One of the most ambitious and innovative projects ever to address conflict and peace-building in Northern Ireland was celebrated at the Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast on Thursday 5 December.
The Peace Process: Layers of Meaning has been funded by £864,000 from the European Union’s Peace III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. It was developed by a team of researchers at Queen Mary University of London, Dundalk Institute of Technology and Trinity College Dublin.
From death row to the mansion of a head of state, small kitchens and front parlours, to legislatures and presbyteries Professor Seán McConville and Dr Anna Bryson’s wide interviewing experience has been brought to bear on this project. Together with broadcaster and journalist, Jim Fitzpatrick – Thursday’s keynote speaker - they will reflect on the interview as a tool for peace.
Project Director, Professor Seán McConville stated: “In my earlier work on the history of punishment I was repeatedly faced with the human consequences of conflict, loss and choice, insights rendered all the more powerful - sometimes painfully so - by individual stories and voices. All too easily the passing years obscure or diminish these testimonies. This project will preserve them for generations yet unborn."
The Peace Process: Layers of Meaning project’s three main strands:
The first is the creation of a heritage archive containing 100 lengthy interviews with key figures in peace and reconciliation. People from all walks of life – nurses, community leaders, politicians, victims, clergy, senior officials, street sweepers, musicians, building contractors, members of frontline services and many more – reflect on the challenges of the last forty years. From their own unique perspective witnesses from the far corners of Britain and Ireland describe what it was like to want peace, to work for peace and to be denied peace.
An oral history training programme equipped a diverse range of community leaders, students, local politicians, teachers and ordinary citizens with the skills and self-confidence necessary to engage with the past in a legal and ethical manner and to collect their own stories of conflict and peace.
This training gave way to three exemplary cross-community and cross-border projects. Love and Marriage in a Divided Community explored the vexed issue of mixed marriages; Capturing Memories: The Balmoral Show, Winter Fair and King’s Hall examined camaraderie and interdependency in the farming community; and Being Me brought together youth groups from Ballynafeigh in East Belfast and Muirhevnamor in Dundalk to explore attitudes to identity and diversity.
These community-led initiatives were designed as multipliers. Project Co-Director, Dr Anna Bryson said: “We have been enormously gratified by the feedback from participants. Many have gone on to train members of their host communities and organisations. Funding applications have been submitted and a number of new projects are now getting under way.”
The wider project has also produced a number of important resources. The final two in the series – an Oral History Training Manual and a film and resource pack for use in teacher education entitled Out of Adversity – will be launched at the event.