John Hume was one of the leaders of my first experience of a demonstration. Was it 1964 or 1965 when my brother Seamus piled us into his yellow Zephyr in Strabane to join the cavalcade from Derry to Stormont to make a plea for Derry as the main base for a second university in Ulster?It was a sign of hope that we could end discrimination and sectarian divisions by peaceful, democratic participation. As teenager, I journeyed with a fresh sense of belonging to an Ulster of equality. The benefits of the UK Welfare State in the 1950’s fostered a belief that old-fashioned nationalism was no longer relevant and we could stand up for our rights. In our convent school in Strabane discussion was informed by broader horizons with the civil rights movement in the US, and apartheid in South Africa as hot topics.
The Civil Rights movement greeted my arrival at Queen’s University Belfast in 1968 to find another teacher in the poet Seamus Heaney. Language and literature sustained me as the peaceful protests of students from every class and creed were taken over by the polarisation of sectarian violence. I mourn all those who kept our focus on peace and reconciliation during my decades of exile. The teenager in me would love to know if anyone connects to this memory of a car cavalcade which presented the petition and drove away peacefully?