Northern Ireland

2012 - present

I I first visited Ireland from New York, spending three months travelling around the country in Autumn of 1977 and usually staying with the families of friends, who became themselves lifelong friends.  Arriving in Belfast in the midst of the Troubles, I presented myself at the British Army barracks in Lisburn and asked to accompany an army patrol.  My request was granted, almost no questions asked -- “It’s raining, you’ll get wet, are you sure you want to go?” – and the resulting article and photographs were published in the New York Daily News in March 1978.  I continued to visit Ireland and ten years later, March 1988, I was invited by Fr Tom Toner, the parish priest of St Agnes RC Church on the Andersonstown Road, in West Belfast, to profile his parish – where two off duty British soldiers had been dragged from their car and murdered in the wake of events following the killing of three IRA operatives in Gibraltar.  That article was published in The Tablet.  In March 2013, I went back to West Belfast to find out what had changed, fifteen years after Gibraltar and 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.  During the research for that Tablet article,  I learned about the extent of the peacewalls and interfaces that still divided Protestant from Catholic neighbourhoods

Since 2018 I have been contributing to Northern Slant, a news and commentary platform for Northern Ireland.  My three most recent articles explore the development of British policy on the unresolved legacy of the Troubles since early 2020 when Secretary of State Julian Smith was sacked and Brandon Lewis took over.  In November 2020 my article examined the implications of the government decision not to set up an inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.  In May 2021 I wrote about the likely way forward for legacy cases following the long-awaited publication of the Ballymurphy inquest report. And in July 2021 I reported on the Tory government proposals for legislation to end all Troubles-related criminal and civil cases, and legacy investigations.

 

Previous articles include pieces on artist Rita Duffy, the Ballymurphy campaign, an interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News on his experience of reporting on Northern Ireland, coverage of Prince Charles’ contribution to the peace process, and a review of four contemporary art exhibitions in Donegal and Derry here.

 

In 2015, Belfast:  Toward a City Without Walls was published by Colourpoint, based on three years’ research and interviews with over 100 people. It tells the story of Belfast's 100 sectarian walls and interfaces, now the last in Europe, which remain over twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.  The book raises the question of how much longer these physical signs and symbols of sectarianism and the Troubles will disfigure the cityscape. It is illustrated by photographs by Frankie Quinn, who has been documenting the peace walls since 1994. It can be purchased here.

 

It was followed in 2019 by Don’t Mention the War:  Exploring Aspects of the Legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.  This book was published on Amazon in association with Northern Slant, includes artwork by Rita Duffy, and has chapters on the frozen peace process, gender issues, trauma, the Good Friday Agreement and the role of the media in post-conflict Northern Ireland.  It can be purchased here.

 

Articles in The Irish Times include a review of Rita Duffy’s 2016 exhibition in Dublin, Souvenir, and on the peacewalls in 2017 here.

 

My peacewalls book emerged from articles written for The Tablet in 2013 and 1988, “The Gospel and the Gun".  My first article on the Troubles was published in the New York Daily News in March 1978, “The War Goes On”. 

 

My work on Northern Ireland is also covered on a Facebook page.

Cosstick Peacewall