Northern Ireland’s peace generation

Volume 4 Issue 002: After three decades of civil war, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland – a peace that the 2016 Brexit result threatened to undermine. With the region taking radical steps forward in other areas of life, we speak to a generation of “peace babies” leading the charge.

Watch The Face’s Generation Peace film below, documenting the lives of young people in Derry who have grown up since the 1998 Good Friday agreement. 

Arti­cle taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 002. Order your copy here.

To say that Derry has a complex political and social history would be an understatement. Nestled within a patchwork of butter-packet-perfect fields and lying either side of the fast-flowing River Foyle, Northern Ireland’s second city was the scene of Bloody Sunday, one of the most infamous incidents of the Troubles, the bitter sectarian conflict that locked the region in violence between 1969 and 1998. Even the city’s name reflects that schism: it’s Derry to some, Londonderry to others.

Back then, the city mainly featured in the UK or Irish media in solemn news reports. But two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the six counties, Derry has become a hotbed for much of Northern Ireland’s social justice activism: a generation of peace babies” (those born around or after the 1998 breakthrough) have been leading the push for LGBT rights and abortion access as the region wrestles free from its traditional religious conservatism.

The city also returned to wider British consciousness due to the success of Derry Girls, Channel 4’s wildly popular 1990s-set sitcom about a gang of ducking and diving Catholic schoolgirls. Do you think if I told him I had an incendiary device down my knickers he’d have a look?” asks the show’s gobby Michelle of a particularly phwoar British soldier.

In October, Northern Ireland’s ban on abortion was finally overturned in a landmark vote by Westminster MPs, legislation which also saw marriage for LGBT couples legalised for the first time. It was a historic moment. The region had some of the harshest abortion laws in the world and was the only place in the UK or Ireland where equal marriage was still not legal. And it’s a fight which has been hard won, with young people from the activist group Alliance for Choice Derry leading the charge.

Equally, though, many fear the progress of the past two decades risks being undone by economic hardship. Only 55 per cent of adults in Derry have a job, a figure considerably lower than the Northern Irish average of 69 per cent and the UK-wide average of 74 per cent. This is particularly an issue for younger people, who are increasingly faced with the unpalatable choice between unemployment or zero-hour contracts.

It’s a situation that Brexit, perhaps unsurprisingly, could complicate even further. During the 2016 EU referendum campaign Northern Ireland was rarely mentioned by either Remain or Leave sides, both choosing instead to focus on immigration. However, as Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to share a land border with another EU country – the Republic of Ireland – it has become a crucial sticking point. 

Lorcán Hamilton, 26

What’s the biggest difference between your generation and your parents’ generation?

My parents’ generation had a lot more troubles than we would have today. A lot more weans [kids] as well. 

What have your parents taught you about the Troubles?

Just about their time. They were there on Bloody Sunday. And the troubles they were going through as they were growing up living in Derry.

What are your hopes for Derry?

More investment, more money into Derry. More buildings, more jobs, people mixing together rather than spending time apart.

Josh O’Kane, 25

How would you describe Derry to someone?

It depends where the people are from in Derry and where the visitors are from. You try to explain Derry to somebody and they’ll say: Oh, don’t you mean Londonderry?” No I don’t mean that, I mean Derry.

What’s the biggest difference between your generation and your parents’ generation?

I think my parents’ generation had trouble, were given trouble, whereas our generation went looking for trouble. I think that’s the main difference I’ve seen.

What would a border mean to you?

You throw stones, you get it. You’re starting up what was finished in 1998. I think the English don’t realise that. It would mean the end of the Good Friday Agreement, and there would be no reason for peace after that for a lot of people.

What do you want people to know about Derry?

That everybody is welcome, and you’ll feel that when you come here. Just please know, please learn. Don’t come here ignorant and saying stupid stuff. Just like you wouldn’t want it yourself. There’s real solidarity in Derry. Come here wanting to be part of it, not against it.

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Brexiteers have struggled to explain how Brexit can happen without some kind of physical barrier being put in place, which would thereby imperil an integral part of the peace settlement. 

While the violence has largely ended since 1998, some paramilitary groups continue to hold weapons and encourage attacks. During riots in Derry in April this year, Lyra McKee, a 29-year-old journalist, was shot dead, with the New IRA later claiming responsibility. The not-unreasonable fear of many in Northern Ireland, young and old, is that the return of a border will ratchet up community tensions and, with it, the likelihood of an increase of such incidents.

