Listening and Learning 50 and 100 Years On...
I am currently reading a book that looks at classical culture and at one point the author questions the possibility (or indeed the point of) establishing the historic truth of any of the foundation myths of an ancient city like Rome, looking back thousands of years to a tradition that was probably already almost a millenium old.
We in this part of the world should know the truth of this as we already have difficulty untangling the historic truths of the past 50 years of conflict, never mind the foundation myths of the two jurisdictions on this island, many of which find their historic roots in the events of 1916 in the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme.
There are many upcoming events commemorating/celebrating/reflecting on these and other anniversaries of this so-called "Decade of Centenaries" including two public lectures in Belfast South Methodist:
IRELAND ON THE BRINK 1912-1922: Some Thoughts on the Decade of Centenaries
on Monday 15th February at 7.30 pm with Dr Eamon Phoenix, political historian, broadcaster and head of life-long learning at Stranmillis University College, and
THE DECADE OF CENTENARIES: The Churches' Response
on Monday 25th April 2016 at 7.30 pm with Rev. Dr. Johnston McMaster associate professor of the Irish School of Ecumenics.
The week before last I went to a more theatrical response by Contemporary Christianity, following up their earlier production on the 1912 Covenant. This was entitled "Halfway House" and looked at the events of 1916 from the perpective of 2 women, one protestant and the other catholic, but both brought up in or near Downpatrick, trapped in the mythical "Halfway House" Pub during a snowstorm in 1966. Set in the midst of a decade that seemed to be full of change and hope, politically, socially and relgiously, ostensibly this allowed us to look at 1916 through a lens that was un-muddied by subsequent events, but the developing tension between the two women as they compared and contrasted their families' stories was pregnant with the Troubles to come, (the Belfast premier of the play was staged at Fitzroy Presbyterian and you can read a review of it by Fitroy's minister, Steve Stockman on in blog.) People often suggest that if more women were involved in political life here that things would be radically different, but whilst I am a passionate believer in equal representation of the sexes in all spheres of life, I am not convinced by this reasoning as I have found, in my own family and in community politics that women can be just as bitter about the past and intransigent regarding the future as any man, and sometimes more so. This play, however, removed the often toxic ingredient of male aggression from the mix, allowing raw emotion of competing pain and loss to be more clearly heard. These were human stories being told, rather than a litany of political point-scoring and philosopical one-upmanship that often happens when the events of 1916 are sometimes explored in cross-community settings.
This is the tenor of another piece written by the author of "Halfway House", Philip Orr, entitled "Stormont House Rules". This looks at the events of 1912-16 and beyond via the vehicle of a political debate. It is being staged as part of the 4 Corners Festival this coming Thursday 4th February, at Duncairn Arts Centre at 7.30pm. Having read the script and seen a workshop edition of the play, it is a much more dense affair than "Halfway House" and makes an interesting partner piece... The characters in it are very keen to get their own point of view across but not always too keen to listen... or where they are listening it is generally only for a key point to interupt!
This is interesting given the theme of this year's 4 Corners Festival is "The Art of Listening..." An audience, by definition is supposed to listen, but will we only listen out for those points that reinforce our own perspectives and prejudices? Or will we listen for those unsettling and uncomfortable truths that undermine the myths that established, not only the two different jurisdictions on this island, but the mindsets of those of of us who live within them?
Come along, listen and learn...