children play football against the walls that tourists flock to. The places and the people themselves have become a spectacle, an attraction.
If this were history perhaps it would be more acceptable – but it’s not. These lines are still a very real part of everyday life for communities in Northern Ireland. Our politicians may say otherwise – that we are now at peace, and that nothing will destabilise our progress – but divisions aren’t removed.
As a country, we have come to realise the financial gains that can be made by marketing our conflict while also exaggerating the “stability” of Northern Ireland; painting a picture of those who dissent as being in a vast minority with no support whatsoever. The reality is manipulated, history exploited.
An example is the 1993 Shankill bomb that killed 10 people. Touring companies make money from that tragedy; tourists stand at the site of the bomb and take photos. The residents of the Shankill Road carry on, the money doesn’t filter down. The process passes them by.
Just last week Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister, described the redevelopment of the Maze prison site (infamous for housing political prisoners during the Troubles) as being a “mecca for tourists“. The Maze/Long Kesh site needs a role within our remembrance process, but not a commercial role. The proposed “conflict resolution centre” for the site (at a cost of £20m) is not just another example of politicians U-turning all over the place, but also of the entire trend of ethics being sidelined for supposed financial gain.
I am not against tourism – quite the opposite in fact. But it seems to me that aspects of the current rebranding of Belfast are not only highly immoral, but also detract from the reality and the severity of our history. We need remembrance and we need reflection – such things will aid our reconciliation as a society. But we don’t need the exploitation of our conflict.
By Steven McCaffery
Saturday, 28 April 2012
Police have discovered two bombs following separate security alerts in Belfast and Newry.
The explosives were described as “viable devices” and were found in Belfast and near the Irish border.
Police said the dissident republicans suspected of being behind at least one of the bombs had shown a “callous disregard” for the public.
This comes after police investigating the activity of dissidents opposed to the peace process found guns and ammunition in a separate search operation in Belfast yesterday.
The first bomb alert began in the Fathom Line area of the border town of Newry after an abandoned car was found on Thursday evening.
Police confirmed overnight that a “viable explosive device” was found in the vehicle.
It was made safe by army bomb experts.
Police also said a viable device was found under a parked car in the Ballygomartin Road area of north Belfast.
Chief Inspector Ian Campbell said several homes had to be evacuated while the security operation was carried out late last night.
He said: “Those responsible for this have shown callous disregard for members of the public.
“The operation resulted in the evacuation of up to 80 people, including families with young children and elderly residents, for several hours.”
He added: “The finger of suspicion points towards dissident republican terrorists and I appeal to anyone with information to come forward to police.”
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of last night’s weapons find, Chief Superintendent George Clarke, District Commander for North and West Belfast, said the police had succeeded in combating activity by the dissident groups.
“The actions of police have undoubtedly thwarted the attempts of criminals to inflict death, injury and misery on the community of north Belfast,” he said.
“Police are determined to protect communities from these threats.”
Police said a number of weapons had been seized, but no further details were available on the arms find.
Mr Clarke appealed for the public’s continuing assistance in combating dissident activities.
23 Apr 2012
The new MAC building in St Anne’s Square in Belfast opens its doors to the public. The art and theatre space is free entry and has a number of exhibitions and theatres
Artists, architects, couples and curious sightseers milled through the MAC’s doors yesterday, as Belfast’s new Metropolitan Arts Centre opened its doors to the public.
Ten years in the making, the MAC and newly opened Titanic Belfast building could generate up to £50m in extra revenue, attracting an additional 800,000 visitors to the city, according to current predictions.
Tucked away discreetly in the centre of Belfast’s cobbled Cathedral Quarter — and adjacent to St Anne’s Cathedral — the building looks deceptively small from the outside.
Visitors who walked through its doors yesterday said they were struck with the feeling of being outside as they stared up through the building’s sunlit central atrium.
A total of 400 copper strands cast in the colours of the rainbow cascade down the central staircase — intensifying the feeling of being outside.
Constructed from Belfast brick and basalt from Antrim, the MAC is rooted in the city.
It has also opened with a new exhibition of Belfast’s William Conor.
Belfast-born Conor — whose work hangs alongside paintings by the world-renowned LS Lowry — was commissioned by the Government during World War I to produce official records of soldiers and munitions workers.
