In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet John Kyle from east Belfast, who is a GP and an elected representative of Belfast City Council.
To me Northern Ireland is home. I was born here, grew up here, went to school here, went to university here. I’ve lived here all my life, bar seven years when I lived in west London, between ’86 and ’93, which was a very formative experience, a wonderful time, actually. I think everyone who lives in Northern Ireland should be able to live outside of Northern Ireland for at least a year, discover what the world is like. I continue to live in Belfast and I’ve worked here continuously from 1993.
My father’s family were from Tyrone. My mother’s family are from County Down. She was a Stewart, so both Ulster-Scots names or Scots-Irish names. My father’s father, my grandfather, came up to Belfast, started a milk delivery business and built it up himself. My mother’s father was a bit of a farmer and entrepreneur. One of the stories is that he bought an island in Strangford Lough to grow flax on and the flax market collapsed and he was bankrupt. My wife’s from Northern Ireland. Her family are from a combination of County Antrim and County Armagh. I’ve got five grown up children. Three of them live in London. One of them lives in Drogheda and one of them lives in Belfast.
CS Lewis Square is right beside the health centre that I worked in for many years. And to me it epitomises Belfast and Northern Ireland. It’s an area that was derelict. It had been ravaged by the decline in traditional industries — the rope works, linen mills, the shipyard. It was also ravaged by the 30 years of civil conflict. And that was inner city, east Belfast, which again, many, many people suffered in that area and were caught up in the Troubles. But it’s now been transformed into a civic space. It’s a wonderful area, regenerated. It’s where people meet, where they socialize, where they walk to, they cycle to. It’s socially vibrant. It’s socially mixed. There’s a real sense of community. There are all sorts of events take place there. So people come, they mingle, they meet one another, they’re relaxed. They get to know each other. And it is a place that symbolizes the social regeneration as well as a physical regeneration that’s taken place in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years.
I am very hopeful for Northern Ireland. The story of Northern Ireland is remarkable because we’ve come through 30 years of civil conflict. Some terrible things happened in that, and yet we had the resilience and the character and the determination to end the war, to find some sort of way to make peace. Now, that process is incomplete. But I think that there has been a transformation in Northern Ireland. It shows that people can reflect, can reach out to one another, can extend a measure of grace and forgiveness to one another, and can shape a future, then, together.
Now, I think we need to create a future that addresses some of those demons of the past that makes sense of our division, anger, and our animosity. But it also creates a place where there is room for everyone to find a role, to make a contribution and to learn, to live together and to get to know each other.
And I think that has to be the foundation of the future. It has to be respectful relationships working together for the betterment of this place.
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