‘Unless we start listening, we’re not going to move forward’

“Unless we start listening, we’re not really going to move forward,” says Julieann Campbell, editor of the Unheard Voices collection of women’s stories from the Troubles. She was interviewed in the latest Forward Together podcast.

Julieann reflects in the podcast on the impact on her of the interviews with women about their experiences in the Troubles. “I think it has affected me on several levels, emotionally and in my work,” she says. “It is a fact that it has made me more sensitive. It has made me more empathetic towards people I meet. And it has made me less judgmental.

“And I think it has opened my eyes to the hurt that is still here that I would never have seen if I hadn’t engaged in this kind of work. So it was a real eye opener for me personally.

“I think some of the strongest work that I’ve done in recent years was with the security forces. And being from my community I would have been afraid to speak to those people. But they were some of the most powerful interviews I’ve ever done.

“And it was really, really interesting to hear that point of view, because it was something that I had never, ever been privy to before. And it gives you a different perspective, because it shows that the hurt and the fear was universal.”

Julieann adds: “Across the board, there was a feeling of a shared anguish and a shared pain. And that shared feeling that you were afraid to go to bed at night because you didn’t know what was going to happen. And that was [true for] victims and perpetrators. And that was [true for the] security forces. Everyone had that same sense of dread and uneasiness. And I think that comes across very powerfully in the work that I’ve done.”

Unheard Voices is unusual in terms of studies into the Troubles, because it not only contains first person stories, but also they were from women. “They were the backbone of society, we always say,” explains Julieann. “But nobody ever asks women for their voice. That’s why this Unheard Voices project was a challenge.

“When you sat down with these women, most of them said, oh, I haven’t anything to tell. And then they would start speaking and you could hear a pin drop. And it became very obvious that no one had ever asked before. And that’s something that we need to address. If there’s all these untold stories out there, who’s asking and who’s listening? That would go a long way to healing and moving on. It’s just that basic human want to be heard and acknowledged.”

Julieann adds that there is “a recurrent trait that people think no one wants to know what happened to them”.  Capturing stories at this time is essential, adds Julieann, because many of the people involved in events are towards the end of their lives.

“My daddy was present in Bloody Sunday and is not with us anymore,” says Julieann. “And I wish I had asked him, because he never spoke of it and never gave evidence at the inquiry. Whatever he saw was so horrific.”  And for witnesses of various events, the impact “has been life changing”, but so too has been the opportunity for them, years later, to tell their stories.  “That was a few hours of our life, but it changed someone else’s life,” says Julieann.  “I would say it is a catharsis.”

She adds: “We can’t just brush it under the carpet.  It comes up time and time again. There’s so many historic cases that have never even had an inquest, let alone a police investigation. And these are coming on 45, 50 years ago. And if it’s not addressed right, then we are actually leaving the next generation with a burden. And that’s not fair on them… it’s an open wound passed on.”

While Julieann says that listening to the stories has been positive for her, it has also been painful.  “I would’ve had a lot of crying in the middle of the night. And one time there was a story about a woman whose husband was shot dead through her living room window when they were just sitting, watching TV – and speaking to that woman about that and then writing that out and transcribing it. I had to stop and drink wine and watch cartoons in the middle of the night, I remember.

“And that was one that particularly affected me, that I had to do anything to get those images out of my mind. So it became quite difficult, intruding on someone else’s grief, almost. But in a way, that’s a privilege as well. And you have to do their story justice.

“There’s no point shying away from it. That could be very easy when someone is telling you something that is so significant, and so detailed, to move on to the next thing, but, no, let them speak and let them go into every single detail, because even if it is uncomfortable for us to hear, my God they need to say it.”

Julieann Campbell was interviewed for a series of three special podcasts featuring writers of historic events in the Troubles, asking them how these stories affected them and what their experiences might mean for how we deal with the Troubles legacy.

The latest podcast interview is available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.


  • Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

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