The Ever Present Past in Northern Ireland

In this week’s blog by PeacePlayers – Northern Ireland, Office Administrator and M&E extraordinaire Laura Agnew walks us through the legacy of Christmas Holiday in Northern Ireland with a personal touch!

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Belfast City Hall December 2016

It’s December, a Saturday in December to be precise, which means only one thing – the annual Agnew family Christmas day out to Belfast! The day is exactly the same every year, but that’s why I love it!

We start the day off with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich (because calories don’t count on weekends!), and then we make the trip from the sleepy countryside to the hustle and bustle of the capital city. After spending the afternoon shopping, we have dinner and walk through the continental Christmas markets at City Hall. The sights, sounds, and smells of stalls from across Europe, nestled under the twinkling lights of City Hall’s Christmas tree, are a sure-fire way to put you in the festive spirit.  

As in every city, the crowds in Belfast can be a little crazy at this time of the year, and my dad seems to take great pleasure in pointing out that obvious fact every five minutes! But it’s all part of the festive buzz. Everyone is running around looking for presents for loved ones, offices are out for their Christmas parties, children are in awe of the decorations everywhere, and it’s just a generally happy, cheerful atmosphere!

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Entrance to Belfast City Hall through a security gate at the height of the troubles

But Christmas shopping in Belfast wasn’t always as magical; it was more security greetings than season’s greetings. After our day out during the weekend, my mum found some pictures of what it was like for her as a little girl. She, along with everyone else, had to go through heavily-guarded security checkpoints to be searched before even entering the city center. Shop entrances had further searches to be sure there were no weapons or bombs being carried. And in the streets, there was a constant presence of armed police and soldiers, with weapons held in plain site for all to see. It struck me just how different things were less than 40 years ago. It seems that no matter how much you tried to get into the festive spirit, round every corner, or in every doorway, there was a constant reminder of the conflict that was all too real.

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Armed soldier passing City Hall on Christmas

Long gone are the days of the security checks and regular bombings. But even though the conflict is no longer as pronounced as it was during “The Troubles,” the feelings from that time are still harboured within those who experienced it. I remember Christmas shopping in Belfast as a little girl and seeing my mum panic if there was the slightest whisper of a bomb scare happening in the city center. Even today, the legacy of the conflict is still prominent in the minds of those who lived it.

But I am confident that this is changing. I am confident that we can make a difference. I am confident that if we try, every day in Northern Ireland really can be like Christmas – full of love, harmony, and most importantly, PEACE.

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