As we discovered when we visited Derry in October – and as you can read on these and the following pages – for many young people these issues are real, frightening and urgent. 

In the words of one of the young men we talked to when asked about Brexit: It’s kind of like that party we were all invited to and we’ve all been told to go to – nobody fucking wants to go, it’s a bad idea, and I don’t have a fucking outfit ready, so can we just stop it?”

Ria Adeyinka, 24

How does politics affect your everyday life?

My nationality has become a political debate. It affects my life if I want to travel. If I want to visit family, perhaps 20 minutes away, I have to cross a border. It affects a lot of aspects of my life.

What’s your opinion on Brexit?

I think it’s scary. I think we should all be more afraid. I think it was an awful decision.

What is the meaning of life for you?

Happiness. Just to be happy. Nothing else matters as long as you’re happy.

Listen now: Ria on race in Northern Ireland

Charlotte “Cecil” Gordon, 25

What have your parents taught you about the Troubles?

That they were awful but also a bit of craic. I know someone who said that they miss the Troubles because it was the best nights they had in their life.

Do you remember much about the peace process?

No. Myself and quite a lot of people, we grew up not knowing anything about what happened then. I think for a certain amount of years the older generation didn’t talk about it at all and it wasn’t until we were teenagers that we kind of understood what had happened.

What would a border mean to you?

Complete and utter chaos. 

Listen now: Cecil Gordon on the Troubles

Teenage kicks: Derry youth hanging together on top of the 17th-century city walls

Elle Harrison, 12

What’s your favourite type of clothing?

Tops.

Any shops that you really like?

Topshop.

What would be your dream job?

Ballet teacher.

Katie Flanagan, 14

Where were you born?

Derry.

Where would you like to live when you grow up?

America.

What’s your favourite type of food?

Chocolate.

What’s your dream job?

Physio.

Grace Flanagan, 15

Where’s your favourite place in the world?

Ballet class.

What music do you like?

Pop.

What would be your dream job?

Fashion designer.

Activists Bonnie Quigley, Olivia Eklund, Bethany Moore and Sasha the dog

Bonnie Quigley, 20

Have you ever been in love?

Aye, I have. My partner [Olivia, above centre], she’s right there.

What would be your dream job?

That’s tough… I really want to be an English teacher. That’s probably it for me. At the moment I’m a painter and decorator. I’m enjoying that as well.

What’s your favourite type of food?

Takeout would be Chinese and in general would be Italian, probably.

Listen now: Bonnie on a united Ireland

Bethany Moore, 21

Where were you born?

Derry.

What music are you into?

I’m into a bit of everything, I go to a lot of techno events. I’ve been to Ibiza and Amsterdam a few times for stuff like that. 

What would a border mean to you?

A border would just ruin everything we have here at the minute. It would bring back violence, hurt, probably death. We can’t have a border here.

Listen now: Bethany on legalisation

Kevin Gamble

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Jack McLenaghan, 25

What’s your opinion on Brexit?

My opinion on Brexit… It’s kind of like that party we were all invited to and we’ve all been told to go to, nobody fucking wants to go, it’s a bad idea, and I don’t have a fucking outfit ready so can we just stop it? Thanks.

What makes you proud about being from Derry?

I think our resilience is something that really comes through. We are so far away from London and we are not Belfast. I think that it’s fostered a mentality in Derry of doing it for yourself and making it for yourself. 

If you could offer any advice to people growing up in Derry, what would you say?

Just have fun and make the most of Derry. We had a cracking time drinking at the walls and going to raves. Don’t think that life is happening elsewhere, it’s happening right here: you just have to find it.

Do you believe in God?

Yeah, she’s alright.

Richard Feeney, 27

Who’s your favourite person?

My ma.

What did she teach you about the Troubles?

I was raised until I was 11 in County Meath, in the Republic, so we didn’t really experience anything with the Troubles. When I came here it was a bit of a shock. I didn’t really understand what a Protestant was until someone told me. 

What would a border mean to you? 

I think we’ll have a united Ireland before we have a border. I just don’t think it could work because I can even imagine myself going further, getting more involved to stop it. I don’t want to say take up arms but if they ran up to my door, I might just do it.

What do you do for a living? 

I’m a hairdresser. 