In another gallery, celebrated Chicago-born artist Robert Therrien displays a series of his works, including his renowned Table and Four Chairs — an Alice and Wonderland-esque take on a household table and four chairs.
Meanwhile, in the Sunken Gallery, second-hand tables have been stacked haphazardly in an exhibit by Dublin-based artist, Maria McKinney.
The £18m six-floor building houses two theatres, three art galleries, a dance studio, cafe and bar.
At its gala opening this week, Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland predicted the MAC would be a “jewel” in the Cathedral Quarter.
He said: “The MAC is a hallmark example of a successful regeneration project.”
Roisin McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council, said the breadth of work on display was exciting in itself.
“Conor, Lowry and Therrien will certainly be popular, but the real surprises will come when the visitors see the inspiring new work by our local artists.”
Anne McReynolds, MAC chief executive, said the facility is the product of a vast amount of work.
15 April 2012
A minute’s silence was observed after wreaths were laid at the memorial
A new memorial garden was opened alongside Belfast City Hall this morning to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.
More than 1,500 passengers, crew and musicians died when the liner struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912.
A feature of the garden is a series of plaques listing the names of the 1,512 people who lost their lives when the vessel sank en route to New York.
A minute’s silence was also held after the memorial garden was opened.
The boat was built in Belfast and relatives of workmen who made and work on the vessel were present for today’s ceremony.
Dr Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck in 1985, was in Belfast for today’s ceremony and delivered a memorial lecture yesterday.
He spoke about the next 100 years, of preserving the wreck and making it available to all via communications technology, beaming live images from the depths.
This afternoon the Taoiseach officially opened the Titanic Memorial Park in the village of Lahardane in Co Mayo.
14 people left the parish of Addergoole to board the Titanic for America; 11 died while three women survived. Some of their descendants have returned from America for the commemoration.
Local people fundraised to build a memorial park, which includes life-size bronze sculptures of Titanic passengers and the bow of the ship.
A hearth has also been built with stones collected from the cottages of the Addergoole 14.
This weekend villagers unveiled an 80ft replica of the Titanic on the water beside Addergoole Cemetary. It was built in secret over four months by local men.
This morning at 2.20am – the precise time of the sinking of the ship – the lights on the model ship were extinguished as the bell tolled in the church at Lahardane.
Elsewhere, a wreath-laying ceremony took place this morning aboard the Le Eithne at the Titanic’s last anchorage in Cork harbour.
There have been other ceremonies across the world to recognise the ship’s sinking.
Out in the Atlantic, a cruise ship tracing the liner’s route across the ocean paused at a point over the wreck.
A memorial service was held on the MS Balmoral and wreaths were thrown into the sea.
In the Canadian city of Halifax, where 150 victims of the disaster are buried, church bells rang out to mark the anniversary and there was a candle-lit procession.
Meanwhile in Lichfield in England, more than 1,500 candles were laid at the statue of Edward Smith, the Titanic’s captain.
13 April 2012
THE area where the Titanic was built by Belfast’s working men a century ago is in danger of becoming “a foreign country” to many of their descendants, a former Presbyterian moderator has warned.
The Rev Dr Norman Hamilton said that an area which has long been associated with the working man in Belfast could become somewhere only accessible to tourists and the well-off.
Writing in today’s News Letter, the north Belfast minister says that Belfast’s new Titanic Quarter – with its expensive apartments, multi-national bank headquarters, gleaming visitor centre and film studio – is in danger of economically excluding many in Belfast.
Dr Hamilton stressed he wants the vast Titanic Quarter regeneration project to be successful but said that the £7 billion project could do more to welcome those at the margins of society.
“I had the privilege of standing on the fifth floor (the conference level) of the new Titanic building a few days ago and looked out across the Lough to north Belfast and my part of town,” he said.
“I couldn’t help but think that it was a very far distance for so many of my neighbours to travel if they too were to be able to stand where I was at that exact moment.
“The Titanic Quarter is no longer the natural habitat of those whose grandparents helped to build the Titanic.”
He said that Belfast Metropolitan College’s Titanic Quarter campus provided some hope that those educated there may find employment in that part of the city.
But he added: “Yet my angst has not diminished that this wonderful Titanic building and the long-term vision that has made it happen may not be fully owned by a younger generation who face long-term unemployment, and that they will see it as being in another country populated by tourists, visitors from cruise ships and conference delegates.”
