The need for an agreed history…

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”. Oh Mr. Daedalus, if only you had been in Northern Ireland in 2018. History is everywhere in our political reality, and also somehow nowhere. It is slippery and vague, not unlike the content of a nightmare the moment the dreamer jolts awake. I turned 18 a few weeks before I voted for the first time, and that vote was on the Belfast Agreement. It was, to me, … Read more

Exhibition launch: “We Lived It: The Social Impact of the Troubles” @TheLinenHall

Exhibition launch: “We Lived It: The Social Impact of the Troubles” @TheLinenHall
by Allan LEONARD @SharedFuture
2 August 2017

The Linen Hall Library has presented the first of two exhibitions of its Divided Society digitisation and outreach project. “We Lived It: The Social Impact of the Troubles” contains artwork, imagery, ephemera, and oral history extracts from firsthand accounts of individual experiences.

Read moreExhibition launch: “We Lived It: The Social Impact of the Troubles” @TheLinenHall

Allan LEONARD is a peacebuilder. I do this through my personal and professional vocations, with learning, exploring, and reporting. My specialism is the politics of Northern Ireland, whose people and land I love and where I have made my home. I believe in the power of the arts for conflict transformation, through vision, sound, and performance. I work for a shared society and a #sharedfuture Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

Fresh evidence from the archives: When did Martin McGuinness actually leave the PIRA?

A previously unseen archival document compiled on behalf of the Conservative Party Northern Ireland Committee, dated 3 July 1975, and located in the Julian Amery Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, University of Cambridge, reveals that despite Martin McGuinness’s repeated assurances that he left the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in 1974, senior members of the British Conservative Party and British Army believed that McGuinness was still a prominent ‘I. R. A. leader’ in Derry by the summer of 1975, to quote … Read more

Now the turn of Seamus Mallon at 80. Why he and Trimble were unable to unite over arms decommissioning remains unexplained

Following the tributes to John Hume on his 80th   birthday, the venerable SDLP deputy leader and  the initial deputy first minster Seamus Mallon has given a fascinating interview to the Irish News  for his own  80th. In passing I can’t help noticing the comparisons and contrasts with Sinn Fein. What are yours? On working with David Trimble, Ulster unionist leader and the first FM Mallon says his permanent secretary, civil servant Billy Gamble – “an absolute gem” – regularly had … Read more

John Hume, a thumbnail sketch of achievement and failure

I’ve never been quite sure if we can call John Hume an unvarnished nationalist, but if we do, he was a great example of a leading nationalist who wanted to reach agreement more than attain  the goal of  Irish unity, as expressed in  his  wonderful oxymoron, “ an agreed Ireland.” While he enjoyed his hard- won international contacts, he remained unassuming, friendly and well grounded. Like many accomplished politicians he was less well regarded in some places where it mattered. … Read more

Without fear or favour: 30 years of Troubled Images

Without fear or favour: 30 years of Troubled Images
by Allan LEONARD for Northern Ireland Foundation
28 November 2016

The latest incarnation of the Troubled Images project — the launch of a free downloadable iBook  — was cause for a reunion of sorts at the Linen Hall Library for the original team that compiled and published its original CD-ROM 15 years ago.

Read moreWithout fear or favour: 30 years of Troubled Images

Allan LEONARD is a peacebuilder. I do this through my personal and professional vocations, with learning, exploring, and reporting. My specialism is the politics of Northern Ireland, whose people and land I love and where I have made my home. I believe in the power of the arts for conflict transformation, through vision, sound, and performance. I work for a shared society and a #sharedfuture Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

Digitising the peace process

Digitising the peace process by Allan LEONARD for Northern Ireland Foundation 1 September 2016 “You have to go to the archives!” an academic supervisor once advised me. At the time, this meant physically traveling to where the precious documents were stored, with your official letter requesting access permission, and spending hours transcribing (sometimes with only a pencil allowed). You were thankful if the items were available on microfilm or microfiche, because it took less time to review more material. And … Read more

SAS commander Blair Mayne’s reputation reviewed in an authorised history

Well whaddya know! The last shreds of mystery have been torn away, as the UK government has authorised “Rogue Heroes,  an authorised History of the SAS” by Ben McIntyre. The Times (£) has been extracting from it as he is an assistant editor. The history is limited to the WW2 and the immediate post war period. It doesn’t take in more recent SAS activity like the “war on terror” in Iraq and even Syria and long days spent on surveillance … Read more

Robin Chichester Clarke was the last of the gentry that treated government as part of the family business.

