Fr Paul Byrne and Rev Andrew Rawding: On the Path to Peace in Mid Ulster–How Can Clergy Address the Legacy of the Troubles? Conference in Coalisland 26 February

goanddoOn Wednesday 26 February, clergy will gather in Brackaville Parish Hall in Coalisland for a conference for clergy titled: “Go and do thou Likewise” (Luke 10:3). In the guest post below, organisers of the event Fr Paul Byrne and Rev Andrew Rawding explain how they conceived the event and the kinds of questions it will address.

I am speaking at the conference on ‘The role of the clergy in addressing the legacy of the Troubles,’ along with other academics and clergy. Click here for the full programme and more information about how to register.

On the Path to Peace in Mid Ulster by Fr Paul Byrne & Rev Andrew Rawding

If you take a walk through our parish in Coalisand, County Tyrone, you will see multiple signs of ‘the legacy of the Troubles’, from the last hundred years. From the steps of the Parochial House follow the path through the graveyard of St Mary and St Joseph’s Chapel, past graves and memorials to members of the IRA, some killed in the SAS ambush at Clonoe Chapel in February 1992.

Exit the graveyard and walk down the hill towards the centre of our small town and you will pass the plaque on St Patrick’s Hall, commemorating the Irish Volunteers who gathered to participate in the ‘Easter Rising’ in 1916. Further down the hill on the right is the ‘Republican History Museum.’ Across the road is a cairn commemorating the start of the first civil rights march in Northern Ireland in August 1968. Follow the route of that march towards Dungannon and you cannot escape the sight of the disused police barracks. It is a caged, reinforced concrete eyesore, which has become the community notice board, including a political banner quoting Eamonn Ceannt: ‘never treat with the enemy, never surrender to his mercy, fight to the finish.’

Continue on your march to Dungannon. After several hundred metres turn into Brackaville Church of Ireland graveyard, passing the headstones of UDR soldiers killed on nearby streets. Reach the steps of the Rectory, from where you will see a memorial to an IRA volunteer, just across the road. These are just some of the visible signs of political unrest and historic violence in Coalisland.

If you’re a ‘blow in’ to the town, like us, you won’t see the many invisible signs which trigger fear, painful memories and a sense of injustice every day for many of our parishioners.

As clergy living and ministering in the town, we are faced with the challenge of addressing the impact of these visible and invisible wounds. It is a knife edge of egg shells.

Do we ignore the trauma, the unresolved grief, sense of betrayal, mistrust, guilt, shame and the hidden divides?

Do we pretend that everything is OK and that everyone has moved, or should move, on?

Are we creating more ‘troubles’ if we expose the denial and the silence?

Extreme violence is no longer a daily occurrence in Coalisland. But high levels of suicide, alcoholism and substance abuse in recent peace process years, suggest that violence has been internalised, and peace has not been processed mentally, emotionally and spiritually for many people. We are living and working, like many clergy in Northern Ireland, in the valley of the shadow of death.

We fear no evil, but we do fear that we could and should be doing more as ‘peacemakers’, for and among our parishioners.

As clergy in Coalisland we’ve been fortunate, able to talk about the issues and mutually support each other. But we know that many clergy are operating in isolation, particularly when it comes to ‘the legacy of the Troubles.’ We also know that clergy are human and they also carry the scars of violence, fear and trauma.

For our own benefit, and we hope for the benefit of other clergy in Mid Ulster and Northern Ireland we have initiated a conference in Coalisland, working with the Irish Churches Peace Project.

The conference in Coalisland is called ‘Go, and do thou likewise.’ It’s about the command ‘to love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ It’s about ‘loving God’ too and building his kingdom of mercy, justice and peace.

We’ve invited leading academics in conflict resolution, reconciliation and mental health to talk to us and stimulate discussion. We’ve invited clergy who have been on the frontline of ministry during the Troubles to tell their stories.

We want to give grassroots clergy generally a chance to listen to each other, talk about painful and contentious issues, and acknowledge each other’s experiences.

We know that some people don’t like the ‘e word’ of ecumenism, the idea that clergy of different denominations should interact together. We prefer ‘f words’, like faith and friendship; taking steps of courageous faith to build friendships which transcend suspicion, insecurity and resentment for the benefit of our community.

The walk through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’, leads to ‘a table in the presence of our enemies’. The biggest enemy is fear. It prevents us following the example of the Good Samaritan and responding to the command: ‘Go, and do thou likewise.’ Let’s overcome fear by walking together.


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