Listen now: Richard on the Troubles

Directory of Terms

THE TROUBLES

Three decades of violence and conflict in Northern Ireland, dating from the late Sixties until the Good Friday agreement of 1998. Unionists (mostly Protestants) clashed with Nationalists (mostly Catholics) over how the north should be ruled – by London or by Dublin. This divide had little to do with religious convictions and everything to do with identity, culture and politics.

TAOISEACH

The prime minister of the Republic of Ireland. Currently: Leo Varadkar.

LOYALISM OR UNIONISM

Supporting the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

IRISH NATIONALISM

Supporting a united Ireland, with Northern Ireland” freed from UK rule.

SECTARIANISM

Violence between different factions of an ideology or religion within a nation. In this case, the civil conflict of the Troubles epitomises sectarianism. 

RUC (ROYAL ULSTER CONSTABULARY)

The former police force in Northern Ireland. Established in 1922, it operated similarly to a military force until 1970, when it was remodelled along the lines of UK police. As part of the Good Friday Agreement it was given a less politically loaded and British establishment-leaning name: Police Service of Northern Ireland. 

UVF (THE ULSTER VOLUNTEER FORCE)

A loyalist paramilitary organisation founded in Northern Ireland in 1966.

Provisional IRA (IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY)

A nationalist paramilitary organisation founded in 1969.

SINN FÉIN

An Irish republican political party. Founded in 1905, it took its current form in 1970

DUP (DEMOCRATIC UNIONIST PARTY)

A unionist political party, founded in 1971 at the start of the Troubles by Ian Paisley.

STORMONT

The commonly used name for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the all-party seat of devolved executive political power, which is based in the Stormont Estate in east Belfast.

TIMELINE

12th century: the wrong side of history

It’s the late 12th century. The Anglo-Normans invade Ireland and decide to stay there indefinitely – almost eight centuries, it turns out. Five hundred years later Ulster, Ireland’s northernmost province, becomes a British stronghold. Ireland has a history of getting invaded to the pain and detriment of its people – this repeated overstep would come to lay a solid foundation for the Troubles.

1922: independence (in fits and starts)

In 1922, as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 26 of the 32 provinces on the island of Ireland become the Irish Free State. In 1949, this becomes the Republic of Ireland. The six northern counties of Derry/​Londonderry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh and Fermanagh remain part of the United Kingdom.

August 1969: getting bogged down

From 12th to 14th August 1969 rioting takes place in the Bogside (an overwhelmingly Catholic area of Derry). The British Army is deployed, deepening the split between unionists and nationalists. The Troubles begin.

January 1972: Bloody Sunday

On the 30th January 1972, soldiers from the Parachute Regiment fire on a civil rights march. Twenty-eight unarmed civilians are shot; 14 die. This became known as Bloody Sunday.

1998: thirty years’ conflict 

The Troubles rage until 1998. Over three decades, bombings and shootings rip apart Northern Ireland, with the violence spreading to Ireland, mainland Britain and Europe. Soldiers, paramilitaries, police, prison officers, MPs, civilians: thousands are murdered or maimed. Exact figures vary, but approximately 3500 people are killed over 30 years.

April 1998: peace (in fits and starts)

On 10th April 1998 British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement. Approved in two subsequent all-Ireland referenda, the deal is hailed as the end of the Troubles as paramilitary organisations lay down their arms. It sets in motion a path to devolved government in Northern Ireland.

June 2016: the unravelling 

On 23rd June 2016 the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union. But Brexit means that Northern Ireland will have to leave the EU while Ireland remains a member. The prospect of the return of a hard border on the island causes old anxieties and tensions to resurface.

April 2019: Death in Creggan

On 18th April 2019 Lyra McKee, a 29-year-old journalist, is shot dead by dissident republicans while reporting on riots taking place in Derry’s Creggan estate. One of Ireland’s brightest young journalists, Lyra was a Ceasefire Baby” who wrote extensively about growing up after the Troubles.

January 2020: Stormont

On 11th January 2020, the Northern Ireland Assembly ends a three-year deadlock and creates a new power-sharing agreement, re-establishing Stormont.

Photography assistance Maxwell Tomlinson. Producer William Breeden. Interviews Jennifer Byrne. Glossary and timeline Jade Wickes.

Watch our accompanying film online at the​face​.com. Director Scott Carthy. Producer Adam Lilley.


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