Legacy: A Collection of Personal Testimonies from People Affected by the Troubles in Northern Irelan

First paragraph of 2 March entry:

John McAnespie – I live in a little village here in Tyrone – Aughnacloy. I had lost a son here some years ago, it was in ’88. He was shot going to a football match on a bright, summer, February morning. He was someone that had got a lot of hassle from the so-called security forces. A lot of my hope was taken away the Sunday that my son was shot.

This was a collection of short radio pieces broadcast at the rate of one a day throughout 1999, the year after the Good Friday Agreement when the peace process seemed to be lurching back into crisis. Very simply, each day someone who had been affected by the Troubles got a couple of minutes to reflect on their story. The very first one, told on 1 January, gave me an instant shock of recognition: it was the account of someone who I vaguely know, who actually shares my surname, of the death of his mother, killed in a Loyalist bomb attack on her home in a Belfast street which I know very well, 32 years ago today. And I think for a lot of people there will have been a shock of recognition as each voice gave a human dimension to incidents which we might or might not remember having happened – Omagh, Bloody Sunday, Loughinisland, Brighton, Kingsmills, come up several times, but many accounts are just of isolated incidents, forgotten except by those who were most closely affected. And we hear from all angles: the paramilitary, the policeman, the soldier, the businessman, the bystander, the mother, the father, the brother, the sister, the orphan, the widow.

It’s tough reading, and I think it would be even tougher listening. Grief and horror are not easy subjects. Some have found it difficult to move on from loss, and resent the failure of the state and of politicians to give them closure through justice. Some have moved into numb forgiveness, rejecting all sides. Some have found the grace to move into reconciliation. One can admire the last of these while sympathising with the others. These are awful things to have to deal with.

Putting my comparative hat on, I think Legacy is remarkable. It is genuinely broad and diverse. Many post-conflict initiatives – including also some in Northern Ireland – concentrate on telling only one side of the story. That offers a certain catharsis to those involved, but also entrenches narratives. It is of course a political choice, to emphasise the common humanity of suffering rather than seeking to portray one side’s experience as noble and discount other perspectives. But it was the right political choice.

Unfortunately this excellent work is not very widely available. A handsome package including hardback book and 12 CDs was published in 2007, several years after the initial 1999 broadcast, and seems to be now out of print (and cost £25). A dozen of the stories were originally uploaded to the BBC website but have disappeared now. It’s a real shame that this particular moment in time, really crucial for the embedding of the peace, has almost been lost.

One thought on “Legacy: A Collection of Personal Testimonies from People Affected by the Troubles in Northern Irelan

  1. Rather enjoyed Prisoner of Zenda rip off “State of Decay”. Perhaps the superlative Peter Jeffrey had something to do with it.

    All kids hated Adric. This is something that John Nathan Turner never fully appreciated. A boy who wears a badge for mathematically excellence day in and day out and talks about it incessantly is never going to win the hearts and minds of his contemporaries. Not Matthew Waterhouse’s fault – just a basic problem of character conception.

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