Today is Healing Through Remembering’s (HTR) Day of Reflection on the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. Now in its sixth year, HTR describes the day as:
‘A Day to acknowledge the deep hurt and pain caused by the conflict, to reflect on our own attitudes, on what more we might have done or might still do, and to make a personal commitment that such loss should never be allowed to happen again.’
Appropriately, the members of Northern Ireland’s new Victims and Survivors Forum also were announced today. The 25-member body attracted controversy earlier this month when it was leaked that Eibhlin Glenholmes – once called ‘Britain’s most wanted’ IRA suspect – was to be appointed. The Forum will meet on a monthly basis over the next two years and also hold public meetings.
There are a number of events taking place to mark the Day of Reflection in Northern Ireland and also in the Republic.
This morning, the Day was marked where I work, the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast. We extended an open invitation to share tea and scones, and to avail of our peace garden for quiet contemplation.
‘It was felt that this was a symbolically important day because of the ebbing relationship between the hours of light and day – a symbol of the pain and hope in our society. It is a day that is forward-looking and backward-looking at the same time. It is a day which represents a pause in the cycle of nature, a moment to reflect. Furthermore, the day’s significance is related to a naturally occurring event and nature makes no distinction between races, creeds or political perspectives.’
Unfortunately today’s weather has not been conducive to spending time outside in the garden. But this type of rainy and overcast weather can prompt its own type of reflection.
HTR’s own event is taking place today between 11 am-2pm in the Linenhall Library in Belfast. People are invited to read something out, to talk quietly to others or to sit in silence. This is an open event – all are welcome to attend and participate.
The evolution of the Day of Reflection has been interesting. In its earliest incarnation, it was referred to as a Day of Private Reflection. Indeed, HTR still encourage people to reflect privately if that is how they feel most comfortable.
But I think that the gradual increase in public events marking the Day has been a positive development.
Comparative studies of post violence societies indicate that public acknowledgement and recognition of the suffering of victims and survivors can facilitate their healing.
I also hope that the Day of Reflection can prompt a further level of awareness among all people living on these islands, not just victims and survivors.
We should recognise the great tragedy that has been a result of the decisions – by many people over centuries – to use violence to further political causes or to gain power over others.
In my recent review of Johnston McMaster’s latest book, Overcoming Violence, I quoted his assessment of violence in Ireland. I think it is apt to repeat it here, today:
‘Perhaps the only moral case to be made is that none of the violence and counter-violence was justified, that it was bloodlust let loose, revealing not heroism but the darkest side of being human. There was and always is an alternative way with historical precedents, and the voices have always been present but drowned out.’
(Image: visitors, staff and students at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast mark the Day of Reflection. Pictured (left to right): Franka Winter, PhD candidate, Sarah Jankowitz, PhD candidate, Barbara Hart, PhD candidate, Dr Lee Smithey, Swarthmore College USA, and Caroline Clarke, Executive Officer Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation)