24 Nov 2020
Honest Reflection, Ethical Remembering,
by Hedley Abernethy
Everything is different now, of course: temperatures taken at the door, hands sanitised, we ask questions about health and travel in the past week.
These new protocols do not diminish the obvious delight the group at the Shankill Women’s Centre has as they meet face to face again. Peering through my mask and visor I see clearly that being together is key to what we do.
As 2020 draws to an end I ask these women, as I asked folks in Lisburn, how should we ‘do’ 2021. Many fear that the extremes will dominate the discourse, for some a time of celebration and others lament. They are certain that the pain & bloodshed that was visited on the island of Ireland in the 1920s has no place in the 2020s.
As part of our Decade of Centenaries project, I was accompanied by Pearse Lawlor on a walking tour of Lisburn. Pearse is the author of ‘The Burnings’, a book about the riots following the assassination of RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy. He showed our group the sites of many homes and commercial premises like the former Catholic owned Connolly’s pub, now a dancewear shop, that had been looted and burned.
This was the first time the group had heard many of these stories told and a rich discussion took place afterwards about whether this could happen again. There was a sense that Lisburn has changed a lot in one hundred years but also a fear that sectarianism is still so deeply entrenched within parts of our society and that it might not take much to light the fuse again. One participant reflected on the violence that marked this period and soberly remarked that there’s very little to celebrate about the events that ultimately led to the partition of Ireland.
The sentiment that existed in Lisburn was repeated across Ireland as respective governments introduced legislation on both sides of the border that protected their new political status. Knowing this and also knowing Corrymeela’s work in peace–building and reconciliation, how should we face into 2021? These are questions we ask ourselves and ones which the women at Shankill Women’s Centre, as part of our Belfast and the World course, are also asking. We continue to challenge sectarianism and provide space and place for honest reflection for everyone, particularly those who are most marginalised. As we do so, we are guided by the Principles of Ethical Remembering which creates the safety to have these difficult conversations well.
This remains our greatest challenge and our work in 2021 will continue to reflect this.