Conflict as personal: The bomb and bullet legacy @TaR_Platform
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
16 May 2018
During the Troubles, an estimated 3,500 people died. The only true cost of the conflict was the human cost. There is no number for the human cost. There are no sides in suffering and loss.
Under the name, The Bomb and Bullet Legacy, the Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) organised a discussion at the Parador Inn (south Belfast). The project aims to support every victim of the conflict and creating lasting peace and genuine reconciliation through “talking, listening and learning from each other”.
Denise Johnston, one of the organisers, welcomed everybody and introduced the guest speakers, four men who lost relatives in attacks during the Troubles: Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers — John Martin, Anthony, and Brian — were murdered in a loyalist attack in 1976; Joe Campbell, whose father (RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell) was gunned down in 1977; Stephen Travers, survivor of the Miami Showband Massacre in 1977; and Alan McBride, who lost his wife (Sharon McBride) in the Shankill Road bombing.
Johnston emphasised the barbaric period of the Troubles and the aim of a genuine reconciliation: “Every member of the panel has the brutality of the Troubles upon them. None of them seek revenge, just truth.”
Seamus Mallon, former deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, chaired the discussion, highlighting the importance of not forgetting the past: “If we are not aware of the past we are forever a child.”
Following the opening remarks, each of the panelists told their loved one’s losses through respectful and emotional words. Their personal stories have to be heard and remembered, not to forget the past, but to seek justice and to build a future of no sides.
Reavey said: “When I was in the hospital morgue collecting my brother’s bodies, the Kingsmill relatives arrived. Our family knew them all. That massacre wasn’t in our name. The victims weren’t our enemies; they were our friends. They were ordinary decent people, just like us.”
Campbell remembered why his father decided to become a guard and how he was appreciated by the community he worked with. “He discovered something so sensitive that lead them to the decision to kill [my father],” said Campbell, who after years hasn’t received a report that answers who committed the murder and why the murder was committed.
Travers told his childhood story, his days playing in the Miami Showband and the following years after the attack. He told how it took 30 years to realise that he was a victim, not just a survivor. Travers said: “It’s not easy to tell these stories, our stories, but we tell them together because no side has the monopoly on suffering or pain. We tell our stories so we don’t repeat the past. We need to learn to live together.”
McBride mentioned how in the 1980s the abnormal was normal, how people learnt to coexist with violence and killings. Sectarianism and division was everyday life: “They didn’t go to the same schools, they never shopped in the same supermarkets or drank in the same bars.” He told how life looked like for him: “You fell in love, you got married, you got kids, your kids grew up, they fall in love, they get married, they have kids and life is done.” But, when you lost some of your loved ones, “conflict becomes very personal for you”.
During the discussion, the singer and songwriter, Finbar Magee, played a song as a tribute to the late Jimmy Reavey.
There are so many things that we could learn from these stories and from the devastating impact of violence in life.
The past is still the present in so some many ways, the stories of these four men can connect us with the past and personalise the tragedy of the violence and conflict. All we need to remember and learn from the past to build a peaceful future.
“If stories of empty chairs, empty beds, empty cradles and empty hearts serve no purpose other than to stay the hand of violence and give peace a chance, such testimonies are surely a precious gift to humanity.”
A song by Stephen Travers, “The Calling”, which he described as spreading the message of reconciliation, can be heard here: https://stephentravers.hearnow.com/