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How a city lost its way, but found redemption.

By: Kyle W. Clanney

Over the course of Jim O'Neill's life many things in the city of Derry have changed, but the one place that has not is St. Columba’s Church (Long Tower). This is his place of worship and where he was baptized as a kid. The Long Tower from its inception in 1784 became a symbol of generosity for all faiths and beliefs.
Jim's old neighborhood on the Bogside

 Many others kids like Jim were impacted by “The Troubles” and as someone who grew up on the Bogside had distinct memories like hearing the droning of helicopters outside his window at night. Another distinct memory is how he was impacted like the funerals of Bloody Sunday victims. Even though he did not attend the march he stood in solidarity outside of St. Mary’s Church in Creggan. When Jim was grammar school at Lumen Christi College he was arrested and questioned, nothing ever came of it, but it was just another sign of how serious things were in Derry.

 Jim was arrested here as an adolescent and questioned

Jim was able to escape the conflict in Derry at 18, due to being an excellent student. He made his way to Manchester University, where he majored in Social Sciences. One of the first things he noticed once moving away was not hearing the sounds of helicopters outside his windows. During his time in England there were two events while living away that made him realize that the people in the other groups involved were human beings that did many of the same things that the people of his group did. The first happened while living in the residence halls, where he shared living quarters for a year with an army officer named Adam. They were able to debunk the others stereotypes. The second event was while he was working on an adventure playground in a large housing estate called Wythenshawe. This place had its own share of social and economic problems with many students dropping out of school to join the army from there possibly being sent on to Northern Ireland. The movement for Jim into the healing process post Good Friday Agreement started when he went to Lusty Beg and met with Maureen Hetherington along with a number of other trusted friends. This meeting was the crucial step in building the organization Towards Understanding and Healing. The focus of the event and organization was to get all sides (ex-paramilitaries, members of security forces, or victims/survivors who were innocently involved in the conflict in some form. This group is a model of Professor Dan Bar-On’s “To Reflect and Trust”, which was formed to create dialogue between descendants of both the victims of the Holocaust and Nazi perpetrators.

One of the most important meetings for Jim occurred a few years after the start Towards Understanding and Healing, which organized a conference called “Peace is Tough”. One of the people involved with “To Reflect in Trust” who were attending the conference was Adolf “Martin” Bormann, which is the son of Adolf Hitler’s confidante Martin Bormann. Adolf  "Martin" Bormann became a Catholic Priest and worked as a missionary in the Belgian Congo.  During his time with Martin, Jim learned that even though he was not responsible for all the death and carnage his father caused his birth had a purpose of seeking atonement and redemption.

Diamond War Memorial (WWI)

In the last decade Jim discovered that his Great-Grandfather and Great Great Uncle were killed during WWI. His Great-Grandfather was never mentioned in his home and in his mother’s home. He had the honor of taking his mother to visit his plot in Celles, France and while there found that there is a memorial a mile from the cemetery with Great-Grandfather’s name on it as well.

For the last four years Jim has been a Dialogue Development worker for Community Dialogue, which he is a vital piece in the development of it 15 years ago. His group over last year has come up with other methods like using Drama/Theatre and writing/performing music as other methods to help people get their stories out.

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