Saturday, 9 March 2013

Shared stories, personal histories

Last Monday most of the volunteers headed off for a trip to Derry / Londonderry. It was my third visit to the city in three weeks, which I also visited with two groups I had recently worked with. The format of each of the three visits was relatively similar, with local people taking us to tour their city and sharing some of their stories of the history of this troubled place.

I do not regret repeating the trip three times. It was probably that repetition which reminded me of Derry's most important lesson: that in Northern Ireland, and maybe everywhere, history is a very personal reality and objective truth doesn't really exist.

Each week our tour guides told the history of a city which still lives in the shadow of key events from its distant and more recent past; most notably the siege of Derry in 1689 and Bloody Sunday in 1972. I appreciated their candour and honesty as each told the history of their home through the prism of their own experience. "The same story" was different each week.

In a city statistically dominated by the Nationalist / Republican / Catholic community it is perhaps unsurprising that all our guides came from that background. Conflict has long emphasised not only the differences between the two communities here, but also the similarities within them in an attempt to simplify the complexities into two seemingly homogeneous groups. The people we met in Derry were a reminder that identity is rarely so simple

Perhaps Northern Ireland's history is less the story of two communities, and more the story of 1.5 million individuals.

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