March 24, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Chelley McLear

Shelley was born in England. She grew up in Surrey, went to Ulster University at Coleraine in 1992 and has been here ever since. She now lives in Belfast and works as a freelance writer, facilitator and arts co-ordinator.  Most of her work is with Community Arts Partnership for whom she co-ordinates the Literature and Verbal Arts Projects.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" SMcL:
"I knew very little when I arrived in Northern Ireland back in 1992.  I was a little naive I suppose.  In those first few years, I became aware of the Rising but not really of the details.  I knew that it had been a key moment in the events that led to the formation of the Republic of Ireland but not much more than that.  I feel quite embarrassed at my ignorance."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" SMcL:
"As a socialist, the idea of self-governance for the people of Ireland is of importance.  Whilst I don't feel emotively connected to the events, I certainly feel that the intentions were justified, even if I am averse to the use of violent actions under any circumstances.  History can tell us that those actions eventually achieved their goal but it also tells us that there were unecessary deaths that could have been avoided.  I find it repulsive that men could (and still do) sit in comfortable chairs whilst they send others to their deaths.  All in the name of Empire.  I don't know if there could have been another way to progress the claim to Independence at that time.  I do belive that the Irish had the right to try to release themselves from British governance - as many countries all across the world were doing."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" SMcL:
"Being educated in an English school, I was far more aware of the history around the Two Word Wars.  I probably first learned about the Battle of the Somme at Primary School.  Every year, war veterans came through my village in London Cabs on their way to the coast.  There were veterans of both World Wars and they would tell stories so we got to hear about the battles from the soldiers as well in class at school.  At secondary school, we covered the Great War in more detail.  I was in a production of 'Oh What a Lovely War' in which the numbers of casualties are read aloud, it's chilling, horrific."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" SMcL:
"I grew up with a respect for all veterans.  My grandafther served in the second world war and I spent a lot of time with him at commemorative events right up until he died ten years ago.  That anyone would give their life in service to others is a humbling thing.  I am inclined towards pacifism but I have the utmost respect for those who face battle on the orders of those men in comfortable chairs.  I certainly don't have the same respect for those couch-dwellers.  I find it distressing that anyone goes to war.  The word loyalty makes me uncomfortable when associated with nation as we now have so many connotations of the word.  I feel dying for place is a waste of life.  I understand that men who went to war under a British flag often made the ultimate sacrifice to protect those around them.  I find it easier to stomach thinking of it less as a loyalty to Britain but more a defence against those who would threaten the satus quo.  I owe those men a debt I cannot repay.  Without their service, neither the UK or Ireland would be the countries we know today."
BJS: "As a (British*) person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" SMcL:
"I am British by birth but identify more as a Northern Irish person. I have spent all my adult life here.  My children are both born here. I can't say I have really considered how much the Easter Rising affects my identity or sense of belonging.  I feel very much that there are two quite distinct - but related - personalities on this island.  I feel Northern Irish, I don't know if I would ever feel as though I really belonged in the South.  My children feel differently.  They are young adults and would identify as being Northern Irish and Irish.  My son understands the events of the Rising and of the Somme and would consider them both to be important to him.
BJS: "As a (British/*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" SMcL:
"This is interesting.  As a Brit by birth, I can relate to the story of the sacrifice made by the men at The Somme.  I understand the sense of 'Britishness' and how this associates here with there.  However, as an Englishwoman I have been on the receiving end of comments telling me to 'go home, you're not from here'.  And those comments were not from the Nationalist community.  I do feel as though I belong, I give as much as I can in my personal and professional life to the communities here.  I understand that the two dominant communities feel affiliated by sacrifices made to establish or confirm their sense of identity.  As a blow-in, I certainly don't want to be seen as representative of Britain and I don't feel I could ever entirely identify as Irish.  The whole question of nationality becomes one of discomfort and I have no desire to carry a label which presumes a weight of history or allegiance.
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" SMcL:
"I will certainly not be avoiding anything.  I feel it is important to respect those who have made such huge sacrifices in the establishment or maintenance of societies and freedoms which we all enjoy."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" SMcL:
"I think it is important to commemorate and to remember.  As the words on the side of the Garrick Bar remind us:
'A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise.
A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.'
I think it is a pity that Arlene cannot see beyond the same old, same old. We need to continue to build bridges and to try to understand one another.  We are all learning creatures.  We can choose to evolve or choose to remain ignorant.  I think the refusal to participate is a refusal to acknowledge that the position of a representative is to represent all of our people."
BJS: As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" SMcL:
"I travel extensively.  I despair at how far we still have to go as a cultural, cosmopolitan and broad-minded society.  I can't begin to express how ridiculous we look from the outside with public representatives who still refuse to engage in the democratic process as regards bringing us into line with human rights standards.  We are the little red dot on the map where our gay friends still can't get married, women's reproductive rights are still restricted, licensing laws roll are built around the church calendar, arts funding is being shredded.  How can we expect to sell ourselves to the rest of the world?  Is it any suprise that our young people leave to get a degree and don't come back?  We are losing our brightest minds and those who are best suited to being the catalysts for change here and bringing us into the 21st century.  There have been huge strides forward in terms of developing our cultural life: music, art, restaurants, bars - but for every step forward I feel as though the powers that be are trying to pull us three strides back.  We need the processes of administration here to change to allow the region to develop.  We are being stifled socially and creatively."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" SMcL:
"My hope is for understanding.  When we see through each others eyes, we will eventually pull together to create the world in which we want to live.  Whilst we waste our energy on conflict, we cannot build, we can only burn.  Together we can create something much greater than our parts. That is North and South and across the water and with our friends in Europe and around the world.  The more we connect, the more potential we have to contribute.  I hope I see partnership here in my lifetime.  We have made vast leaps forward in the years that I have lived here but those last few steps still seem so very far away."

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