VIDEO: Ulster Workers’ Council Strike: 50 Years On #imaginebelfast

Freeze frame from video of Ulster Workers’ Council Strike: 50 Years On event in Crescent Arts Centre - Connal Parr is standing at the podium - seated near him are Dawn Purvis, Carmel Gates, Harry Donaghy, Jackie Redpath and Jackie McDonald.

Last Saturday, an Imagine! Belfast Festival event looked back at the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike: 50 Years On. A decade on from his 40th anniversary conference at Queen’s University – you can still listen back to my recordings on Slugger – Dr Connal Parr was joined on the Crescent Arts Centre stage by panellists Dawn Purvis, Carmel Gates, Harry Donaghy, Jackie Redpath and Jackie McDonald. The video of this year’s event can now be viewed. Filmed and edited by Alan …

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What now for legacy?

The widely opposed Legacy Bill is now enacted as the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, 2023. But it remains widely hated and the Irish government has launched inter-state proceedings against the UK administration. This is a clear and strong sign of how bad relations are between the two governments that are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Out of what we can now call the Legacy Act comes the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. While this …

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‘A floating process’: drafting the Downing Street Declaration

The thirtieth anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration was marked by a panel discussion organised by ARINS (Analysing and Researching Ireland, North and South) and held at the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in Dublin. RIA member Professor Katy Hayward chaired the conversation with Professor Ian McBride, Seán O’Huiginn, and Sir Jonathan Stephens. The event was in support of the Quill Projects at Pembroke College, Oxford; Writing Peace is bringing together archives, private papers, and oral histories from across the political …

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‘Building anew’: sharing lessons of transition in Germany and Ireland

A conference to mark Germany Unity Day was held at the Royal Irish Academy, co-hosted by ARINS (Analysing and Researching Ireland, North and South), Maynooth University, and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Dublin. Two panel discussions explored practical matters of transition in Germany while being alert to and making attempts to avoid and/or counter societal polarisation in any transformation process. The German Ambassador to Ireland, Cord Meier-Klodt, said that for him the focus of the day’s …

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Good Relations Week

Last week was Good Relations Week, the annual Community Relations Council event that aims to build relationships between people of different backgrounds in Northern Ireland, including across the traditional Catholic and Protestant divisions and also people of differing ethnicities. You might say this remains work in progress, which is not the fault of the CRC. Northern Ireland remains a toxically divided society – exemplified, and arguably amplified, by the inability of the two largest parties of the two largest communities …

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A celebration of unionist culture

A showcase day of unionist culture was held at 2 Royal Avenue, Belfast, with activities of a cultural identity video; a “living library” event; a talk by historian and broadcaster, Dr David Hume; an exhibition of archival footage by NI Screen of cultural events; and music performances. The event was organised by Belfast City Council, through its Good Relations Action Plan, Cultural Inclusion and Co-Design. This programme has been running since June 2022, with participants engaged in a process to …

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Acknowledging deep hurt and pain: Day of Reflection at Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Council hosted an annual Day of Reflection event for a second year, providing an opportunity for people and communities across the city to acknowledge the deep hurt and pain caused by the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. After introductory remarks, a short film was repeated during the day, interspersed with readings from a variety of authors. Attendees were invited to share their hopes for the future by adding a leaf to a “Message Tree”, and a number …

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Review: A People Under Siege by Aaron Edwards…

This is an important book for a number of reasons. While genuine students of unionism and the pro-union community here will be familiar with the historical timelines that hold the narrative together, there is a level of honesty and an attempt to explain the unionist community from an empathetic, sometimes sympathetic, position that has been too rare for too long. Edwards – unlike far too many writers from what is now euphemistically  termed “a unionist background” – does not set …

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Transmitting photographic energy of colour and love: Hannah Starkey’s Northern Ireland peace women

As part of the Belfast Photo Festival and in partnership with the Ulster Museum, artist Hannah Starkey gave a talk about her previous work and current exhibition on display, Principled and Revolutionary: Northern Ireland’s Peace Women. She addressed an audience of two dozen seated in the middle of the exhibition room, surrounded by 21 two-metre portraits on the walls. Starkey began by sharing memories of growing up in Belfast, accompanying her mother at her market stall, noting her respect and …

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Don’t Let Dead People Haunt Our Future…

man and woman holding hands

The veneration of the dead is common across humanity, in some societies even to the extent of praying to dead ancestors. Most countries do not go to that extreme but it is common for nation states to venerate leaders from the past. In the USA politicians even now talk about what the ‘founding fathers’ of their nation meant when they wrote the constitution over 200 years ago. Are we correct to place such trust in guidance from the past? What …

