Healing Through Remembering’s Day of Private Reflection

Today is 21st June, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. This is the day selected by the Belfast-based NGO Healing Through Remembering (HTR) for a Day of Private Reflection, described by the organisation like this:

The Day of Reflection is a day for personal and private reflection on the conflict in and about Northern Ireland; a day to acknowledge the deep hurt and pain caused by the conflict, to reflect on our own attitudes, on what we might have done or might still do, and to make a personal commitment that such loss should never be allowed to happen again.  It provides a voluntary opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and further afield to reflect upon the conflict in and about Northern Ireland and the future that is before us.

To mark the day, HTR has created a space for reflection in the Linen Hall Library, which is open between 10.30-2.00 pm today. It includes an exhibition, tea and coffee, and occasional guest readings and song.

At the Irish School of Ecumenics on 683 Antrim Road in Belfast, where I work, we also have set aside a reflective space, and our garden is open to the public until 4.00 pm today. Staff and students at the Irish School of Ecumenics’ other campus in Milltown, Dublin, have created a ‘room for remembering.’ There, the film Gods and Men will be screened between 3.00-5.30, with discussion and refreshments following.

HTR’s Day of Private Reflection has been going for five years. It was conceived after HTR’s 2002 public consultation process on how we might remember our troubled past. A day of reflection was one of the recommendations.

The idea and the implementation of a Day of Private Reflection of course have their limitations – limitations of which HTR is well aware. Since 2007 HTR has produced evaluations of the Day, available on its website, which include commentary both from HTR members and those external to the organisation.

Just a sampling of some of the quotations from HTR members in the 2009 evaluation report show a healthy level of awareness of the Day’s limitations:

“The name of HTR itself is unfortunate. It is very hard to communicate. It conveys a sense of do-goodery, even religiousness… “ [HTR member]

“Reflection isn’t relevant here. Truth recovery and storytelling are what’s relevant for this demographic. And we need to see movement on these fronts before we can move forward in other areas – where can a Day of Reflection go without a baseline of fact established via truth recovery? We need a framework to reflect in, and at this point, there is no framework. I realise that the ‘Private’ aspect tries to deal with this and keep it low key. But in including that ‘Private’ bit, perhaps unwittingly, the organisation has said that there’s still a question mark hanging over why this is not an official public process. […] I’m not against the initiative, I’m for it. But like all elements of HTR, I feel that it can only go so far without the truth issue being addressed…” [HTR member]

“Do we really think that the people who were most impacted by the past 30 years, that those communities who bore the brunt of the conflict, need an orchestrated day of private reflection? Isn’t it perhaps the middle classes, and by extension the churches, the media, etc. who need reminded that something went terribly pear-shaped here?” [HTR member]

But HTR continues to promote the Day as part of a wider process of asking questions about how we are remembering the past.

There have been numerous examples, even in the last week, where debate about how we remember the past has descended into name calling (the Church of Ireland Gazette’s infamous ‘spoilt children’ editorial) and resorted to violent language, such as a recommendation on this blog that we ‘put a few more bullets’ into the Eames-Bradley Report on dealing with the past.

The Day of Private Reflection of course doesn’t provide all the answers. But my thoughts for the Day are around how we might encourage a more civil and sensitive debate about how we remember.


  • Greenflag

    ‘my thoughts for the Day are around how we might encourage a more civil and sensitive debate about how we remember.’

    All very laudable and praiseworthy in a ‘milleniumesque’ ‘end of days’ and new born new found humanity context along with the sandwiches and tete’s a tete among those far removed from the stonethrowers . Does the ‘we ‘ include last nights rioters in Belfast most of whom will be unable to spell ecumenism ,much less practice it . They’re having a hard enough time practicing the tenets of their ‘so called ‘christianity’ ‘

    How about trying ‘Healing through Forgetting’ / Could be less time consuming and as the ‘violent ‘ generations age into memory loss , dementia and Alzheimers a more practical objective ? Won’t do much for the current much ‘reduced’ crop of the summer rioters but hey nobody has all the answers eh which is because all the answers don’t exist and never have . Its the eh human default condition .

    But don’t be discouraged – the world is /was/always will be divided into those who don’t want to forget and those who always want to remember . It’s when both divisions find themselves juxtaposed as to the relative truths , merits or demerits of their remembrances or forgettables that the lofty pondering of ethics and moralities tend to get put aside and the folks get back to paleolithic times in more than just the stone throwing and drum beating sense .

