Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in Northern Ireland, the Boston College Irish Studies Program will present a two-day symposium this month that offers a less explored outlook on the milestone event.
“Writing the Troubles: A Perspective on the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement,” which takes place April 28 and 29 at Connolly House (300 Hammond Street), will feature conversations on the Northern Irish conflict and the post-GFA era as depicted in women-authored fiction and journalistic writing. The event is free and open to the public.
The symposium will begin on April 28 with a talk and reading from 4-6 p.m. by Louise Kennedy, who last year published her first novel, the Troubles-themed Trespasses, and has also authored the short-story collection The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac. Kennedy, who grew up near Belfast, has written for The Guardian, The Irish Times, and BBC Radio 4; prior to becoming a writer, she worked as a chef for almost 30 years. Trespasses takes place in and around Belfast in 1975, and recounts a love story between a young Catholic woman and a much older—and troubled—Protestant man.
Highlighting the second day will be appearances by two other prominent female journalists/authors with considerable experience writing about Northern Ireland. Susan McKay was appointed as Ireland’s press ombudsman last October, her latest achievement in a career that has seen her publish her work in the New Yorker, London Review of Books, New York Times, Field Day Review, and Irish Times. A native of Derry, she also was northern editor of The Sunday Tribune and, prior to her appointment as ombudsman, was a columnist for The Guardian. McKay’s books include Northern Protestants – On Shifting Ground and Sophia’s Story. McKay also has experience in the NGO sector, having founded the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre and later served as CEO of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
Freya McClements, also a Derry native, is The Irish Times northern correspondent. She was a reporter with the Derry Journal before going to work for the BBC: She was a journalist and producer in Northern Ireland for nine years as well as a documentary producer and presenter for BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio 4. In 2019, she and Joe Duffy published Children of the Troubles: The Untold Story of the Children Killed in the Northern Ireland Conflict, portraits of young lives lost as a result of the Northern Irish conflict based on original interviews with nearly 100 families. McClements also is the author of a short story collection, The Dangerous Edge of Things, in which characters deal with the various consequences of love or lust.
“In this 25th anniversary year of the Good Friday Agreement, there will be many reminiscences and remarks from politicians, most of them elderly and male, and these will certainly offer many interesting and valuable insights,” said Sullivan Professor of Irish Studies Guy Beiner, director of Irish Programs at BC. “But we feel it is also important to hear from different voices. The Troubles, the Northern Irish peace process, and the Good Friday Agreement affected at least as many women as men, and women played key roles throughout, including as chroniclers of the events.
“‘Writing the Troubles’ offers us the opportunity to see history from a different vantage point. How have women writers looked at this period? What stories did they feel compelled to tell? What were the everyday experiences that, for them, summed up what the Troubles and its aftermath were all about? We look forward to hearing Louise, Susan, and Freya give us their perspectives.”
The BC Irish Studies website is at bc.edu/irish.