In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Deirdre MacBride, originally from Newtownstewart in County Tyrone, who describes herself as “a person of this place”.
It means family and friends and the rich life that I have here and what is a beautiful place. But it’s also a place that I’ve left at times — college in London, and to work, to go and live somewhere where bread and butter issues were the issues. As I grew up through the early years of the Troubles, Newtownstewart was still one of those places that managed to have a civic week. And I grew up in a place with a rich archaeological heritage of O’Neill castles, of standing stones, dolmens, and some clogogles — a Gaelic landscape.
And when I came back, I came back I suppose, because I wanted to know my parents better before they got old. I was homesick and I wanted to work here. In those early years of returning in the late ’80s and in the early ’90s, this also became a place of tragedy for me, as my youngest brother, Aogan, was beaten up in a sectarian attack in north Belfast in February, 1992, which left him with a severe brain injury, which meant that he couldn’t live a normal life or look after himself, until he died in 2016, in June, aged 55. And in those early months, when Aogan was in a coma, what I remember is also the kindness of people that I worked with in north Belfast, both Catholic and Protestant, who were kind and who were gentle to me and who understood tragedy.
And as the peace process unfolded, my hopes rose and I was drawn to work more on issues of peace and division. And I thought I would judge success in this place by whether we could have integrated the schools in 20 years — a job that we are maybe now only just beginning. And my hopes for the future are based on the work that I’ve done over the last 10 years, really, which has been working on the decade of centenaries and how we remember — without causing division — the years of state formation, which were from 1912 to 1923, and this was a place that was born in sectarian violence. And I hope that as we approach the 50th anniversaries of the Troubles that we can do so in a way that enables us to remember ultimately all of the dead. I look good respect at the families of communities who remembered those they lost. And I think that ultimately part of our journey and part of my hopes for how we deal with the next period is that we don’t recount every awful thing that happened, but that we find a way of remembering our own — the dead, those injured — but also those of the other.
And it reminds me of why I stopped watching the news, when I came back to Northern Ireland in the late ’80s, cause I got tired of seeing RUC officers being blown to bits and their funerals or their families and their colleagues because they were part of my community too.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD