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We ARE all in this together......

While it has been a month since I first landed in Derry/Londonderry, I will always keep a special place in my heart for that place that is ......peace.  At least, a hope for a lasting peace.  As I have been inspired by the work that folks at The Junction are doing, there are also individuals here and there who are continuing the work, either naturally as breathing, or deliberately and intently.

Here is a wonderful portrait of an individual featured February 3, 2013 in the Derry Journal.  The article is appropriately titled, "We are all in this together" and features Mr. Victor Wray.  A terrific story, to be sure.  Let's keep the peace.

-- Teresa Mary


Christmas Around the World

By Kathleen Fueston

The Diamond or center of town in Derry/Londonderry.
The new blankets of lights.
 I have never been outside of the United States during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays until now.  It was a wonderful experience to walk the streets of Derry/Londonderry on the first night we arrived and see evidence of the holidays all around us.  The lights on the streets where very lovely "blankets of lights" that covered the four streets that feed off of each side of the Diamond- the center square of town.  There were Christmas trees and nativities in the shops and Christmas wreaths on many of the memorials around the town. 
Christmas tree in the shopping center.

Come to find out, the “blankets” of lights were new this year. They also had the older style of lights hanging around the town, but the new lights had been positively embraced by the community.  There were articles in the paper about the lights and when we went to the BBC Foyle Radio Station, we were told that a group of citizens were asking the City Council to keep the lights up the whole year for “the City of Culture” events that would be occurring throughout 2013.   I haven’t been able to find out if a decision was made on this proposal, but I think it is a wonderful idea.  It was a great example of the community rallying around something positive and uplifting.

The Tower Hotel - Home away
from home.
Christmas light on the streets of Dublin.
Wreaths at the World War memorial.
A star and nativity at St. Columb's Cathedral.
The holidays tend to soften people’s hearts and the New Year is a time to formulate decisions about the changes we want to make in our lives and the world - for the better.  I am grateful I got to be in this special place to witness a tradition celebrated worldwide.  The time of peace on earth and good will toward all men.  In Derry/Londonderry it seems they are seeking to live in peace not just at Christmas, but every day. 

The End of Violence and the Foundation for Peace

By Rebecca Franklin

Michael Doherty is a community leader and peace activist born and raised in Derry. Mr. Doherty started full-time community relations work in 1987. As a Nationalist, Non-Republican he has committed himself and his efforts to ending the sectarianism and violence to help build a peaceful community. He serves as the current Director of the Peace & Reconciliation Group whose mission is, “To promote the development of community understanding and co-operation through the delivery of community relations and community development programs.” He also serves as the Vice Chairperson for The Junction, a community relations resource and peace building center.

Mr. Doherty was inspired and moved by three specific events in Northern Ireland’s history. First, The Troubles in Derry, which began in August of 1968 with the Civil Rights Parade that was banned, but occurred regardless of the banning. Second was Bloody Sunday, which occurred January 30, 1972, where 13 people were shot and killed. Mr. Doherty recalls the memorable moment and had previously marched with some of the victims. The bombing of his family-owned barbershop in October 1976 was the final pivotal moment, which truly motivated him to go into community relations work. The IRA targeted his family’s barbershop because some of the customers were police and British Armed Forces. Luckily, no one was injured or killed; everyone happened to step out of the shop seconds before the bomb was detonated.  After that incident, Mr. Doherty decided he was going to do something to help end the violent conflict and stop the killings.

In order to be successful in his calling to help build peace and end the violence in Derry, Mr. Doherty knew he needed to obtain a formal education. He had not finished school as a young boy, so as an adult he went back to school. In 1979 he enrolled in Magee University, obtaining a degree in Social Administration and eventually a Masters Degree in Public Administration and Legal Studies. Mr. Doherty swells with pride as he recalls the many opportunities he has had to travel. In 1990 he had the chance to travel to Boston and Philadelphia to study mediation from the Mennonite community there. In 1996 he was one of twenty invited by United States President Bill Clinton to study mediation at Fordham Law School in New York City.

When asked about the current state of the conflict and the status of peace in Northern Ireland, Mr. Doherty replies, “The conflict has been transformed to be less violent.” He outlines many of the current challenges for peace building in Northern Ireland to include: The definition of who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor; Republicans and Loyalists not fully engaging in the peace process; the Republican/Nationalist Communities not understanding what the Loyalists have lost or given up; the continued segregation of communities and schools; and the fact that the local community has always been two separate groups, and never been united as one society.