  • Healing Thru Remembering gets a Government grant.
    In the interests of balance I will be setting up an organisation called “Healing Thru Amnesia”. I will obviously also be entitled to a grant to facilitate this good work.
    The day 21st June might be a useful day for people who never actually met, knew, laughed with, worked with, played football with a real victim. Or attended the funeral of one or several victims.
    Those of us who actually did carry or walk behind a coffin have so many other days to remember besides the artificial concoction that is 21st June.
    Im not impressed by people crying crocodile tears for people they never knew.

  • wild turkey

    ditto greenflag and fitzjames above.
    couldn’t put it better myself FJH

    the himalayas of moral and historical discourse are clearly staked out and occupied by gladys & co. having decided to confine myself to plains and foothills i have followed these discussions on slugger with interest and some dismay… and have been reading Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. Not beach reading folks… anyways, with respect to the topic at hand, some might find these lines from Mason and Dixon apposite

    ” … Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir’d, or coerc’d, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power,—who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish’d, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev’ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government…. ”

    Mason & Dixon , Thomas Pynchon

  • pippakin

    I don’t want to patronise anyone nor do I want anyone to be patronised. Those who remember have no need of a specific day and might even be offended by it, for them and all of us every day of peace is a day of healing.

    If a program relies on government funding then the likelihood of the leaders of that program declaring its work done is non existent. .

  • granni trixie

    I have great respect for the work of HTR generally. I also think that “trying out” the idea of a designated day in which to give space to thinking about the past is an invaluable albeit small scale.
    Yes ofcourse I am aware that those who are most affected must think on what has happened in their lives every day. But as a society we cant just sweep what has happened under the carpet. At some point decisions will have to be made about “what to do about the past” – a range of measures to recognise a bloody past that is not just going to go away.

  • Wild Turkey,
    Thanks for your agreement. I wouldnt want to personalise it by referring to individuals.
    I do believe that Truth Commission will be set up regardless of the fact that real people dont want it. It has been decided for us. In fact last Friday I submitted an article to Slugger on this very subject but it has not yet been published.
    The jockeying for position within the Conflict Resolution “industry” is interesting. Importantly its not just appointments to the Commission itself……there will be an army of “advisors” and “consultants”.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Ayee Fitz…..and you wre also convinced the DPP wouldn’t bring a prosecution about the guy knocked to the ground by the Police Officer in London…….

    If these guys want to remember someone today,it’s no skin of my nose.

  • Oh Im often wrong.
    And often right.
    But that guy knocked to the ground……as I recall my position was that there were hurdles…including “not in the public interest”, “reasonable chance of conviction”.
    Now sub-judice I suppose but feel free to re-post if theres a verdict.

  • Greenflag

    grannie trixie ,

    ‘But as a society we cant just sweep what has happened under the carpet. ‘

    Why not ? Not wishing to be unkind or non empathetic to those who have suffered as victims or as relatives of victims -is it not true that eventually sooner or later everything is ‘swept ‘ under the carpet anyway at least in the sense that there is nothing that can be done to change the past .

    ‘At some point decisions will have to be made about “what to do about the past”’

    By whom , when and where and by whose auspices and by which politicians , historians or sociologists or writers or whatever ? The harsh fact of life is that we cannot undo the past and it’s doubtful if we can even learn from it . Just look around the globe in any era of history and you will find predators and prey under any number of differently named ‘religions , political doctrines or economic theories or modes of government ‘

    ‘a range of measures to recognise a bloody past that is not just going to go away.’

    What measures ? Collective amnesia could be a lot more positive than all the necrophilian remembrances of the unfortunates who lost their lives for a cause.

    Perhaps the best example is to take from the French and Germans and Russians and Poles and the British (mainlanders) who have at various times in various wars killed of millions of each other’s people /peoples , colonials , etc etc and yet don’t go on with half the bloody dragging up the past that both ‘tribes ‘ in Northern Ireland seem addicted to.

    Move on -forgive and try to forget and work politically to ensure there is no ‘encore ‘ performance of the last generation or two of idiocy piled upon idiocy 🙁

    That would be how I see it but then I’m fortunate not to have been brought up in the Falls or Short Strand or Shankill .