Happy Monday to all–this continues the Ireland blog posts which I’ll have for the rest of this week! The visit to Derry was so filled with content that I divided this into two posts. The morning (as outlined in the last post) was a walking tour of the neighborhoods and visiting the museum. After a brief lunch break, we grabbed some tea and biscuits and piled into the basement of a local community center to speak with a series of incredible people.
First, we met Raymond McCartney, a recently retired Sinn Fein MLA (member of the N. Ireland Legislative Assembly), former IRA prisoner and an ex-hunger striker. He told us the reason he decided to join the IRA was a culmination of his personal experiences while growing up in Derry/Londonderry. He noted that it was from those experiences that joining the IRA seemed either inevitable or just the next logical step. Jordan Daigle accounted, “many IRA members grew-up feeling oppressed or as though they were constantly at risk of abuse. To them, the best way to protect their families was to join an organization whose sole purpose was to expel their oppressors. We very rarely hear is the individual stories of members; what were their experiences growing up or what drew them to the fight. Raymond was the first former IRA member were heard from, but his story was one that was repeated much too often.”McCartney was a three-time imprisoned IRA hunger-striker, who “effortlessly framed the conflict for me” writes 3L Michaela Bear. “I was so captivated by Raymond McCartney it was not until after he was finished speaking that it dawned on me that he was released from his third prison sentence for killing a civilian and a Royal Union Constabulary officer only because of the Good Friday Agreement” she added.
We were then joined by an unlikely pairing – Lee Lavis and Fiona Gallegher. Lee is a former infantry man in the British army, who spent almost two and a half years stationed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Fiona is from a Derry Catholic family who suffered the loss of her brother – an IRA soldier – during that same time. Kaitlyn Gould reflected, “both individuals were victims of the system of which they were placed in, a system where the lives of civilians, working class citizens, soldiers, and so-called “terrorists” were expendable.” It was years after the Troubles that Fiona and Lee became friends through a forum that connected ex-soldiers with civilians. (For those of us who have worked with other restorative justice groups, and want to learn more, here’s the BBC story about them and the Veterans for Peace group)
“Having the opportunity to hear both Lee and Fiona open up to us and hear their experiences of the Troubles was not like anything you could read from a textbook” remarked Brook Oswald. She added “it was incredibly impactful listening to Fiona detail the fear, anger and loathing she felt for the British Army, yet empathize with Lee’s experiences as a loyal British soldier stationed in Ireland during the Troubles.”
Oswald concluded by saying, “you always hear that there are two sides to every story, but you never imagine putting yourselves in each person’s shoes and really understanding what got them to where they are today, which is exactly what the story of Fiona and Lee made me do. If two people such as Lee and Fiona, who viewed each other as the enemy for so long, can put aside the past and use it to move forward, it makes much of the conflict we face today seem so small.”