The Presbyterian minister said he was concerned that almost everything in the area was commercial in nature.
Titanic Belfast chief executive Tim Husbands said in a statement: “Titanic Belfast is a massive opportunity for Northern Ireland to put itself on the international tourist map, but it’s also very much a project for the people of Belfast.
“We’ve worked hard with Belfast City Council and the Titanic Foundation to engage with schools and local communities across the city and that will be an ongoing process.
“In comparison to other attractions of this standard, Titanic Belfast is competitively priced and there is already free access to Titanic’s slipways and Titanic Belfast’s plaza.
“Public realm areas are integral to the wider Titanic Quarter development and the objective is to ‘build communities where once we built ships’.
“The aim is to develop these spaces into a new urban park which is as much part of the fabric of Belfast as City Hall is.”
By Conor Humphries
13 Apr 2012
(BELFAST – Reuters) – For much of the century since the Titanic sank, the story of the doomed liner has been a taboo subject in Belfast, an unwelcome reminder of industrial failure and bitter sectarian division in the city that built her.
Now Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, buoyed by 14 years of peace, aims to salvage the liner as a symbol of one-time industrial might, hoping the Hollywood glamour around its story can create an icon for a new, united city.
Cast as a monument to the 1998 deal that ended three decades of violence, a 97-million pound Titanic museum was opened by Catholic and Protestant leaders last month to mark the centenary of the ship’s launch and fateful first voyage.
The museum’s 38-meter-tall glass-and-aluminium facade redraws a skyline long dominated by the yellow cranes of Harland and Wolff, the Protestant-dominated shipyard that built the Titanic and the scene of some of the worst sectarian rioting before 1920 partition and beyond.
“For too long, perhaps more than anything because of a sense of profound sorrow, the Titanic has never been truly remembered at home, but all that has now changed,” said Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
“These buildings… are being used to write a new history, to write a better history,” he said.
McGuinness himself, long despised by Protestant shipyard workers for his role as a commander in the Irish Republican Army paramilitary group in the 1970s, recently discovered that one of his relatives had helped build the Titanic.
The period around the launching of the ship was one of the most turbulent in Irish history as Protestant industrialists led a campaign to prevent the government of Ireland being moved from London to Dublin.
The struggle led to sectarian bloodshed in Belfast and a civil war in the south and helped pave the way for the carving out of a Protestant-majority northeast, which remained part of Britain, a decade later.
Hundreds of Catholics were expelled from the yards during sectarian riots in the months that followed Titanic’s launch.
For Protestants the liner, the largest floating vessel at the time, was supposed to symbolise Northern Ireland’s industrial prowess.
But instead of a triumphant arrival in New York, the news that came was of catastrophic failure as the ship sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, with a fraction of the lifeboats required, killing 1,500 of the 2,200 people on board.
The sinking dealt a huge blow to the prestige of the shipyard and the North’s industrial legacy. Fearing what the bad publicity could mean for the province and the shipyard, generations swept the story under the carpet.
“There was such a shock that everyone just clammed up about it,” said Susie Millar, the great granddaughter of a Harland and Wolff engineer killed when the liner sank.
“When I was at school it was never mentioned. It was ‘don’t mention the ‘T’-word’. It was taboo.”
The shipyard declined rapidly in the 1980s and 90s as British heavy industry lost out to lower cost competition from Asia – its workforce is just hundreds today from 30,000 at its peak – and memories of the ship’s sinking stayed deep.
The success of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film and the security promised by the 1998 peace deal raised the possibility of a lucrative tourist industry and kindled the overwhelming desire by most in the province to return to normality.
“Northern Ireland desperately needs to make cash. I think that supersedes any idea that it was a Protestant project, a Protestant ship,” said Millar, who has built a business around the Titanic, offering customised tours.
The shipyard, which has given up shipbuilding for servicing ships and marine infrastructure, is steering clear of the fireworks, concerts and banquets marking the anniversary; its only involvement is sponsoring the composing of a requiem mass.
But books and films testify to the ship’s use of state-of-the-art technologies and highlight the hundreds of other successful ships built at the yard. The city steadfastly maintains the ship’s design was not at fault in its sinking.
“She was fine when she left here,” is the slogan emblazoned across t-shirts and mugs on sale across the city.
