Peacebuilding and Reconciliation: Lessons from an Irish Context
boisi center for religion and american public life
Former President of Ireland
Date: Tuesday, October 29
Location: Boston College, Boisi Center
Abstract: Tired voices said the Irish conflict was intractable. Who could blame them? It had lasted for centuries and defied many efforts at resolution. But they were wrong. Toward the end of the twentieth century, against the backdrop of yet more intercommunal violence, there came a new generation, educated and determined. These “intelligences brightened and unmannerly as crowbars”—to quote the late Seamus Heaney—with the extensive help of friends and family in the United States, negotiated a road map to peace. It is an imperfect peace but it is infinitely better than anything that litters the dysfunctional past and at its core is the concept of “parity of esteem,” the acknowledgment that what underpins true peace is justice, equality, respect for difference, and an infrastructure which reassures all citizens that they matter. Peace is a hard road but conflict is the true impossibility, for it diminishes and wastes human life. Wherever there is conflict in the world, peacemakers need to be hard at work, no matter how intractable the problems.
Mary McAleese served as president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, during which time she was instrumental in the peace process in Northern Ireland. Her famous “Building Bridges” platform saw Ireland through a celebrated period of reconciliation and economic growth. She also made history as the first Northern Irish native to be elected president of Ireland. As a child, she experienced “The Troubles” first-hand, with sectarian violence forcing her and her family to flee their North Belfast home in the Ardoyne. After earning her law degree from Queens University, Belfast and successful service as a barrister, she was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College Dublin. During her years at Trinity College, she also worked part-time as a radio and television journalist. In 1987, she returned to Queens University, where she first served as director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, and then in 1994 became the university’s first female pro-vice chancellor. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome, and in residence at Boston College as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies.
Mary McAleese at BC, Fall 2013
Mary McAleese spoke at several events on campus during the fall of 2013. A list of these events can be found here.
In the News
In a recent NYT article, a former member of the IRA draws parallels between the violence it perpetrated and recent episodes like the Nairobi Mall Shooting and the atrocities in Syria and Egypt. On October 29, the Boisi Center hosted former Irish president Mary McAleese, who spoke about building bridges between religious communities and her efforts in brokering peace in Ireland.