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CW88 – Reconciliation: Overcoming barriers across the Irish border

By Revd Dr Stephen Skuce, Methodist Church in Ireland Northwestern District Superintendent

 

What does reconciliation look like in a rural community that has been attacked for simply being the people we are?  The answer is ‘complicated’.

The Northwestern district of the Methodist Church in Ireland includes the full border between the two jurisdictions, with about a quarter of our district in the Republic of Ireland.  Most of the northern churches are fairly close to the border.

You will know perhaps of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb, and the Omagh bombing. Both included our members among the dead and injured. The Warrenpoint attack in which 18 soldiers died is at one side of our district and on the western edge of the district, Lord Mountbatten and three others were murdered. Dozens of our members have been killed and countless others attacked, threatened and so on. The memorial tablets in our border churches sometimes refer to 1914-18 or 1939-45, but all too often refer to those of us murdered far more recently.

That was then, but still also now. The long shadow of our history still affects us. Brexit and its clear implications significantly jeopardise peace. We want to move on, but Brexit pulls us back.

I currently live in Strabane/Lifford. The two parts of the town are separated by a river that is also an international border. Brexit has made that border harder again.

It’s hard to focus on reconciliation when you live near the border and experience systematic attacks over generations.  We are far from claiming a monopoly of suffering. That is sadly a widely shared experience but is sharpened in rural areas where we know each other. We work with each other. We farm alongside each other, lend each other equipment and buy our livestock from each other.

We may be educated separately, largely socialise separately and follow some different sports, but we are neighbours.  So, when we have been attacked, it was by those who live close by. We live beside neighbours who somehow saw nothing and knew nothing about an attack. These aren’t distant wars. This is over the hedge. Reconciliation is a decades long struggle.

Methodists have been outstanding in the search for peace. The work and price paid by Gordon Wilson after his injury and death of Marie, his daughter, in the Enniskillen bombing is perhaps well known. A Methodist minister, Harold Good, was one of two witnesses to the IRA’s decommissioning of their weapons and the UVF announced their ceasefire in a Belfast Methodist church.

We’re trying our best. On the same day as the Enniskillen bombing the border village of Pettigo/Tullyhommon was also targeted by a bomb aimed at the children gathering for the Remembrance Day parade at the Methodist church. That bomb failed to go off but the legacy of the attempted attack on the Protestant children of that community, all part of a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, is hard. But today we enjoy a shared community building in the Methodist Church that is used by all.

The price of peace is very high.  We have been required to let murderers walk free.  We have to stop searching for justice and accept government from those who targeted us. We are willing to pay that price because we are Christian people of hope and a future.  It will get better, although it’s not guaranteed. But it’s even harder to overcome barriers when you live on the border.

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