A Catholic priest has revealed an ambitious idea to create a Troubles monument right beside the former loyalist Twaddell camp in north Belfast.
Father Gary Donegan, ex-rector of Holy Cross parish, said his vision is for a large stone monument at the flashpoint, which would bear the image of a cross for every person who died as a result of the Troubles in the surrounding neighbourhoods – whether they were civilians, security forces, or paramilitaries.
On the Twaddell side of the roundabout, loyalist protestors had maintained a camp – complete with banners and flags – for years after Orangemen were barred from a march along the main road on the Twelfth, 2013.
According to the book Lost Lives, which documents all deaths during the Troubles, north Belfast was second only to west Belfast as a location for the most number of fatalities (with roughly 550 deaths to about 700 deaths, respectively).
The land Father Donegan wants to use is home to some advertising billboards.
It borders property belonging to Holy Cross parish but he is not sure who owns the specific patch he has in mind.
He said that he already has a donor lined up who is willing to pay for the scheme, but will not reveal who it is unless the plan looks set to go ahead.
Describing the details to the News Letter, Father Donegan said he wants the monument to be basalt because it is the same rock type as the Giant’s Causeway, and suggested there could be an “eternal flame” beside it, like the one at JFK’s grave.
He had considered the idea of having names of the dead inscribed on the monument instead of just crosses, but since some are paramilitaries, this would antagonise people.
Instead, he suggested they could be written down, placed in a “time capsule” and buried at the site, perhaps to be unearthed and read out by a future generation.
Lastly, it could be unveiled with an inter-faith service.
“Rather than being waste ground and just a few advertising hoardings, it’d be this iconic piece of memorial space,” he said.
“I just thought this was the perfect place to remember everybody.”
Asked how confident he was it could happen, he said: “Anybody I’ve spoken to, whether it be church members from the broader Christian community, think it’s a great idea.”
He said nobody had objected to it “to his face”.
“They all kind of think it’s far reaching, it pushes boundaries.
“If it’d be vandalised or paint thrown on it or whatever that there, I’d have gone out every time and cleaned it myself until people eventually get bored.”
Father Donegan (who still works at Holy Cross, and had been its long-serving parish priest until September this year) said he presented the idea privately to Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness about five months ago, and wanted them to “reflect on it”.
He wondered if the government could order a compulsory purchase of the ground, for example.
“They haven’t got back to me. I think it’s just at the moment [in] consideration,” he said.
ARDOYNE MEMORIAL GARDEN:
Father Donegan had opened up about his idea whilst the News Letter was asking him about why he had been in attendance at a new memorial garden in the Ardoyne earlier this month.
He was pictured there by a news photographer at its launch event on November 6.
The garden contains a large wall, and its left-hand plaque marks civilians from the area killed in the Troubles.
The central plaque contains a list of dead IRA men.
It was put to Father Donegan that unionists may look askance at his decision to attend that launch, due to the IRA connection.
“That’s their interpretation,” he said.
“To me, it was a garden of which there were people who died just as a result of the Troubles.”
He said he was asked to attend by he family of one of the civilian victims whose name is inscribed there.
He added that he had stopped to pray at the cenotaph in Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, and “nobody was present with a camera”.
He said: “We should have the maturity as a people to be able to actually go to a place, irrespective of who the person actually was... as a reminder of the cost of conflict, the cost of war”.