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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Bear in Mind: Stories of the Troubles
An Crann/The Tree

Belfast: Lagan Press / An Crann /The Tree, 2000
138pp. Pb.: 7.95; ISBN 1-873687-13-3

'Because what is forgotten cannot be healed, and that which cannot be healed easily becomes the source of greater evil'.

Lionel Chircop's quote sets the tone of a book containing over a hundred stories of ordinary people's experiences of the Troubles. These are stories that contain the reality of a 30-year conflict that has tainted a whole community with fear, anger and a deep sense of grief. The collected stories come in the form of poems, drama extracts, interviews and letters and come from a cross section of the community including RUC officers, soldiers and relatives of the disappeared. Issues discussed include internment, policing, the blanket protests and most poignantly the issues of futility and lost innocence.

In this wonderful yet harrowing collection An Crann/The Tree has recognised that in the early stages of a post settlement agreement, now is the time for the silenced voices to be heard. That collective (and individual) healing can only begin when the people's pain is listened to and acknowledged without fear of a competing victim-hood. Everyone's story is real, valid and true. Pain and loss is a cross-community experience.

'Bear in Mind' is not an easy read in terms of subject matter. You can't read more than a few stories without feeling a real sense of the trauma that the community has experienced. I certainly needed time away from the book for some of the stories to settle ~ in particular a deeply moving account of one mans experience of Omagh entitled 'End Of My Immunity' (p46).

With this book An Crann/ The Tree has powerfully embedded the importance of story in the healing process. To end I highlight an extract from an interviewee, who eloquently explains the significance of people as 'story sharers' rather than 'message carriers', and creates a sense of why this book is so important:

'It's hard to get over what's been bred into you, so you need to always be aware that it's been bred into you, because if your first thing about people is to be suspicious of what they say, then actually you have little respect for them and their integrity.
I've never had any kind of formal structures for dealing with this ~ sometimes suspicion just really has to be lived through ~ and again?his is where sharing the stories can help, because the stories also challenge. They can challenge our prejudice and they can challenge the collective memory of a culture, allowing a different story to come into people's consciousness' (p124).

Sarah Alldred
Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Coventry.

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