I had interviewed Maurice Healy for the just-posted story on “Building Trust on Irish Borders.” Maurice spoke about a lot of the historical grievances and pain that still affect people in many communities there. “People talk about things that happened 200 years and they are still aggrieved,” said Maurice. These feelings move across generations and the young people too will bring up sectarian divides—even though, on the surface, they just seem to care about their I-pods. Religious differences, he added, are part of everyone’s DNA. Having heard this input, I wondered if the project featured in Newtowncunningham could really be called a “Model of Unity.” But, this site is not about “perfection.” Small steps matter and people have crossed divides to better the village as a whole.
Eight years ago in Newtowncunningham, for example, no one would even use the halls of other groups, but now that is more common. The Gaelic Athletic Association, once known for its nationalist loyalties, has opened its doors to larger membership—including British security forces. And, contingents of youth have had enough positive experiences with cross-community activities and peers that they are getting adults to cross the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland borders for the first time. Erenrefvenan The case study shows that this bridge-building work is not easy, but it has to start somewhere. “Unless someone starts things moving” noted a Community Foundation for Northern Ireland report, “these communities will remain excluded and become further alienated at considerable social and economic costs to themselves and to Northern Ireland.”
Do you have experience in Northern Ireland? If you do (or even if you don’t), share your thoughts!