The first time I was referred to a ‘Child of the Peace’ was in Year 10 of secondary school. We were in form class with our teacher and it was the lead up to Halloween. She was was reminding us to be vigilant of the boys in the neighbouring schools across the town who had developed a taste for throwing fireworks after school at the bus depot. After giving this announcement she muttered something along the lines of “This wouldn’t have happened in my day.” The class looked back at her, puzzled and someone asked, “Why Miss?” she then went on to explain how fireworks were illegal in Northern Ireland until 1996 following the paramilitary ceasefire of 1994. We asked her questions and probed to find out why fireworks were considered so dangerous, we were innocent. We hadn’t been taught about the politics of our history, that was a lesson for after Christmas. She answered our questions and then smiled at the class before quietly remarking “Ah, Children of the Peace” and dismissing us to break.
It’s an interesting phrase and one that has been used to talk about an entire generation; those of us born following the 1994 ceasefire. It refers to a generation that grew up without the fear of violence; one who did not have to endure check points on our journeys home or check under their cars before they started them in the morning. I was born in the February of 1998; two months before the Good Friday Agreement was signed. On my 21st birthday I celebrated with family and friends, The agreement? It’s birthday celebrations were marked with the news of the death of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee in the Creggan area of Derry. On the day where this island should have been celebrating how far we’ve come from the bomb, and the bullet we were catapulted back into the past with the New IRA claiming responsibility for Lyra’s death.
In the weekend that followed I found myself drawn to rolling news coverage and refreshing my Twitter feed to find out some news about Lyra, to get some closure on the horrific events surrounding her death and to understand why this had occurred. On recent reflection it made me realise that this was the experience of my parents’ generation. 111 people were killed during the conflict in their native Fermanagh, most of them in rural areas where both my parents hail from. Members of my mother’s extended family narrowly escaped death on the 11th of November 1987 when the IRA detonated a bomb in Enniskillen town centre on Remembrance Sunday
My generation have grown up with the privilege of peace. A peace that is easily shaken as seen by the recent events in Derry and the tragic death of Lyra. For the most part we’ve grown up in the clutches of cross-community and shared education projects, inviting us to get to know the kids who attend the school down the road.
All of us in Northern Ireland, both young and old have a duty to protect the peace that we have grown to cherish. No one here wants a return to violence. No one willingly would vote to turn the North into a conflict zone. We must not let negligence on our part result in the events of the past coming back to haunt us. Peace has been present in this province for a number of years, it has been battered by acts of unspeakable violence by paramilitaries, with a 2018 report suggesting there have been 158 conflict related deaths since the Good Friday Agreement, 159 when we include Lyra McKee but the desire for peace is strong across this place as seen by the number of individuals who have rejected the violence that was seen on Holy Thursday night.
We cannot allow those who wish to inflict hatred on our society to win, we all deserve peace. Perhaps, it is time to begin to consider the reconciliation part of the Good Friday Agreement. Our communities are still divided; prejudices still remain, we are only fooling ourselves to suggest otherwise. A House divided cannot stand. We need to strive for a unity amidst the hatred that is present within our society. We need to realise that we all have a common goal, peace. Our peace is fragile and was hard-won. We are only doing it a disservice if we do not work together to cherish and protect it.
Image: A Border road between Belcoo, Fermanagh and Blacklion, Cavan.
Victoria Johnston is a student and freelance writer from Enniskillen. She has written for a wide variety of outlets including The Impartial Reporter, The Tyrone Herald and Fly By Those Nets. She tweets at @V_toriaJohnston