While Mr. Doherty does not see true peace and the final end of the conflict being achieved in his lifetime, he does see that progress can be made through storytelling and dialogue. Though dialogue is a slow process, he feels it is the only option for peace building in Northern Ireland. With storytelling and dialogue, the goal is, in his own words, to “decommission the current mindsets, not weapons.” This method allows the people to see each side differently and to see the struggle and pain their counterparts on the opposite side have lived through. For Mr. Doherty the only way out of the conflict is when all sides can fully engage in non-threatening and meaningful dialogue. Through this process of understanding, peace is created.
In his upstairs office at the Peace and Reconciliation Group office in Derry, Mr. Doherty sits at his desk, the walls around him covered with family photos and artwork he has done.  He accepts that true peace will not be found any time soon, but by his starting the process now, future generations will not have to live through the violence he lived through. Progress towards peace is being made thanks to people like Mr. Doherty.

Jean Hegerty - Woman of Courage

By Teresa Notarmaso

Jean Hegerty grew up in the Pennyburn neighborhood of Derry. As a child of the 50’s and 60’s, she lived in an integrated neighborhood of Catholics and Protestants, with four siblings.  The first inkling, she says, of any discrimination of Catholics was when she went on her first job interview.  Because one could not tell by her name (Elizabeth Jean) or the street she lived (Phillips Street), the interviewer asked her where she went to school. When Jean told the interviewer, “St. Patrick’s Primary School”, the interviewer ended the interview, saying that he did not hire Catholics.  Jean was not outraged or horrified by this. She went on to get another job.

In 1965, she left Northern Ireland for Canada with her husband, where she worked for the next few years. Then on one night in 1972, Jean received word that her brother, Kevin McElhinney, had been shot and killed in the Bloody Sunday civil rights demonstration in Derry. She returned for the funeral, and while on the plane ride back, her thoughts initially were of finding and killing the soldier who killed her brother.  

Upon return to Canada, Jean remained there but was still wondering more about why her brother was killed, and who had done such a thing. Meanwhile, the first inquiry (Widgery Inquiry) took place, and the results in 1972 maligned the victims of the Bloody Sunday incident, saying that those shot were guilty of terrorism (and worse).  

Recently, I asked Jean moving forward, whether the peace negotiated in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 would stand, and what would it take to have complete reconciliation.  Jean’s response: “Integrated schools, beginning with the education of our youngest children.  Jobs and a good standard of living for all.  And the ability to have a good education, which enlightens and provides the road to compassion.”  True words.

How Important is Forgiveness and Compassion?

By Shelley Svedahl

In 1972, ten-year old Richard Moore, was on his way home from Rosemont Primary School in Derry/Londonderry when he was shot in the eye with a plastic bullet. He has been blind since that time.
In an instant Richard's world turned to darkness.

Richard’s story is about forgiveness and compassion
                      Richard in his office on St. Joseph's Avenue in Derry/Londonderry.

“I am a victim of the troubles and there is nothing I can do about that but I refuse to be a victim of anger and I do have control over that.”  

                                Richard sees with his heart and focuses on his abilities.

He questions why anyone would want to be angry and live anger.

He believes that forgiveness is a gift for yourself: it’s not for the other person. Forgiveness doesn’t change the past, but it can change the future. Forgiveness is not about the perpetrator; instead it is first and foremost about your ability to let go. When you can do that anything is possible.

Six years ago Richard met the soldier (Charles) who shot him. He rehearsed what he would say at that meeting because he wanted Charles to know he has no animosity towards him and that he forgives him.
                                Dialogue is a bridge and an opportunity to come together.
                                The statue 'Hands Across the Divide' in Derry/Londonderry.

For Richard, forgiveness was easy, but he knows it isn’t easy for everyone. Clearly victims never want to be victims but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to forgive.
Richard is not saying that by forgiving others you say that what they did was okay. Forgiveness isn’t about justice.

Richard hopes his story is an example of how forgiveness can have an impact on the future. He explained that emotions and feelings are like cells within the mind and each of us holds the key. 

“If my ability to forgive is held by the soldier then he has the key. Sorry is a type of key. If I am unwilling to forgive Charles unless he says sorry, then I have given Charles the key. In my mind, I shouldn’t give Charles the key.”

According to Richard, the peace process isn’t only about what’s happening in Northern Ireland – it’s also about what’s happening internally. He believes we can implement structures of the peace process such as government policies, environmental conditions, dialogue, but those structures mean nothing if you’re not at peace with yourself.

It’s simple. The bottom line is there’s never going to be peace where there is conflict. People need to talk. People need to listen. People need to share. And in the end it’s okay to agree to disagree.