“Any other vessel afloat would have went down in a much shorter time” on hitting an iceberg, said David McVeigh, a spokesman for Harland and Wolff. “It was built as well as man knew how at that time.”
ANY OPPOSITION MUTED
When Derry was named 2013 British city of culture in 2010, Irish nationalists opposed to Northern Ireland’s position in Britain responded with several bomb attacks.
By contrast, any opposition to the Titanic project has been muted. But that does not mean the revival is universally loved in Belfast.
“It’s an attempt to airbrush history,” said Brian Feeney, a columnist with the Irish News, newspaper of the city’s Catholic Irish nationalist minority.
“Nationalist Belfast has no connection with the Titanic.”
In the 1960s, only 400 of Harland and Wolff’s 10,000 workers were Catholic and Protestant shipyard workers were a mainstay of mass rallies that helped to raise tensions in the city.
More than of 3,600 people were killed in the next 30 years of violence between Catholic Irish nationalists, who wanted a united Ireland, and predominantly Protestant Loyalists who wanted the province to remain British.
“Most people have just kept quiet because they are aware of the attempt to create a new Belfast, attract visitors, tourists and all the rest of it,” Feeney said.
In recent years the government has taken to using the Titanic as a glamorous and relatively neutral topic to build bridges in divided communities.
On the Lower Newtownards Road, the working class streets of dockland workers which became a centre of violence, murals of paramilitaries have been replaced in government-sponsored schemes with images glorifying Titanic and its designers.
In a church where hundreds in 1912 pledged to fight the “calamity” of rule from Dublin, Catholic children were recently invited to paint posters of the Titanic’s builders.
“This would not have been possible even 10 years ago,” said Dan Gordon, a writer from the area who has written plays about the Titanic and the shipyard that chart the hardships suffered by Protestant workers and explore its legacy on the city.
“What has made Titanic acceptable is time… it’s about time healing,” he said. “That is what is happening with the so-called Troubles.”
• Additional reporting by Matt Cowan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall
Clonard Church, where Fr Alec Reid hosted Hume and Adams, has been restored
6 April 2012
Clonard Church in Belfast, which was first opened in 1911, has been restored at a cost of about €3.6 million.
AFTER 100 years, Clonard Church, in the heart of west Belfast, has had a big makeover. The Redemptorist church – where the peace process had its roots, where women and children from the Shankill and Falls roads sought sanctuary in its crypt during the Belfast Blitz, and where every year thousands flock to the annual Clonard Novena – is now transformed, all fresh and gleaming after a badly needed refurbishment.
On the outside the granite and sandstone are clean and sharp, the stones pointed, the downpipes freshly painted. Inside, looking from the back of the church up the central aisle to the altar and all around, there is a sense of bright renewal, the roof restored, the mosaics shining.
It took six years to get the church back into shape. “We weren’t too far away from being closed. The roof was leaking, the rain was coming in, the brickwork was crumbling,” says Fr Michael Murtagh, a native of Newtowncashel in Co Longford.
Since he came to Belfast as rector in 2008, much of his time has been dedicated to seeing the restoration completed. The church was closed for the past year as the final parts of the work were carried out.
A century ago the original plan was to have a bigger church, but the local bishop, under pressure from some rather jealous Belfast priests who had concerns about the creation of a Redemptorist “cathedral” or “basilica”, decided its size must be restricted.
There were other problems too. The McNaughton Brothers of Randalstown, Co Antrim were contracted to build the church at a cost of £20,600, but they had difficulty getting supplies of granite blocks and pillars, while stone from Mountcharles in Co Donegal proved hard to cut. Costs spiralled, and in the end the construction company went bust.
Eventually the building was completed at a final cost of £32,000. For the formal opening in October 1911, there were entrance charges of five shillings and a half-crown – two shillings and six pennies (almost £20 and £10 in today’s money). This caused resentment, as it excluded many local people. There were many empty seats.
Fast forward 100 years and a wonderful restoration of the church has been completed at a cost of £3 million (€3.6 million) – almost 100 times the original cost of building the church. When the church was formally declared open at a special Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, on Sunday, March 25th, there was no admission charge and the church was overflowing. Local people contributed hugely by supporting fundraising efforts, such as buying 25,000 new tiles for the church at a cost of £5 per tile.
