Day 7 and 8
After a successful day at Boys Model on Thursday, we had a scheduled appointment to visit a group in East Belfast, a Unionist area, at the Andy Tyrie Interpretive Centre. The Centre is a group associated with Charter for Northern Ireland (http://www.charterni.com) whom we visited last year and wanted to connect with again this year. We were invited to meet folks at the Centre to talk about the peace process from the perspective of the UDA, the Ulster Defense Association. We were met by William (Billy) Rowan, Jackie McBurney, and Bobby Oshcroft, all volunteers, and two of them former UDA prisoners (pictured with the group, below).
It’s impossible to encapsulate the two hours that we spent with these three men, who told their stories passionately and in great detail. The Interpretive Centre is filled with newsclippings, artifacts from prison days, weapons, and flags. Of course, we talked about the current flag protests and their understanding of what was happening. As they walked us around the centre, several of us made the connection to what Michael had said in Derry about the importance of people being able to tell their stories, and to feel that they have been heard. All three are dedicated to the peace process, and admit to mistakes they have made individually, and collectively as the UDA. Jackie is currently studying Peace and Reconciliation, and all are commited to the peace process. One thing that amazed us was when they said that Sinn Fein was teaching them how to document their stories, and how to organize politically, because they are years ahead of them in both of those areas.
On Friday afternoon after the school sessions, we visited Tar Anall, the republican organization that works with ex prisoners and their families. Last year we met with Pat Sheehan, Sinn Fein MLA and former hunger striker, but because he was on his way to Palestine and unable to meet with us, we met with Eibhlin Glenholmes. The SMU group met with Eibhlin last week and Bridget said it was a wonderful session. For some of Eibhlin’s story, try http://eamonnmallie.com/2012/06/eibhlin-glenholmes-her-story-of-war-and-peace-brian-rowan-reports.
It’s safe to say that the two hours we spent with Eibhlin was riveting. Her story over the past 40 years brought herself, and many of us, to tears. She apologized at the end for taking so long, but none of us seemed to mind. Presenting a very different interpretation of the flag protests, it was clear that she too was commited to the peace process. The complexities of the issues became very real to us through hearing these two personalized stories.
On Thursday night Trish from Bernardo’s took us out to dinner. We went to a wonderful Spanish tapas restaurant called The Two Taps, and had an amazing meal together. Tapas are appetizers ... the prelude to the meal. However, folks often make meals of many different tapas, which is exactly what we did. We had many different dishes, meat, vegetarian, fish, potatoes ... As I reflect on our visits to East Belfast and Tar Anall, presenting very different histories and very different points of view, I thought perhaps they were like tapas – they certainly left us wanting more, hungering for a deeper understanding to the complex history of this country.