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March 28th, 2015

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02:19 am - Musings on Peace, Ireland & Lessons From Burning Man
Here's an excellent NYT article about the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland commissioning as huge Burning Man-esque temple to be built and burned as part of a ceremony to help bring the city together.

The city hired sculptor David Best, who has been constructing vast temples designed to burn down at Burning Man since 2000, to build the temple.

It's an excellent article and if you don't feel like clicking through, while important local Catholics and Protestants thought it was at best a very dubious idea, it brought the city together and was impressively popular. I've put an excerpt at the end.

Reading this article almost reminded about my own thoughts on Ireland. My mom's family is mostly of Irish Protestant descent, and while I've never been to any part of Ireland, I remember reading about it during "The Troubles". Of course, I didn't think about the time from the late 60s to the late 90s as "The Troubles", I simply thought if it as status quo for Northern Ireland, because it started before I became aware of politics and the killings and the bombs seemed unending, and not just in Ireland.

I visited England several times as a teen and young adult and starting in the mid-80s my parents visited London several times a year buying antiques, and I remember warnings when I went over there and reports from my parents of people they knew in London suggesting they avoid various locations.

I even saw the problems when I lived in LA in the early 90s. At the time, I knew several people in a local Celtic reenactment group, and once went out to a local LA event (Irish Fair) with them. I'd planned to attend both Saturday and Sunday, but the booth openly selling t-shirts of Margaret Thatcher and British soldiers getting executed and that the money would go to promote Irish freedom (with hints that the money would go to the IRA) utterly sickened me, and I did not return. Through all this, I assumed that as long as both Protestants and Catholics lived in Northern Ireland, the fighting would continue and nothing would stop it.

Then, in part because people on both sides got terribly tired of the violence and in part because Bill Clinton appointed George Mitchell to help negotiate a cease fire, all that ended almost 20 years ago, and now Northern Ireland is learning to live in peace, and now we have most of the populace of Londonderry, one of the hardest hit locations during "The Troubles", tentatively coming together at a Burning Man-like event. This is a human miracle worth celebrating and, most especially worth remembering.

As it turned out, the very first person inside the temple was Jeanette Warke, the 71-year-old manager of a loyalist youth club, who had lost her home in the Troubles and whose son joined the British Army when he was 18.

Kevin Strathern, a local architect who had helped build the temple, saw her wandering in, a “wee old lady” who soon burst into tears.

“Would you like a hug?” he asked.

“I most certainly would,” she said.

Mr. Strathern’s father, William, a well-known Gaelic football player, was shot dead on his own doorstep in 1977. Mr. Strathern, 8 at the time, was upstairs in bed with a toothache. “And here I was,” said Mr. Strathern, now 46, “a Catholic whose father was killed by Protestants, purely because he was a Catholic, hugging a Protestant.”

“We wouldn’t have hugged 40 years ago,” he added. “We might not have hugged 10 years ago.”

Things are changing, he said. In 2011, a “peace bridge” was built across the river, giving Protestants and Catholics easy pedestrian access to one another’s neighborhoods for the first time. The Ebrington army barracks, where soldiers would have plotted their Bloody Sunday deployment, have been turned into a venue for music and culture. Since 2013, when Londonderry was Britain’s city of culture, members of both communities can be overheard referring to their city proudly as “Legenderry.”

Over the past two years, the metal cages protecting windows along the dividing line from projectiles have gradually come off. There has even been talk of dismantling the 15-foot-tall fence that separates the two communities... (snip)

...By the end of last week more than 60,000 people in this city of 108,000 had come to the temple and left their messages. “For a united Derry,” pleaded one. “For the sake of our children,” read another. There were grainy photographs, a ponytail of human hair, a knitted baby hat and at least two vessels with ashes of loved ones. A postcard quoting the poet Seamus Heaney, raised nearby, wished for life “on the far side of revenge.”

Tony Doherty, who was asked by Mr. Best to help set the temple on fire, has spent most of his life hungering for revenge. His father was killed on Bloody Sunday, crawling for cover on all fours, unarmed. Mr. Doherty was 9. He later joined the I.R.A., and spent years in prison.

After he was released, he began lobbying the British government for a new inquiry. It would take six years until one was granted and another 12 until Prime Minister David Cameron stood up in front of rolling television cameras and formally apologized in 2010.

The soldier who shot his father was unrepentant when they came face to face in a court hearing. But if most Bloody Sunday families demand convictions to find closure, for Mr. Doherty “the score is settled.”

More than 3,600 people were killed in the Troubles, and no clear accounting has taken place. Justice means different things to different people, Mr. Doherty said, and that, in a nutshell, is the problem 17 years after Northern Ireland made peace on paper with the Good Friday agreement.

“I’m very conscious that I’m both a victim and a perpetrator,” he said. “I hope we will have a process where people like me can say what they did and hope for forgiveness.”

Mr. Doherty has shunned the bonfires for years. But last Saturday, he lit the temple alongside Ms. Warke’s son Graham, the former British soldier, and many others. Catholics and Protestants, some 15,000 of them, came and jointly watched it burn.

Also in the crowd was Mr. Latimer, his initial doubts allayed, happily quoting from the Gospels: “A light set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:March 28th, 2015 03:19 pm (UTC)
and in part because Bill Clinton appointed George Mitchell to help negotiate a cease fire, all that ended almost 20 years ago,

In very, tiny, almost homeopathically small part.

Don't kid yourself that Mitchell was anything more than a go-between; both main factions wanted a communicator who didn't have a dog in the fight.

A lot of the impetus on the UK government side came from Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for NI under Tony Blair, who cheerfully tore up the rule book and started from scratch. The successive Conservative British governments of Thatcher and Major had gotten stuck in a we-do-not-negotiate-with-terrorists mindset over a 18 year period, which they'd inherited from the crisis during the 1970s (when things were at their worst); Mowlam set out to negotiate with anyone who was prepared to hang up their gun during negotiations.

Mowlam was always remarkably outspoken and open-minded for a senior career politician; knowing she was dying of a brain tumour freed her from personal any long-term ambition and added urgency to her desire to rapidly secure a settlement.

Meanwhile, some credit needs to be given to Sinn Fein and the former Provisional IRA leaders (now graduated to senior political rank) for realizing they were locked in a stalemate, and to (ack, spit) even Ian Paisley, who took one look at an earlier version of this map and figured out what the writing on the wall said.

But to credit US politicians for brokering the peace deal is about as realistic as crediting Nikita Kruschev for the Apollo program.
[User Picture]
Date:March 29th, 2015 05:39 am (UTC)
One again, proof that the US new media provides less than accurate reporting - sigh.
[User Picture]
Date:April 3rd, 2015 02:06 pm (UTC)
In international diplomacy, "a communicator who didn't have a dog in the fight" is fair from nothing.

Try finding one of those for Israel / Palestine.
[User Picture]
Date:March 29th, 2015 02:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this glimmer of hope.
[User Picture]
Date:March 29th, 2015 06:04 pm (UTC)

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