Extract from the book, A PLACE FOR PEACE, published by The Liffey Press in 2004
Paddy Crean was born in Dublin. His father was an Irish army officer, the son of a cabinet-maker from Cork. Paddy spent his entire working life with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, later Telecom Eireann before it became Eircom, where he developed a career in sales/marketing and human resource training. Paddy and his wife Angela live in Wicklow and spend much of their time travelling and visiting their children and grandchildren. Paddy is a convinced peace worker and was involved in the
New Consensus and Peace Train initiatives in the 1980s. Paddy Crean was elected chair of Glencree in 2004.
I HAVE ALWAYS TAKEN AN INTEREST in the British dimension in Ireland – as a result of my schooling by Irish Brothers and the influence of my father, who had joined the IRA at the age of 18 and subsequently spent 18 months of his young life interned at Ballykinler Camp in County Down.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s I was appalled by the extremes of hatred, bitterness and resultant violence that marked the escalation of the “Troubles” emanating from the disturbed historic relationship between Ireland and Britain. Like many others south of the Border my only reaction to date had been to wring my hands and wish it would only be over – ideally in the form of a United Ireland. The fact that much of the reported violence was perpetrated in the name the Irish people was a matter of deep concern to me. Yet there was nothing I felt I could do to prevent it.
My early involvement in peace work arose from my participation in a Buddhist group that exhorted practitioners to exercise compassion by taking action. I seized the opportunity when one Saturday morning I heard on the radio that a group of Northerners were due to arrive in Dublin on a “Peace Train”, I immediately proceeded to Connolly Station to shake cross- border hands extended in peace and friendship. Not only that; I boarded the train and joined the return journey to Belfast. Among those I met on the journey were Sam McAughtry and the late Paddy Devlin.
After that experience I became a committee member of the Peace Train Organisation and New Consensus, the group that organised the first Peace Train. It took some deep soul-searching for me to be convinced by my new associates that we should demand as central to building peace in Ireland the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, which laid territorial claims on Northern Ireland. In addition, we demanded an end to the killing and requested an opportunity for dialogue with the Republican leadership.
Wearing my New Consensus hat, I was one of the seven men who chained themselves to the railings of Kevin Barry House in protest against the killing of seven workmen in their van at Teebane Cross. I later took part in the collection in Dublin and delivery of floral tributes for the victims of atrocities, notably Teebane Cross, Ormeau Road Bookmakers Shop, Greysteel “Trick-or-treat” murders and Warrington.
Heretofore, my actions vis-à-vis Sinn Fein had consisted of protest. The emerging Hume/Adams contacts indicated to me that the urgent need now was for reconciliation. On the Belfast/Dublin/London Peace Train I had met with two members of the then almost-defunct Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. They told me about its initial actions as a protest group and how they soon realised that a more fruitful path to follow was one of reconciliation. I joined Glencree forthwith.
This was in 1993, when that organisation was reawakening. Glencree was going through the process of re-establishing its capacity to make a contribution to the developing peace process and I was optimistic that the potential was there to do something useful. I saw myself as a supporter who could work behind the scenes to build the organisation up again.
When Ian White was appointed chief executive in 1993, I immediately saw it as my task to place my complete trust in him and support him in any way I could. I could see that Ian had a vision for Glencree that was informed by a careful analysis of the complexities of the situation that was coupled with boundless energy, enthusiasm, persuasiveness and capacity for hard work. Indeed, I often observed that Ian had a solution ready before the rest of us knew that there was a problem! In this context I had no problem in volunteering to write letters for Ian attend meetings in his absence and act as a general factotum.
I was elected to council in 1995 and became honorary secretary. I applied myself to managing the membership and designing and updating a database. In the absence of anyone more qualified I acted as informal IT consultant and webmaster. Despite my self-appointed position as a backroom boy, I found myself getting involved in work with the political dialogue workshops, an activity dear to my heart, and the schools programme. Given the age difference, I withdrew from the latter when we recruited a professional team and new volunteer facilitators.
The values that Glencree espoused when it re- opened in 1994 fitted well with my own philosophy of non-aggression, working for solutions through dialogue and finding alternative ways of resolving conflict.
As Glencree has got stronger and broadened its scope in recent times, it is interesting and challenging to observe international interest in its work. I believe that this is due in part to an appreciation of the fact that the Glencree experience has placed us in a unique position in the field of reconciliation.
We were where we were when there was nobody else in sight. Glencree is still there. However, lest we lose the run of ourselves, we would do well to remember the wry comment of an Ulsterman at a session in the Centre: “If it wasn’t for the shipyard workers of Belfast, the Titanic wouldn’t be where it is today.”
In 2003, I stood down as company secretary and was recycled as chairperson in 2004.