When the American Civil War was near its end Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address, spoke of the need to “bind up the nation’s wounds and to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”.
Those words are pinned to the board in our staff room. In times of cynicism and manipulation of victims these words always serve.
My first visit to Ardoyne was August 1993. With thousands that day, I walked in the first republican march into Belfast City Centre. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as the city’s people took a step towards equality in the context of an infant peace process.
The other context was the escalating loyalist campaign of terror. Two weeks before the home of Sinn Féin councillor Annie Armstrong had been attacked with Annie and her daughter Frances narrowly escaping with their lives. A few short weeks earlier Alex and Liz Maskey’s home, was attacked and Alan Lundy from Ardoyne was killed.
That August night I stayed with the friend of a friend in Ardoyne. I visited her before I went out to the GAA for the night. I noticed four different memory cards on her mantel piece. The wife of a political prisoner, she picked up one to show me. It was for Alan Lundy. All of the four remembered had been conflict killings, two by the British army and two by loyalism.
There was palpable fear going into the GAA that night. After a significant political moment there was now a real expectation of a violent response.
A few hours later word came through that 21 year old son of Sinn Féin councillor Bobby Lavery, Seán, had been killed. Their home had been attacked before and Bobby had survived a bomb attack on the New Lodge Sinn Féin office a few weeks earlier. Bobby’s brother Martin had been a victim of the loyalist campaign the previous December.
The vivid memory of that night remains for me as a devastating snapshot of the reality for those living in North Belfast. While West Belfast suffered egregiously, the loss of lives in North Belfast surpassed all other areas. Policies of state violence and collusion played out in the area from the beginning of the conflict. Families were affected by actions of all actors. It was the area where deprivation, devastation and death became almost normalised. And where tangible fear was a way of life. Twenty years later the wounds of trauma and compounding wounds of outstanding truth and justice remain open in many homes.
This week families are meeting in North Belfast to begin a new chapter in recovery and healing. Families are leading the way and their calls for transformative measures of care and truth recovery must be heard. We all have a duty to the binding of those wounds and cherishing a just and lasting peace.