I was 17 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and I remember being shocked that there was a chance The Troubles™ might end. I hadn’t thought that was a possibility, hadn’t considered it.
Growing up “near Belfast” (as everyone seems to say), my lingering memories of the Troubles are of endless news of shootings and bombings – so many, they didn’t register until a bomb went off in my town and I heard it for myself. Just how pervasively military everything was.
An army helicopter landing in a field behind my parents’ house. Looking out the window to see a pair of armed soldiers navigating the streets by paper map, one kneeling with the map while the other stood guard, the camouflage weirdly incongruent with the quiet residential street. Army Land Rovers periodically appearing, soldiers peeping out from the roof with a gun. Checkpoints at the edge of town, with a soldier lying at the roadside pointing a gun at the car, RUC (police) officer asking questions in – what I can only describe on this website as – an unnecessarily rude way. Checkpoints maintaining a control zone around the airport, cars slowed along a speed-bumped road so number plates could be checked, questions asked. More guns. One day accidentally driving through an army operation, thinking it was a checkpoint so slowing down but being enthusiastically encouraged to accelerate. Another day, missing my usual exit from the motorway as I was enjoying singing along to a Placebo CD, driving past as balaclavad men stopped a bus at a roundabout and hijacked it.
And this was all normal and normalised, survived through brutally dark humour captured perfectly in the film Divorcing Jack.
I left Ireland in 2002 and have lived in London since 2011. It’s striking how far away the north of Ireland is here, though a flight can take you to Belfast in an hour. How unimportant it is in discussions of Brexit and its consequences. How reckless politicians have been.