Memory, Metaphor and Imagination: Northern Ireland resurrected in art and peace
by Francie Scanlon
Nov 22, 2010 | 2462 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This image, "Flag of Many Nations" is a detail from the "Banner of Hope," by Gillian Davidson (2008), and on exhibit at the Queens College Art Center.  The exhibition - Voices Envisioned: Memories Made in Northern Ireland - runs through December 23, 2010 and represents a collaborative oral history [storytelling] and visual art project in which intergenerational Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland reflect and re-examine the intercommunal conflict.
This image, "Flag of Many Nations" is a detail from the "Banner of Hope," by Gillian Davidson (2008), and on exhibit at the Queens College Art Center. The exhibition - Voices Envisioned: Memories Made in Northern Ireland - runs through December 23, 2010 and represents a collaborative oral history [storytelling] and visual art project in which intergenerational Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland reflect and re-examine the intercommunal conflict.
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On Thursday, November 18, in the President's Conference Room at Queens College, Dr. Paul Arthur, a Professor of Politics at the University of Ulster and a Peace Scholar at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, delivered a much-anticipated address entitled "From Widgery to Saville: From War to Peace in Northern Ireland?"

Under the influence of an umbral eclipse on Sunday, January 30, 1972, a group assembled in Derry, North Ireland for a civil rights march. The hot-light search for truth generated in the aftermath of that so-called Full Wolf Moon has only recently upstaged the back-drop of 'The Troubles' that engulfed residents of the northern part of Ireland's six Counties for over thirty years. 


The dueling reports focus on the events of Bloody Sunday. The first report bears the name of then-Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Baron John Widgery, and is widely viewed as a 39-page whitewash. By contrast the Saville Report, issued 38 years thereafter on June 15, 2010 in Derry, sets forth Saville's condemnation of the British soldiers and his exoneration of their Irish victims, who he said were not posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

Saville's report contrasts with Widgery's in many crucial respects, namely on the issue of British soldier discipline: who shot first, false accounts by soldiers to justify firing, and the breakdown of the chain of command in order to make arrests.

What begs the question at the end of the titled presentation may be the fact that more than 3,600 deaths ensued during the full-blown civil war that followed. Prior to Bloody Sunday, 256 people had been killed.

The Council on Foreign relations has estimated that Protestant paramilitary groups have been responsible for 30 percent of the civilian deaths in the Northern Irish conflict. The two main Protestant vigilante groups are the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

On July 16, 2002, the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) issued its first apology to the families of the 650 civilians killed by the I.R.A. since the late 1960s. The apology was released several days before the 30th anniversary of the I.R.A.'s Bloody Friday attack on July 21, 1972, which left 9 people dead and some 130 injured. During the attack in Belfast, 22 bombs exploded during a period of only 75 minutes.

Professor Arthur, who has been a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University, tracks the transformation of what the British Government viewed as “...nasty little school kids throwing stones at one another” into a situation where some were willing to go to death for their identity.

Prior to that fateful Sunday in January 1972, many Irish in the north of Ireland had greeted British soldiers with tea, viewing them as liberators from a political tempest with militaristic overtones.

Ironically the violence displayed by British soldiers on that last Sunday in January 1972 created at once a catastrophe for the British Government and an unexpected opportunity for the I.R.A., which could not control the number of people who suddenly wanted to swell their ranks.

Having been involved in Track Two initiatives with British and Irish politicians and with civil society since 1990, and having participated in conflict resolution workshops in Colombia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Palestine and South Africa, Professor Arthur, a Catholic native of Derry, underscores that “...conflicts are not solved by people sitting on mountains.”

After being elected British Prime Minister in 1997, Tony Blair - who Professor Arthur credits with “doing a remarkable job in Ireland” - kept his promise to then-American President Bill Clinton by ensuring that the I.R.A. would be at the negotiating table via “parity of esteem.”

The seminal moment, however, when the 'war' was really over - in the view of this global peace-maker - occurred on September 11, 2001 - when then-U.S. Envoy to the N. Ireland Peace Process - Richard N. Haass - was coincidentally in Ireland reading 'the riot act' to the I.R.A. for their alleged consultations with Colombian rebels.

Making references to Seamus Heaney, W. H. Auden, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. - this warrior for peace, Professor Arthur, declared: "I have always been an optimist and I have always been wrong." He added, "I would have been a nobody but for the conflict; a cynical alcoholic school teacher."

Heaney, a Derry native who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote in The Cure at Troy: "So hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge....Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells."


Professor Arthur has taken that admonition seemingly to head and heart, traveling global roads within Derry and beyond shining his unique powers of illumination on the human spirit and its ability to integrate its humanity within the community of others. 


On Tuesday, December 7 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in association with "Voices Envisioned," Paul Muldoon, poetry editor of The New Yorker, and the chair of the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University will conduct a poetry reading in the Rosenthal Library Auditorium - Room 230 - Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing.
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