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Art can transcend GFA ‘institutional sclerosis’: Paul Arthur

Professor Paul Arthur (Ulster University) suggested that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement could be interpreted as “the end of the beginning”, when we moved from a political life of zero-sum (if you’re winning, I must be losing), to one of agreeing to disagree (with an element of mutual respect). He elaborated on this during his talk at the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre in Limavady, as part of a series of events co-hosted with his university and the Causeway Coast …

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Good Friday Agreement’s heavy-lifters still wait for Easter Sunday

sun rays inside cave

In Northern Ireland’s most challenged neighbourhoods and communities, where advocating for the Agreement carried the greatest risk, the 25 years since its signing have been a long harrowing of broken promises, stalled initiatives, and predatory practices. From the mid-nineties onwards, buoyed by the prospect of local power-sharing, a raft of social policies emerged with the potential of consolidating the decades of grassroots activism that maintained local communities (urban and rural) in the face of violence. Under New Labour, the first …

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‘Drop all and answer it’: The Red Cross neutrality in Northern Ireland

a red cross painted on a white paper

Sam Guthrie is an oral historian and project manager of the Our Stories – Our Times project with the British Red Cross. For thirty years Colonel Sir Michael and Lady (Aileen) McCorkell kept a secret. On June 20, 1972, their home – Ballyarnett, just outside Derry – had hosted the first meeting between representatives of the British Government and the Provisional IRA on June 20, 1972. While others waited outside Frank Steel, Dáithí Ó Conaill, P. J. Woodfield and Gerry …

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‘Human peace wall’ marks Good Friday Agreement’s 25th anniversary

A “human peace wall” event at a Belfast interface marked the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. About 100 people lined up from the Falls Road to the Shankill Road end on Northumberland Street, forming a line of solidarity across the community. They stood still for 25 seconds, to mark the years since the peace accord was agreed upon. The event was organised by New Life City Church and the Falls Residents’ Association. After some singing and prayers by …

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Previewing the ninth annual Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics #imaginebelfast

Imagine festival 202

The Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics is seeking to provide ‘brain food’ to all and sundry over seven days in March. The packed programme is a veritable feast of ‘ideas for a better world’. Now in its ninth year, the festival has over 130 in-person and online events, and the majority are free. While politics is often to the fore, politicians themselves aren’t usually platformed at the non-partisan festival’s events. But this year, one event will be exploring …

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‘Ordinary People’: an exhibition of standing up to hatred

“It’s the farmer in the field, and the pilot that he finds, Hides him in his barn, till all his wounds have healed. Or the baker making extra bread, to give a starving man, Or people helping people, who they’ll never see again.” The poem, “The Ordinary People”, by Sharon Kerr, is one of the dozens of items on display at an exhibition at Bangor Carnegie Library, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, remembering the millions killed in the Holocaust …

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The Jung Ones…

group of people walking on park

Many of you may know this fact, but it is a classic that always deserves attention. 110 years ago this January Josef Stalin moved briefly to Vienna. He lived there alongside Hitler, Trotsky, Tito, Freud, Jung, and Wittgenstein. Not as housemates though. — Dan Snow (@thehistoryguy) January 10, 2023 The BBC magazine has a good article on it. From the article: Vienna in 1913 was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which consisted of 15 nations and well over 50 …

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Review of ‘The Ghost Limb’ by Claire Mitchell: Finding the Spirit of 1798

The Ghost Limb: Alternative Protestants and the Spirit of 1798, is a meditation on the journey of its author, Claire Mitchell, through what she calls the ‘1798 dreamtime.’ Mitchell, who was born into Northern Ireland’s Protestant community, relates how she began to feel like Irish aspects of her identity and heritage had been cut off. For Mitchell, this loss manifested itself like a ghost limb, experienced as an existential ache for Irish language, landscape, and culture. Perhaps it goes without …

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Councillors disagree over 1711 witch trial victims’ innocence…

In a change from going on about 1690 and 1916, now 1711 in the headlines. As you may or may not know, this was the year of the infamous Islandmagee Witch Trials. From the Wikipedia entry: In March 1711, in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, eight women were put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft. The trial was the result of a claim by Mrs. James Haltridge that 18-year-old Mary Dunbar exhibited signs of demonic possession such as “shouting, swearing, blaspheming, …

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