Recalling horrors from the Troubles

Recalling horrors from the Troubles

10 April 2019

AN event was held at Stormont recently to celebrate the huge success of a programme designed to bring together elderly people across the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area. 

The Social Soup project is funded by the EU PEACE IV Programme and has been spearheaded by Newry-based charity Supporting People and Community Enterprise (SPACE).

The programme brings older people together from different communities, creating a relaxed place to uncover stories, tell tales and value memories.

Participants explored how to tell a good story and build understanding about the value of recording memories.

A woman who participated at the Saintfield Group, recalled the time when she worked in Belfast in the 1970s and remembered the frequent bombings. 

She said: “I worked in an office operating a comptometer which was manual, and probably the prelude to the calculator.

“Our factory in Great Georges Street was bombed and we relocated to Bangor. Another girl and I travelled with a man who kept a primus stove in the back of his Hillman Imp. Obviously, his car didn’t have a heater.

“There were security gates going into the city and bags, etc, were searched going in and out of shops. Bombs and hoaxes were the order of the day, but people were very resilient and kept going regardless. The town at night was pretty dead as shops all closed at 6pm and didn’t open on a Sunday at all.”

The overall aim of the project was to build strong connections between individuals and communities and reduce isolation, polarisation, division, prejudice, sectarianism, racism and stereotypes between groups.

The audience at the Stormont reception heard from Jacinta Linden SPACE CEO, who thanked everyone involved for their contribution towards the concept.

She said: “The Social Soup project has been a fantastic experience for all the participants and communities throughout the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area and we are indebted to the funders and communities who helped make this project come alive.

“The pain of the Troubles is still very fresh in the memories of many throughout Northern Ireland, yet quite often the focus of the Troubles is on Belfast and Londonderry. 

“Through Social Soup, we were determined to capture the lived experience of ordinary people throughout Co Down. The pain and the anguish is evident in many of the stories shared, but so too was the joy and resilience of the mothers, the farmers, the nurses, the doctors, the teachers and shop workers who just got on with trying to live and love against the back of turmoil and terror.”

Over a six-month period, groups met in each of the seven council areas — Crotlieve, Downpatrick, Newry, Rowallane, Slieve Croob, Slieve Gullion and the Mournes.

Rebekah Gregory, SPACE project co-ordinator, added: “Those taking part over the last few months thoroughly enjoyed the chance to come together and talk about memories from their childhoods and pasts.  

“We appreciate some stories and memories from the Troubles were very difficult to recall, and extremely emotional for others to hear. We realise that storytelling is a healthy way of creating understanding and building trust with and between individuals and communities that differ. It’s vital our memories and stories are talked about and recorded.

“We at SPACE believe Social Soup is a model of how we as a society can improve the quality of older people’s lives, and how we can sustain their social, and cultural contribution.

“We feel as a society, that we need to celebrate that many people are now living longer and often healthier lives. Older people make a huge contribution to their families and wider society.”

Match-funding for the project has been provided by The Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department for Rural and Community Development in Ireland.