William Graham
26 July 2004

Northern Ireland needs a new museum which would be a kind of living
memorial to all the victims of the conflict.

The museum would not only be about the past but perhaps could be sign
of a different future in this corner of the world which has been
plagued by the heavy burden of history and deep-rooted sectarianism.

I believe that a new museum should be totally unlike any of the
established museums.

It would be a high-tech space where our children and children's
children could visit and learn that this is what political divisions,
conflict and sectarianism did to us as a society.

This would not be a museum of dark glass cases containing guns,
bullets, swords, or dusty paramilitary or military uniforms.

But through the use of computer images, film, photographs, art and
educational programmes visitors would be able to reflect on the
Troubles in a way that would engage the mind particularly regarding
the use of interactive inquiry driven presentations.

This might just help a new generation in finding a pathway towards
creating a society very different from the one which existed in the
dark days of conflict and indeed during the present imperfect peace
in which sectarianism still has to be radically addressed.

This idea of a new museum is not new. I first heard it mentioned many
years ago in conversation with trade unionists in Belfast.

Where should such a museum be sited? I would suggest that it should
be in Belfast city centre with outreach buildings in Derry and
perhaps other areas.

A new museum for the future should not be in an old building, whether
it be a former prison, government office or site with any party
political connections.

Instead if this is to work it should be a new piece of architecture
which in using light and space not only touches the emotions through
its presentations but just like the curved portal at the 14th Street
entrance to the Holocaust memorial museum in Washington "it must take
you in its grip."

Just as the Holocaust defies understanding, the building is not meant
to be intellectually understood. Its architecture of sensibility is
intended to engage the visitor and stir the emotions, allow for
horror and sadness, ultimately to disturb.

I am not at all comparing our troubles in the north of Ireland with
the Holocaust, but we suffered our own kind of Holocaust.

The conflict of the past 30 and more years was a period of horror for
people here, with thousands killed and injured, and a legacy of not
only division, political difficulties, increased segregation, and
deep sectarianism ... but also a kind of self-hatred about many
aspects of life in our homeland.

The US Holocaust museum is America's national institution for the
documentation, study and interpretation of Holocaust history, and
serves as that country's memorial to the millions of people murdered
during the Holocaust.

Here in Northern Ireland, in designing a museum as a living memorial
to the victims of our tragedy which is misnamed `the Troubles,' we
could learn a lesson from the Holocaust museum's primary mission
which is to advance and disseminate knowledge; to preserve the memory
of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon
the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the

In creating a modern museum we need to seek and find answers to
essential questions not just about the past but also the present and
the future if we are really to start healing ourselves and our

What are these questions? They are about certain attitudes in
Northern Ireland and transforming our hearts and minds in dealing
with destructive thoughts and emotions.

Meanwhile, I was interested in a section of a report from the United
Nations Development programme this past week which argued that people
should be free to be who they are, to choose their identities and to
live accordingly.

It further argued that the recognition of multiple and complimentary
identities – with individuals identifying themselves as citizens of a
state as well as members of ethnic; religious and other cultural
groups – is the cornerstone of cultural liberty.

But the report said that movements hostile to these principles seek
to eliminate diversity in the name of cultural superiority. Such
movements, and their underlying sources of support, must be
confronted. The question is: How?

Amongst the contributors to this UNDP report are Nelson Mandela and
John Hume.

I end with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi selected for use in this UNDP
report which also deals with globalisation and cultural choice. It is
perhaps apt for the times we live in, especially in Northern Ireland.

"I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows
to be stuffed.

"I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as
freely as possible.

"But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?