Anne Gallagher (Northern Ireland)

“Forgiveness is a journey. Today you can forgive and tomorrow you can feel the pain all over again”

Photography by Brian Moody

Anne Gallagher is a former nurse from the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) in Belfast. She tended to victims of bombs and bullets on both sides of the sectarian divide, as well as many policemen and soldiers. Having a father and three brothers interned in the early days of The Troubles, she has experienced the pain of having close relatives imprisoned and killed. Her brother Dominic, a former IRA member, became leader of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and was, at the time, the most wanted man in Ireland. After his release from prison he was shot dead by unknown gunmen.

Anne founded Seeds of Hope, an organisation that facilitates story telling, based on The Troubles, through music, art, drama, writing and sport. This has lead to similar work being carried out in prisons, schools and communities in Sweden, Belgium and the USA.

Forgiveness isn’t something that’s talked about with reconciliation, but it’s needed to bring closure to the pain and suffering experienced in Northern Ireland. You can’t contemplate hope unless you address despair. To heal the wounds of Northern Ireland I believe you have to see humanity in the face of the enemy. But forgiveness is a journey. Today you can forgive and tomorrow you can feel pain all over again. I’m not a religious person, but for me forgiveness is about grace. To be able to forgive someone who has hurt you is a moment of grace. My mother is my driving force. She has such a respect for every single soul – even for the policemen and soldiers who raided our house and caused her so much pain.

I grew up in County Derry in a very happy family, one of four sisters and seven brothers. I’d just started nursing when my father and three of my brothers were interned without trial. It was this that got my other brothers involved in The Troubles. In the hospital Intensive Care Unit, I would nurse victims from all sides. Seeing them lying there, naked and attached to life support machines, I didn’t see a uniform, I just saw their hearts, their pain. The conflict was everywhere: out on the streets, in people’s houses, at the end of your bed during night raids, when you’d wake up to find uniformed men in your room. My brother Dominic was murdered in front of his young son, who had previously, with his other young brother, seen his mother shot as she bathed them. I absolutely loved my brothers. I didn’t judge them at all.

With the Seeds of Hope project, we encourage people not to judge others. We listen to people’s stories, but we don’t judge them. There’s healing in that. The idea is that when you hear my story and I hear your story, it becomes our story, and seeds of hope are sown.

 

Anne Gallagher passed away on 7th August 2013