Clonard has been part of the community through hard times and good times. It has seen two World Wars in which many people from the city fought and died. In 1941, during the German bombing of Belfast, women and children from the Protestant Shankill and the Catholic Falls used its crypt as a shelter.
It also witnessed the troubles of the 1920s and the longer conflict stretching from 1969. In July 1920, a Redemptorist member, Br Michael Morgan, aged 28, was shot dead by a British soldier when looking out from an upper-storey window of the monastery adjoining the church. The church is also just beside Bombay Street, in which Catholics were burned out of their homes in August 1969. Many of the church’s parishioners ended up interned, or in the IRA, or killed or badly injured in the fighting.
Clonard also played a significant part in the peace process. It was there that local priest Fr Alec Reid hosted the Hume-Adams talks which, though at first faltering, carried through successfully to the first IRA ceasefire of 1994 and to the process that led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
There’s a great quote from the chronicle kept by the community of priests. Under the date of January 11th, 1988, is written: “John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, and Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, are having secret talks in Clonard. Fr A Reid seems to have brought them together.” The “seems” is typical of Fr Reid, because such were his clandestine ways that his colleagues under the same roof were in the dark. Journalists at the time found him equally unforthcoming.
Fr Murtagh is delighted that the 14 or so active priests at Clonard are able to hold Easter services in the church and that the famous Clonard Novena in June will be back in the building. During the novena, 10 Masses are celebrated each day over nine days, and some 12,000-15,000 people attend each day.
“It’s nice to be back,” he says. He feels the work just completed is about more than physical renewal.
“When you think of what we washed off the walls here, the 100 years of candle grease, the candles of pain, the tragedy that came here, the grinding poverty when this place was born – and of how people survived all that; when you think of that sense of a common bond of solidarity and of people struggling together; when you think of the people, their resilience and how they have come through so much, that’s what gives me hope.”
31 Mar 2012
The new Titanic Belfast tourism project has opened to the public.
It was officially opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the first and deputy first ministers.
Also attending is a 105-year-old Cyril Quigley who saw the Titanic being launched as a young child in 1911.
A limited number of on-the-day tickets are being sold and a queue of several dozen people waited for the opportunity to purchase. Most tickets have been sold online in advance.
Performing the ribbon-cutting, First Minister Peter Robinson said the complex was “a must-see attraction up with the best in the world” and was a symbol of a new era in Northern Ireland.
About 60 journalists from around the world attended the opening.
The complex cost £77m to construct – with most of the funding (£60m) coming from the public purse.
Based on projected visitor numbers, it is one of the most expensive buildings of its kind in Europe.
Visitors will be guided through nine exhibitions, spread over four storeys, charting the history of the Titanic from its construction in the nearby Harland & Wolff shipyard to its final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic.
One thing tourists will not see though is the replica of the ship’s famous staircase. It has been incorporated into the banqueting hall on the upper floors and is not part of the tour.
It will only be on view to the more business-type guests who will attend sit-down functions on the two upper decks.
Entrance fees are £13.50 for an adult and £6.75 for a child. A family of four gets in for £34 and a family of five will pay £40.75. Parking is extra.
On Friday, First Minister Peter Robinson said the building was a celebration of the workmanship that led to Belfast being a world leader in shipbuilding.
The splendour of a first class cabin recreated The splendour of a first class cabin is recreated in the complex
Mr Robinson was asked on BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme about the significance of Martin McGuinness standing beside him in shipyard surroundings that many Catholics previously regarded as hostile.
“I think it further demonstrates that we are indeed in a new era,” he said.
“There’s a new spirit in Northern Ireland, there’s a strong confidence for the people of Northern Ireland that they can move forward, that they can work towards prosperity.
“So I think it’s a sign of the times that people in Northern Ireland have now left the Troubles behind and they are wanting to see a bright future.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “It’s an absolutely stunning building and as I predicted in the United States last week, this would be a world news story and it certainly has been in the course of the last couple of days.
“At the time when we were taking our decision at the executive to pour something like £40m into this, some questions were asked, because of the history of it, if we should be doing this.
“I have to say I was always very much in favour of this, because this is our attempt to write a new history, to move forward in a positive and constructive way, a very inclusive way.”
Mr McGuinness said he had a “great stake” in the weekend’s events because his father’s uncle, Hugh Rooney, worked in the shipyard as a carpenter-joiner and helped with fitting out the Titanic in 1911.
