Glencree: Peacebuilding experts after generations of religious and political conflict

Violent conflict in Ireland might have a silver lining: the Irish have become experts in peacebuilding.

The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation is a direct result of  bloody religious conflict and other violence in Ireland. Founded in 1974, the Centre facilitates dialogue and conflict resolution.

The Centre was originally founded in response to violence and religious conflict in Northern Ireland. Now the Centre works internationally – conducting peacemaking efforts in places like South Africa, the Middle East and Haiti.

When Eamon Rafter, a learning co-ordinator for the Centre, visited Afghanistan to conduct peace work, he was introduced to a group of men with as someone who comes from a country where there’s been 800 years of conflict. They were impressed.

Rafter was born in Dublin and recalls his early indifference to the violent conflict in Northern Ireland. “When I was growing up, if I heard about the death of a British soldier in Belfast, my first response was he probably shouldn’t have been there,” Rafter said. “I began to think, ‘Here I am, I’m condoning violence against certain groups of people.’ I came to reevaluate that completely.”

At the Centre, Rafter said he can make a positive impact on the violence occurring in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The Centre has three key components of its peacemaking efforts, all of which focus on bringing different sides of the conflict together to resolve a dispute:

•  Dialogue: Different groups come together at the Centre to resolve a dispute – Protestant and Catholic community leaders, for example. Opposing sides sit down together in a small room where they share their grievances.

•  Training: The Centre offers instruction and education on how to facilitate peacebuilding.

•  Developing networks: Building a network in an area means the Centre can do its work there and let a new group of peacekeepers take charge of the reconciliation process. The Centre works with a broad range of people during its peace efforts, including community leaders, ordinary citizens, politicians, and institutions like businesses and universities.

“We believe that peacebuilding has to happen at different levels,” Rafter said. When opposing sides sit down at Glencree to discuss a conflict, the session often begins with storytelling. And it’s not just the violent stories that get the most attention.

“A policeman that said the most difficult thing about the conflict in Northern Ireland was keeping from his kids what job he was doing,” he said. The officer told a story about lying to his children for years, Rafter said. Had the children told anyone that their father was a police officer, the family would be at risk for violence.

Sometimes, a dialogue takes place at Glencree between former combatants, some who have killed before, Rafter said. “Storytelling is very important – everyone gets a chance,” Rafter said. “What we do is bring a process. They bring issues.”

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One response to “Glencree: Peacebuilding experts after generations of religious and political conflict

  1. Dr Bill Silcock

    Nicely written. A pocket of peace nestled in the hills of County Wicklow, Glencree shares its vision far and wide. Interesting to me that the influence of the Monks and their manuscripts — like at Glendalough – finds a legacy today among the peace activists and scholars at Glencree. Bill

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