A Bridge Too Far?

The conflict in Northern Ireland has been a highly managed one, contained in certain areas and occupational groups. It was the war that was not allowed to be called a war—merely an unaccountable epidemic of criminal violence, which filled our jails and our graveyards. How can one mark the end of a war that was never acknowledged to be a war?

The communities that have suffered worst are not on any tourist route; the worst effects—with certain explosive exceptions—are often hidden. The culture of silence means that many of the stories are untold, and there is often a taboo about telling them. The casualties are tidied away out of view, usually after a sound bite of media coverage, and their long-term suffering and loss is a surprise to many, who somehow imagine that people "get over" bereavement, loss, injury, betrayal of trust.

This culture of silence helped to maintain the myth that nothing untoward was happening. Yet there are communities that have been multiply impacted, young people who have grown up in militarized situations, who have grown accustomed to army patrols passing every 15 minutes, for whom peace, in the absence of youth activities, career prospects, or entertainment, is "a bit boring." Young people are used to a culture of militarization, alongside the low expectations fostered by poverty, poor education, and political marginalization.

Leaving the war behind is anxiety provoking when it is not clear what will replace it. Imagine life in a community in which joining the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was seen as serving your country and a mark of bravery, where women scraped together money to send parcels of food into jails, where children learned to throw stones and make petrol bombs, where everyone knew what areas to avoid.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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