As I came to the end of Mary McAleese’s autobiography, I found myself drawn back two memories
The first was admiration of her ability to recall her experience of the very early days of the Troubles – and the costly and painful impact on her, her family and her community. In 1976, I set out in ministry as the Curate in Holy Trinity, Joanmount, which was just up the Ballysillan Road. We lived in Cliftondene Gardens very close to the peaceline/barricade which closed us off from Alliance Avenue and Ardoyne.
As the years have rolled by, I have often been surprised by the things from those days which I have forgotten – or which perhaps I choose not to remember – or more likely which I have tucked away somewhere in my mind from which they emerge unexpectedly!
Looking back, it seems to me as if we did our ministry as if things were normal. I went house to house visiting in the evenings even though there were no streetlights in much of the parish. I got used to putting my visiting card through the letterbox before the door would open. People were astonishingly resilient in very difficult times. Sometimes it was funny – like the lady whom I met in a house near the church. She told me that there was shooting on the road which led home for both of us – ‘but if I walk with you I’ll be all right’
And then I thought of something from much later on – from the 19 years we spent in Portadown, much of it overshadowed by the Drumcree parading disputes. President McAleese issued an invitation to the Portadown Orangemen to come to a Reception in her official residence in Dublin. Of course they were going – why would they not? And they wanted me to go with them. So Alison and I drove down from Donegal where were on holiday and joined them.
Mary McAleese’s peacemaking had two strands – she was fearlessly challenging to her ‘own’ community and she was warmly generous in reaching out across Ireland’s divisions, I admire her greatly for both,