Healing from the Hurts of War

Over the last six years in this small Northern Ireland Region I have been leading one-day workshops on Healing from the Hurts of War.

At the workshops I noticed that even in the introductions people were keen to tell what had happened during The Troubles, the forty-year low-level conflict between the oppressed Catholic minority and the Protestant majority. Fear, grief, and anger were just below the surface, because the conditions for discharge hadn’t been available.

I suspected the same was true for the folk throughout Ireland, as our history of colonisation and invasion had affected all of us, and the Republic of Ireland was only three generations away from the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War. So to a recent workshop I invited a small number of Co-Counsellors who were born and raised in Ireland and currently living in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the island of Britain. I hoped this would add to my route map for ending Irish internalized oppression. The division of the island, which left the North under British rule, has cemented in divisions that are difficult to detect and discharge on.

In my classes at the workshop I focused on the conditions that spawn wars and on the day-to-day effect war has on people. I did not emphasise the chronology of invasions and “who beat who.” Instead I invited people to listen well and to try to read our history in the stories people told, to see these stories as a more authentic version of the history we need to understand; and to have compassion for each other.

I proposed that “everybody got hurt,” and this was confirmed when the mixed bunch of Catholics and Protestants met in three different support groups: Catholic emigrants, Northern Irish Catholics, and Protestants (both Northern Irish and emigrant).

War is the wallpaper of our lives, here and in many places in the world. A familiar phrase is “It was just life; I didn’t know it was a war.” There is an Irish expression “We have to live the day we have.” Our conversations are peppered with phrases like “blow them out of the water,” “caught in the crossfire,” “giving them ammunition,” “photo shoots.” I first became aware of how inappropriate the latter is when, as a photographer, I was speaking about a photography job in an infant school!

We need to discharge on war, at least so we don’t go on repeating the mistakes of judgment made when things break down completely and the only way forward seems to be to demolish the other side, to beat them up until they cannot rise again.

My experiences of being in explosions and having friends killed and family members beaten up have of course pushed this issue to the front of my mind. But I’ve detected in my engagement with other local people that certain patterns are common among us. They include wanting to run away, leave RC, end it all (commit suicide); never feeling safe away from home; wanting to regularly check in with home and family; rushing to protect family at first sign of need; wanting to hide; not saying what we think in case it offends someone; wanting to kill people or beat them up until they can no longer function; not trusting others; wanting to be better than, to win, to see the other person “off the stage.” The feeling of “it is you or me” offers no concept of thriving together. Either you die or I do; together will not work.

We made good progress at the workshop! It was a risk and a challenge to bring these groups together under one roof, but it worked. We got an insight into each other’s lives that will be lasting.

I’m pleased, too, with how the workshop deepened my understanding of my family and the broader community. We are one tribe, battered by history yet held together by a love of the environment, the ability to rejoice and celebrate, and a profound compassion when the terror lifts from our shoulders.

I do believe war is a topic worth exploring for all Irish-heritage people, in Ireland and elsewhere. As society collapses, violence will be a visible component of our lives. We need to clear our heads of early fears and the ways historical events have restimulated them. Let’s get good at helping each other build on the compassion we have retained as a people. It is time to return to each other and “live the day we have” knowing that we are surrounded by supportive Co-Counsellors, internationally and at home here on the island.

Sheila Fairon

Regional Reference Person for Northern Ireland

Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

(Present Time 186, January 2017)


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00