“I’m very proud of that and I’m very proud of our family’s association with that event at that time,” he said.
9 Feb 2012
A former boxer who worked in the docks in Belfast during the 1950s has won a High Court battle against his former employers, which proved the impact of asbestos.
Arthur Rafferty was one of thousands of men taking bags of the deadly material off ships and onto the shore.
“No-one ever told us about the dangers of this, we never got as much as a paper mask,” he told UTV.
“It was a dangerous job, we reported that to our union a couple of times about the dangers of it and the dust, but our union did absolutely nothing about it.”
At Belfast’s Mater Hospital in 2002, Mr Rafferty was diagnosed with asbestosis, a lung disease which can result in cancer. His doctor told him there was nothing that could be done.
“That in itself knocked me out because I was a professional boxer,” he explained, “I never drank, I never smoked, I always kept myself fit.”
Following the diagnosis, Mr Rafferty decided to sue his former employers. However, five years later, doctors told Mr Rafferty that he did not have asbestosis, but would one day develop the disease.
A judge then explained to him that a compensation case against his employers could not be pursued.
As he had been treated for asbestosis for five years, Mr Rafferty decided to visit a specialist in Liverppol to seek a second opinion on his medical situation.
“He point blankly said yes you do have asbestosis and you do have bronchitis.
“Yet these radiologists here in Belfast, three of them one from the Mater, one from the City and one from the Royal, couldn’t find anything,” said Mr Rafferty.
The final diagnosis meant Mr Rafferty could once again begin his legal fight. On Thursday he received an undisclosed sum of money from his former employers, on winning his case.
“Even two barristers in the court that had been following my case and I don’t know them from Adam, they came up to me and shook my hand. He said that was a David and a Goliath,” Mr Rafferty explained.
But the legal action is not over yet, as Mr Rafferty plans to take a case against doctors in the Belfast Trust whom he alleges are responsible for his misdiagnoses.
By Maurice Hayes
Tuesday January 24 2012
Cupar Way peace wall – Photo from Boston.com
ROBERT Frost, in his folksy way, wondered whether there was “something” out there that did not like a wall. In Belfast they love their walls, especially peace walls, to the extent, it seems of wanting them kept up forever.
Many outsiders may be surprised at the news that the International Fund for Ireland, which has such a distinguished track record in supporting imaginative strategic initiatives which will help heal the scars of conflict, should have committed £2m (€2.4m) to projects designed to lead to the removal of peace walls in Belfast.
That such an enterprise is necessary a decade and a half after the Good Friday Agreement will be disappointing to those eternal optimists who thought that peace should have broken out when the governments had ordained it to be so.
Others will be disappointed to learn that, far from crumbling or being demolished, such walls have trebled in number in the interval, and now extend to a cumulative 21 miles in Belfast alone.
Before rushing to judgment, we might ask how far this is different from the gated communities and estates which increasingly mark the more affluent areas of cities and towns. Walls built by the rich are an advertisement of power and possessions, those required to assuage the fears in poorer areas, a symbol of impotence and insecurity. Both are indications of a dysfunctional society.
In both cases, the need for a wall is based on fear and mistrust.
Called into use in the 1970s in order to protect communities from sectarian attack from the travelling gunman or invading mobs of recreational rioters, the walls have themselves become a barrier to peace-making in the wider sense, by literally cementing difference and division in a society that is trying desperately to get its act together. They inhibit movements across streets to shops and community facilities and even playgrounds, the sort of everyday activity which helps to integrate a society.
In particular, they produce, on the one hand, a siege mentality; on the other, the wall and the community behind it become the targets, something to be attacked simply for being there.
Perhaps too often peace walls were built as a political sop, as a quick-fix solution to a local problem without identifying the underlying problem, a classic case of treating the symptoms while leaving the underlying virus of sectarianism to develop its own immunity.
Some of these walls mark sites of sectarian strife which have been running sores since the early 19th century. Others resulted from population movement during the Troubles which hardened boundaries. However, once built, they became part of the furniture.
Ironically, the first peace wall in Belfast (which still exists) is a nine-foot high brick construction, sunk underground in the city cemetery at the behest of a Catholic bishop in Victorian times, presumably to ensure that the resurrection of members of his flock on the last day would not be impeded by Protestant fellow travellers or the sins of unbelievers.
