Speech by Deputy Director Andrée Murphy at launch of 10th Panel of Remembering Quilt and the poem by Mícheál Gallagher about the square dedicated to his 17 month sister Angela
Ba Mhaith Liom Fáilte a chur roimh gach duine
There are people from many walks of life, politics, government, the NGO sector, the academic world and friends and supporters of Relatives for Justice from across the regions. You are all very, welcome tonight
But I know you will all forgive me if I concentrate on welcoming the many, many family members who are here tonight to celebrate the joining of the 49 new squares which represent 50 of those lost to us during our conflict with the nine other panels of 49 squares.
Your journey to today in sharing memories, recovering memories and recording memories on these beautiful squares is our honour and privilege to now share.
The amazing African American poet Maya Angelou has written “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
For our community recovering from conflict the recovery of memory – in all of its forms – it challenging, and painful, yet equally essential and cathartic.
But we know that memory is not simple in our society. Sometimes people want to intellectualise around memory when it comes to the debate on truth. Sometimes the memory of victims, who we remember and how we remember is the subject of malicious contention. Sometimes memory is manipulated for political ends. However this quilt shines a light through all of that manufactured distraction.
We have here the loving memory of those who were taken violently suddenly and unfairly. Memory depicted through medals, beads, thread, cloth and many more textiles. We are now invited to share a memory held by those who matter most – those who lost most. What you have allowed us to do with your journey is add to our previous memories of cases, incidents and pictures of death scenes with imagery of love, cherishing and hope. By you sharing your individual memory we all are raised up by your contribution to our collective memory.
The recovering of a story of such pain can be often beyond our words and language. You have all chosen to tell your story through this quilt – safely gently bravely honestly and beautifully – and we thank you all. We are all enriched by your journey. A journey that was supported by our Family Support Team and in particular by Pauline Fitzpatrick our Family Support Coordinator whose role is of inestimable value in RFJ and to families.
It is very fitting that we launch here in City Hall tonight. City Hall ironically provides the genesis for the quilt.
Over 14 years ago Belfast City Hall chose to erect a window to the memory of the RUC. Those making this choice did not make a choice to include any other victims at all. They chose to reinforce a hierarchy of victimhood. It hurt many victims of our conflict who remained unacknowledged not least those bereaved as a result of the actions of the RUC.
Relatives for Justice sought to find a positive expression which would counteract that ignominy and cruelty – which would value and acknowledge the experience of all victims affected by all actors to the conflict.
Our director Mark Thompson drawing on his experience of witness at the AIDS quilt in the United States proposed a quilt project. A project that would focus on recovering memory in safety and in equality. And 14 years later we stand here in City Hall with this quilt to state clearly – yes there are challenges in dealing with our past, acknowledging all experience of conflict and supporting all of those hurt. But it can be done. And it can be done with dignity, grace and beauty. And it can be done inclusively.
Thank you all for contributing to this essential process of contributing to our future by remembering our past.
I want to introduce our first speaker of the evening
Mairtín O Muilleoir is a friend of Relatives for Justice and this quilt. I remember him at our very first quilt launch in 2001. He got it. He understands the importance of inclusion and generosity and I suspect that is because he exudes those qualities in all of his projects and especially this year – the year when Belfast discovered how a strategic vision can benefit all and energy can shift all kinds of inertia.
The Mayoral invitation to host this launch tonight has meant we have been treated as if we were the family of chieftains. We are deeply grateful and delighted to introduce A chaired an Ard Mhéara Mairtin O Muilleoir
The new quilt has squares from across Ireland on it including my friend Volunteer Martin Doherty from Dublin killed in May 1994 and the six victims of the attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland on June 18th 1994. The diversity of experience and geography adds to our understanding of how our conflict impacted on our society.
Few areas suffered as sorely as the small area of Short Strand. One of those on this panel is Harry O’Neill murdered on 10th August 1994 his daughter Pauline O’Neill would like to share with you her experience of creating a square
Angela Gallagher was 17 months when she was shot dead by the IRA on 3rd Sept 1971. I would like to invite her brother Mícheál to read a poem he has very generously written for tonight
A Square of Cloth
A Square of Cloth, a love, a life
A memory sewn on pathwork dye
With layers of thread and history
Weaving into the fabric of our lives
Our quilts hang in powerful, silent testimony
To the ones we have loved and lost.
Celebrating their legacy, witnessing our identity
And giving private grief a voice
Panels rich with character and colour
Painted bold on a canvas quilt;
Smiles and tears, deep wells of emotion –
The memories are rarely as tangible as this.
Ours is a little square of baby sky-blue,
Of childhood innocence lost to us.
Angela departed in a world of conflict days
To join the angelic choruses.
But families carry on, survive, or learn to cope
With pain that never dissipates,
Save days like this when we remember them
And wrap them in the warmth of a quilt’s embrace.
And our quilts today will journey around the globe,
Positive, creative, unifying, comforting,
Bringing messages of remembrance and hope
That others will find encouragement.
A square of cloth, a love, a life,
A memory sewn on patchwork dye –
We’ll proudly piece those threads of history back into the fabric of our lives
– Mícheál Gallagher
We are nearing the end of proceedings and I would like to thank Patricia Kileen and Gemma McCrea for all of their experience and support to families with their squares, supporting families turn memory to squares is a process which cannot be hurried and Patricia and Gemma supported that long translation.
We really could not thank the office of the Mayor enough. We are not always treated with such respect, courtesy, or warmth.
We are delighted that Loaf catering a social economy project for adults with learning difficulties is providing the catering – please gorge yourselves before you leave tonight. Our musicians Cara and Mark thank you for setting the atmosphere so beautifully – you are very special indeed.
Finally RFJ is made up of a team of dedicated board, and staff who live a vocation of service to the experience and needs of those who suffered worst in our conflict. They are led from the front by our Director Mark Thompson who himself survived the loss of his brother Peter and who has led the calls for inclusivity of all who suffered and a human rights based framework to deal with our past which serves all and favours none. I would like to ask him to say a few words in conclusion.
Go Raibh mile Maith Agaibh