Robin Chichester -Clarke, the last of the old unionist gentry to hold office in either Stormont or Westminster,  died a fortnight ago at home in Norfolk at the age of 88.  His elder brother Jimmy, later Lord Moyola, (familiarly known as  “Chi-Chi,” after a notably  infertile panda) was Northern Ireland’s penultimate  prime minister in the darkening years of  1969 to 1971. Their family home was the handsome Moyola Park outside Castledawson, now a golf club. They belonged to a small elite … Read more

British Irishman, not a Black and Tan

In the Ireland of 2016 the British community (Protestant and unionists) still carry the curse of plantation, Cromwell, the famine, the Black and Tans and one-party rule Stormont. (Read ‘Being a planter‘ here.) The Protestant and unionists are the villains, by birth levied and vilified with historical wrong. Catholic is Erin and virtue, Protestant is Saxon and guilt. When Americans think of Britain they think of Monty Python or Downton Abbey. When the French think of Britain they think of … Read more

Time cannot silence the Voices of the Somme

At the start of July I posted on Slugger O’Toole to introduce Somme Voices, a month-long series of daily tweets in remembrance of that dreadful World War One battle. I’m returning to Slugger to bring the Somme Voices project to a close with a final poem. The reason is that I’d like to quote this one in its entirety and Twitter is a less-than-perfect medium for something of considerable length. It does, however, give me the chance to make a … Read more

Why we need more sixth century historians

“All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”  – Battlestar Galactica Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, Patrick Johnston, caused a furore this week with his comments claiming that “society does not need a 21-year-old that’s a sixth century historian”. Instead, he opined that “It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive … Read more

David Beresford hunger strike journalist and historian, RIP

The best journalists are often oddballs. They can win close access to power, regardless of whether power is of the state or anti -state variety. They   lack – and often spurn – status. They tend to walk alone and barely recognise dress codes. Perhaps their greatest quality is persistence against the odds, in which courage and ego play equal parts.   If they have to, they skirt round or quietly ignore the rules of the institutions they work for and … Read more

75th anniversary of the Blitz: Belfast City Council considering a permanent memorial…

There were pockets of the UK where the war barely reached. Belfast was one of them until the night of Tuesday, April 15, 1941, when more than a quarter of the people who died in the whole of the Troubles perished in one bombing raid. The city was particularly ill prepared since it was assumed it was too far north for the German bombers to go. The docks area took a hammering: whole neighbourhoods were almost wiped out at the … Read more

Gerry Adams at Easter. In full

I though it worthwhile to put on the record Gerry Adams’ Easter Centenary address, part unreconstructed old republicanism, part election address, a classic of its kind in style and content, without further comment.   On Sunday 27th March, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD addressed the Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery. Mr Adams stated that hurts and divisions must be healed if we are to realise the vision of the 1916 Proclamation. HIs speech in full: Address by … Read more

Perhaps the Irish kept changing the question because the British weren’t listening?

At Conservative Home, Dan Hannan nails something crucial, I think, in how the British mishandled Ireland throughout the century which followed the Act of Union… It is hard to read the history of Britain and Ireland without wanting to weep at the missed opportunities. For more than a century, Westminster had played catch-up in its Irish policy, always addressing a previous problem. By the time religious equality was proclaimed in 1829 (something Pitt intended as a parallel to the 1801 … Read more

In defence of John Bruton

It was brave of former Taoiseach John Bruton to chose last week to return to the ultimate Irish counterfactual. He’s taken to task for it in the Irish Times by historian Dr Brian P Murphy OSB I believe,” said Bruton, “Ireland would have reached the position it is in today, an independent nation of 26 or 28 counties, if it had stuck with the Home Rule policy and if the 1916 rebellion had not taken place.” the choice to use … Read more

With hindsight should unionism have been represented in Dublin yesterday?

It’s a fair question. Representatives of unionism would have been warmly welcomed  to the reviewing stand in O’Connell St on their own terms which would have underlined the end of the old ambivalence towards the use of violence in the North. But perhaps this was not the moment. By common consent, reconciliation has not been impeded.  It was nationalism’s day, no matter  how you line up the variable geometry.   Our German allies do not attend Armistice Day (although Mrs Merkel … Read more

Commemorating the archetypal History Man

The sub-title of a 1995 TV documentary said it all: he was an unusual kind of star. In his heyday he was capable of emptying pubs on a Friday night, simply by going on television and speaking his mind and explaining things clearly in plain, uncomplicated English. And how did this man make waves? By studying, writing and debating history. Alan John Percivale Taylor was born exactly 110 years ago. Amid the various anniversaries being marked throughout this year, that … Read more

1916 is still worth a fret or two

I’ve just finished reading my latest foray into an absorbing subject, Ruth Dudley Edwards’s magnificent The Seven, her biographical account of the main leaders of the Easter Rising, guardedly but critically reviewed by the  historian and Irish Times columnist Diarmaid Ferriter here. While Ruth may be dismissed by some as the arch revisionist, no reader can deny her command of  biographical  detail ( much of it her own research, some of it owing to many others who have written about … Read more