It is characteristic of the more strategic approach of the International Fund that the immediate object of the current initiative is not so much the removal of brick and concrete as of barriers in people’s minds.
They are funding, not bulldozers and wrecking balls but the slow, painstaking task of building networks of trusting and trustworthy individuals, and mutual confidence in separated communities that their security is better ensured by good neighbours than by the stronger and higher walls.
It is a serious reflection on political leadership that the Office of First and Deputy First Minster has been unable, yet, to publish an agreed community relations strategy which would support the valuable, if necessarily unheralded work being done on the ground by dedicated community workers and activists on both sides.
In the meantime, local initiatives need to be supported. Providentially, cutbacks in public services could promote sharing of community facilities on a cross-community basis, and the end of expensive duplication.
Falling numbers in inner city schools and threats of closures present an opportunity to educate young people together, or at least to reduce segregation.
Unless, of course, another bishop wants to build another wall.
– Maurice Hayes
A ‘peace gate’ has been opened in the barrier that divides Belfast’s Alexandra Park, allowing Catholics and Protestants to mix – during the day at least. But a walk to survey the city’s 99 peace walls offers vivid evidence of communities riven by hatred
21 Jan 2012
The Cupar Way ‘peace wall’, which divides the Protestant Shankill Road from the Catholic Falls Road. (Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer)
Alexandra Park in north Belfast is a gently sloping expanse of green that looks, at first glance, like any other small, well-tended public park in any other British city. It has winding paths, tall trees, a pond and, down towards its lower end, a pleasantly leafy area that could easily be turned into a nature walk for local children. To reach it, though, you have to pass though a newly created gate in a 3m-high, reinforced corrugated steel fence that bisects the park.
On a overcast afternoon last November, the park is all but deserted save for myself, Antonio Olmos, the Observer photographer, and a solitary figure with a large dog we glimpse though the open gate. Then, as if on cue, a council van arrives and two workers jump out. It is 3pm and they are here to close the gate in the fence. As they do so, Alexandra Park once again becomes two separate parks: one Catholic, the other Protestant.
The “peace gate” in Alexandra Park was officially opened amid much media attention on 16 September last year. Attended by politicians, residents and children from two local schools, one Protestant, the other Roman Catholic, the ceremony was weighted with symbolism and there was much talk of “a new beginning”.
To an outsider, though, unused to north Belfast’s tribally defined geography and deeply ingrained religious identities, the sight of the high steel fence running the breadth of the park, with or without the open gate, is heart-sinking. When I mention this to local parks’ manager, Liam McKinley, he seems slightly affronted. “The gate is a big step forward, a real positive development,” he insists, adding that, since the gate has been open, there have been no sectarian clashes in the park.
Liam puts me in touch with a local Sinn Féin councillor, Conor Maskey. “For a long time, the fence did its job,” he tells me, “but lately there was a growing sense that the reasons for it being there had, if not disappeared, at least abated. Community workers from both sides canvassed opinion door to door around here and found that 99% of people were in favour of the gate being opened. Basically, they wanted their park back.”
In the context of the patchwork quilt of conflicting loyalties that is north Belfast, the opening of the Alexandra Park peace gate was progress. “No matter where you go around here, you eventually come to a dividing line between the two communities,” says Kate Clarke, a community worker from a nearby nationalist neighbourhood, who works for the North Belfast Interface Network to improve relationships between the two sides. “A lot of the interfaces don’t have physical barriers, but there is an invisible dividing line that local people are aware of, because, historically, they were, and to a degree, still are, threatening and unsafe places.”
A park employee closing the peace wall at 3pm in Belfast. (Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer)
Alexandra Park was divided by a “peace wall” on 1 September 1994, the day after the IRA declared its historic ceasefire. Throughout the Troubles, it had been a flashpoint for sectarian conflict, a fiercely contested space where regular pitched battles broke out between loyalists and nationalists. “There was hand-to-hand fighting down there,” says Sam Cochrane, an ex-political prisoner turned community activist from nearby Tiger’s Bay, a fiercely loyalist neighbourhood. “Several young lads were carted off to hospital with serious head injuries from slates. Sometimes there was shooting.”
