and wickedness, thoughts of healing are a long way off, Peggy Curran writes.
Margo Harkin hails from a place in the north of Ireland so historically divided even the people who live there cannot agree on what to call it.
Nationalists, mostly Catholics who live on the west side of the River Foyle, call the walled city Derry, or, in Irish, Doire. Unionists, mainly Protestants who live on the east side of the Foyle, know it as Londonderry.
Harkin was a 20-year-old student on the day in January 1972 that brought her hometown the world’s attention, a day now remembered as Bloody Sunday. She was among more than 15,000 people taking part in a civil rights march when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing 14 people and wounding another 13.
After decades of sectarian violence that claimed more than 1,800 lives, peace has come to Northern Ireland.
Nearly three years ago, a public inquiry finally cleared the names of Bloody Sunday’s victims.
But that doesn’t mean people there are over the collective trauma, the background noise that has poisoned relationships and fuelled an- ger and mistrust between the two communities.
“It’s not simple. It’s never simple. You take many steps forward, and many steps backward,” said Harkin, a 61-year-old filmmaker in town last weekend for a mini-festival of her work, organized by Ciné Gael Montréal.
Shaped by a lifetime of strife in Northern Ireland, Harkin’s documentaries offer poignant lessons about the journey toward truth, reconciliation, the challenges of compelling politicians to do the just thing, the difficulty we all face in finding common ground, in treating our adversaries with kindness, respect and decency.
When we spoke on Sunday, I thought this column would stray into Montreal’s own, blessedly bloodless, trauma — the daily embarrassments of a debilitating corruption crisis laid bare at the Charbonneau Commission; the sudden flare-up of politically motivated, largely contrived language squabbles. And then, Boston happened. We do not know who set explosives at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on a sunny spring holiday, shattering legs and lives and the peace of mind of a beautiful city.
Boston is “a tough and resilient” town, U.S. President Barack Obama said in the hours after explosions rocked Boylston St. It will bounce back.
But in the midst of chaos and in face of unfathomable wickedness, thoughts of healing and closure are a long way off.
“We lost our innocence on another perfect day, in September, 12 year ago,” said Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. “But we lost something Monday, too, and that is the idea that we will never feel totally safe in this city again.”
On the day after the World Trade Center bombing in New York, Harkin was supposed to give evidence at the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Instead, she collapsed, “blubbering” and traumatized. She remembers being consoled by the sister of Jackie Duddy, one of the victims, who handed her a hanky. That same piece of cloth had been used to staunch her brother’s blood 29 years earlier, then waved as a white flag by Rev. Edward Daly in a photo that was to become one of the day’s most enduring images.
“She had washed out the blood and carried it like a relic,” Harkin said.
People marked by events like the Boston Marathon bombing or Bloody Sunday, by the horror of Sept. 11 or genocide in Rwanda or civil war in Syria never really get over it. They bear witness always, carrying those memories woven into their being, like a holy medal or a scar on their skin.
The title of Harkin’s most recent film, The Far Side of Revenge, was inspired by lines from The Cure of Troy, by the poet Seamus Heaney, which imagines a world beyond conflict: “So hope for a great sea-change/on the far side of revenge./ Believe that a further shore/is reachable from here.”
The film focuses on the Theatre of Witness project, in which artistic director Teya Sepinuck invited a group of Derry women to work through their grief and anger by sharing their experiences on stage.
One scene shows Anne, a former IRA quartermaster and gunrunner, hugging Kathleen, whose husband was tortured and killed by IRA forces — the potent result of what Harkin calls the “uncomfortable listening” critical to any in attempt to bridge gaps and mend fences between individuals, factions and their governments. “We have been gatekeepers of our stories for a long time. We have to learn to listen to each other, to get to know each other.”
In a sign of changes occurring in Northern Ireland, Derry was chosen as the United Kingdom’s inaugural “city of culture.” Harkin’s next film will focus on event organizer Frank Cottrell Boyce’s bold ideas for celebrating the city this summer, and in doing so, updating a script so long dragged down by division and conflict. “His idea is that we all have stories, but sometimes, we get trapped in the wrong story. We cling to the wrong story.”