It’s a personal journey and dialogue is the key. Richard wanted to tell his story about forgiveness and compassion to show that forgiveness is possible. He will continue to share his story. In 2009 he wrote Can I Give Him My Eyes?

I only learned of his friendship with the Dalai Lama when I read the back cover of his book. In conversation with other members of the community I heard many stories about Richard's special relationship with the Dalai Lama. The stories were clear evidence of Richard's humanity and further proof that he is a living example of truth, forgiveness and compassion.  
In 1996 Richard Moore founded the charity Children in Crossfire because he wanted to give something back. 

Documentary on Children in Crossfire.

The office of Children in Crossfire at 2 St. Joseph's Avenue Derry/Londonderry

How to Grow a Garden

Gerry Lynn at the Tower Museum
by Amber Luckie

Gerry Lynn's title is "Guide." However, Lynn is so much more than a guide, he is a teacher, historian, philosopher and inspiration. I found Gerry in a chance meeting at the Tower Museum. I shared why our group was in Derry and how we are studying the peace process. He chuckled a bit and asked did you say peace process or peace building? I responded, I suppose both why do you ask? From there, Gerry was gracious enough to share his story. 

Gerry explained building peace as creating a field in farming or planting a garden. In his metaphor stopping the violence is the first step in preparing the field. Currently we are in the process of tilling the field which is in essence starting the conversation. The challenge that crops up currently is like rocks. Imagine plowing a field back in the old days and your plow hits a rock. Those rocks slow the process and the have to be removed. If you don't remove the rocks your field isn't going to be as nice as it could be. He sees the rocks as truth. 

The truth, if not dealt with, like a rock, tends to resurface causing problems if not properly addressed. He thought the most effective way would be a Truth Commission similar to what South Africa had done. Gerry grew up on the Bogside and remembers the Battle of the Bogside as a 10 year old. I had made the assumption that Gerry was Catholic but when I asked Gerry responded with, "If I was born in a stable would it make me a horse?"He is definitely gifted with the use of vivid imagery. I was interested to know how he viewed David Cameron's Apology for Bloody Sunday, he saw it as a positive step in the right direction. The apology enabled a lot of healing for a lot of people in Derry. Gerry also lost his father during the Troubles. His father was caught in cross fire between the IRA and British soldiers. Gerry still doesn't know which side fired the shot that claimed his Dad. He said he has reached forgiveness but still wonders exactly what happened. I asked why the details are important if he feels as he has forgiven the people involved. He responded with, "The Truth sets you free." 

What happens after we remove the rocks, I asked. He said, "Plant the seeds." The seeds are the children and this garden will grow better when the seeds are together. The separation of schools perpetuates issues. He viewed the increased immigration as helping the peace in Derry. The people that relocate here from other countries tend to send their children to the integrated schools. The integrated schools continue to grow and each generation it will improve. With education and exposure to each other prejudices will decrease. Gerry also covered a number of myths in the history most of us have learned, reasoning some history has had better P.R. than others. He told me we're not any smarter than we were we just have the gift of hindsight.

Reaching For Peace

by  Charlie Murray

   Brigid McElroy is a manager of a Hospice Shop for the terminally ill and she has also been a part of Towards Understanding and Healing for many years. She is from Strabane which is where her story began over 40 years ago. Brigid was part of a large Catholic family that included nine children. Brigids father Seamus was an active IRA member that left his family behind and crossed the boader to avoid arrest.  However, he still still spent 1-2 years in prison three different times. He was away from his family for 40 years. During this time Brigid's mother Nora supported herself and the nine children as well as her husband. She did this in a town that had the highest unemployment rate in the industrial world and was once the most bombed town in Europe per size and was the most bombed town in Northern Ireland during the height of the "Troubles".

Brigid's family was considered IRA, which in her words means they were "treated as nobody". She was not actively involved, but she had two sisters that were. She has always kept herself and her family away from getting "actively involved" and she doesn't agree with hurting and killing. She wants to have a united Ireland, but "not at the cost of lives".

Brigid didn't know she had a story until she attended a residential. It was there that she realized what she had been through and that someone wanted to listen. She discovered that through the storytelling workshops people can share their stories and begin to heal. They build relationships as well. Some of her best friends are protestants and ex policemen. This is proof that peace can be built through dialogue.

Today, Seamus is back in Strabane and has been in a nursing home for seven years due to Alzheimers. Nora is in poor health, but her mind is strong. Brigid has managed to keep her own family from getting actively involved and is helping others through The Junction and Towards Understanding and Healing. Her hope is for a united Ireland, but she believes that Irelands future will be "tricky" because "everyone will never be satisfied, someone will always be starting up".