The barrier, which grew over the years from a high fence to a solid steel structure, stopped the violence and made the people who lived in the houses around the park, and whose homes were often attacked, feel a whole lot safer. Like the majority of the peace walls in Belfast, it was erected at the request of locals.
According to a report published by the Belfast Interface Project, there are now 99 interfaces – or peace walls – in Belfast. Some walls date from the early years of the Troubles, when sectarian tit-for-tat killings and violence were a regular occurrence on the strife-torn streets of Belfast. An estimated one-third, though, have gone up since the IRA and Protestant paramilitary ceasefire in 1994. Many existing walls have been made longer and higher in recent years. Last week, too, the International Fund for Ireland, an independent organisation promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland, announced that it will fund a £2m project aimed at bringing down the Belfast peace walls “by building confidence between the communities”. Given the slow pace of political change in Northern Ireland, that may take some time. Read the rest of this entry »
Antonio Olmos photographs the walls built across Northern Ireland’s capital city as a means of defusing sectarian tension. There are 99 of them, dividing nationalist Catholic neighbourhoods from loyalist Protestant ones. Some of the walls date from the early years of the Troubles, but an estimated one-third have gone up since the IRA ceasefire in 1994. Now, ‘peace gates’ are being opened in some walls in an attempt to foster greater links between communities
**Please click on the Observer link to start the gallery of 15 images.
21 Jan 2012
Filming on Divis Tower
A NEW documentary film featuring a popular community worker and McGurk’s Bar campaigner has been named as ‘Best Debut’ at the Netherlands Film Festival.
‘When the War Ends’ which features Robert McClenaghan is directed by Dutch filmmaker Thijs Schreuder and was shot in and around west Belfast in the run-up to Christmas last year.
It examines how local people have coped with the legacy of the Troubles after the conflict ended. The film was given an exclusive screening in the Felons club recently to a rapturous response and will be shown as part of next year’s Belfast Film Festival.
Speaking to the Belfast Media Group Thijs said he initially came to Belfast to film a different type of documentary.
“I wanted to do something on how the borders of Europe were disappearing yet new borders were appearing within countries,” said Thijs.
“I arrived in Belfast and spoke to Coiste na nIarchimi [the ex-republican prisoners support group] and EPIC [Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre for loyalist prisoners]. I was struck by their stories and so my plans changed. In Holland the war in Northern Ireland is seen as over, but from doing this film I found that people are still fighting the war in their heads. It was a subject I was interested in.”
Thijs and his crew were filming around Belfast when the area was covered in heavy snow. He chose to focus on Robert McClenaghan, whose grandfather Phillip Garry was murdered in the McGurk’s Bar bombing and who also works as a guide for Coiste’s political tours, as he felt viewers “would connect with him”.
“The story also has to be understood by an international audience not familiar with the conflict here so I knew people would connect with Robert,” said Thijs.
“He is a unique character with a unique outlook on life who has the capability to reflect on his own life. Some people are on the edge of collapse after coming through conflict while others find a way to cope, and Robert found a way to cope. It was also important that we filmed the documentary in the run-up to Christmas as it’s traditionally a time of reflection and the heavy snow adds to the overall feeling of the film.”
Thijs said the film received a very positive reaction when shown in the Felons.
“There was one scene when Robert is sitting on a chair at home reflecting on his past and this person came up to me after the screening and said, ‘I was that man sitting on that chair and I recognise that feeling. I am stuck in that chair and it’s good to see that I am not alone’.
“That’s what I wanted to achieve in this film and I am grateful to Robert for sharing his story.”
Speaking about his involvement in the film, Robert said he saw it as a opportunity “to explain to a wider audience how our politics and our community developed from the conflict”.
“They started following the tours and then they would ask the guides questions about the tour group and how it came about,” said Robert.
“Then that in turn led to questions about our own pasts as part of the republican movement and that’s how I got involved. I spoke about what happened to us as a community after the likes of the Falls curfew, internment and other incidents and how it changed people – people either buried their heads in the sand or, in our case, they stood up and fought back. My generation of people became very politicised by those incidents, incidents like losing my grandfather [Phillip Garry] in the McGurk’s Bar bombing in 1971.”
Robert said he’s pleased with how the film turned out.
“It was very intimate in terms of my family life as they ended up following me for 26 days,” he said. “I think it’s an excellent attempt to tell a complex story of 30 years of conflict through one man.”