Pioneering peacebuilding at The Holywell Trust


Pioneering peacebuilding at The Holywell Trust
by Sam ALLEN
22 June 2017

American academic, Professor Ann Kelleher (Pacific Lutheran University), launched her new book, Pioneering Peace Builder: A History of Holywell Trust, at the resident of Irish Joint Secretary, Ruairí de Búrca. The book details the history and activities of the community development group from its creation in September 1988 to the present day.

Kelleher discussed her motivations for writing the book and what issues and history the book covers. After the talk there was time set aside for questions and comments from the audience. She was accompanied by Eamonn Deane (Chair, Holywell Trust), who also spoke and answered questions alongside Professor Kelleher.

Kelleher stated that she was initially motivated by seeing the “depth and commitment” of the individuals involved in the peacebuilding efforts in Derry-Londonderry. This convinced her that “there must be a story here”. One of the main topics she wanted to explore and elaborate was why the Holywell Trust had been successful: “So many peacebuilding organisations, when the funding stops from outside, they stop. So what has kept this one going?”

She added that since so much had been written on peacebuilding failures, she decided it necessary to write about a positive case. And of the cases that were positive she said that they tend to look at peacebuilding schemes from an “official level” and rhetorically stated, “Where are all the studies of the local people that do peacebuilding and try to put it into practice?”

Kelleher described how initially she had expected to write about a typical organisation, but ultimately discovered that the Holywell Trust is “not an organisation; it’s a community of people” and that it was a “way to empower others”. This took time to learn, but she said “…once I figured it out then things started to work out”. Kelleher also commented on how she had studied a number of successful peacebuilding cases in the past (such as Thailand, Namibia, and Peru) and wanted to find elements they had in common.

This led to the discussing the issue of leadership, which is also specifically addressed in the book. Kelleher stated that through her reading she concluded that strict leadership hierarchies, in regards to peacebuilding, aren’t effective. She commented, “Don’t ask who’s in charge, just see how it’s working out.” Deane agreed and made a similar comment stating that the notion that “any one person can lead an organisation is total nonsense”, and in a larger perspective he also said that the belief that there are “world leaders” is a “redundant idea”. He concluded that it was much better when people “become their own leaders and become their own heroes”.

“And that’s what peacebuilding at a local level is — people taking responsibility for themselves,” Deane concluded.

In response to the two-part question of what was the most enjoyable and most challenging aspect when writing the book, Kelleher stated, “Both the same answer.” She explained that at the start of the project, having to look looking through large amounts of data and being an outsider was difficult.

However, the openness and friendliness of those involved at Holywell Trust allowed her to feel welcome and “part of a group”. This hospitable environment “kept me going until I figured out what this group was about”. Once past the initial uncomfortable phase, she started to enjoy the experience and focus on the more relevant questions. Then putting it all together was “like a puzzle”.

Since its beginning, The Holywell Trust has been involved in peacebuilding, reconciliation and community development in the Derry-Londonderry area. It regularly works with other organisations and hosts a variety of different programmes that facilitate dialogue. From September 2015 to March 2016 the organisation provided a large number of events, meetups and a podcast series. It is mainly supported by the Community Relations Council and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

Pioneering Peace Builder: A History of Holywell Trust can be purchased by contacting The Holywell Trust on +44 (0)28 7126 1941 or

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