‘Everyone is my people’: Audio memoirs from seven men from the WAVE Trauma Centre
by Catherine DOYLE for Northern Ireland Foundation
15 May 2014
The Theatre of Witness Programme, along with WAVE Trauma Centre, launched a new audio exhibit on 15th May at Duncairn Centre for Cultural Arts. ‘Everyone is my people’ consists of seven men’s experiences of the Troubles.
The men told their stories to Teya Sepinuck (Artistic Director, The Playhouse Theatre of Witness Programme), who then scripted narratives based on the men’s words. Jane and Padraig Coyle (journalists) then produced and mixed the accounts.
Victims’ Commissioner Kathyrn Stone addressed the audience. Praising the work, the Commissioner (who announced last month that she was leaving her post) said, “You’ll always be with me,” and that she had learned enormously from these projects.
Teya Sepinuck talked about being astonished by the “incredible poetry and beauty” of the men’s words, but did not know what to do with them at first.
Padraig Coyle described himself and his wife as ‘radio people,’ saying that audio was the best way to record the stories.
Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the 1993 Shankill Bomb, also spoke at the event. He pointed out that the project gives an insight into people suffering from real mental trauma. Mr McBride talked about the power of grief as being about “lost life,” but also about “losing quality of life”.
This sense of dual loss also came through in some of the men’s stories. For example, ‘David’s Story’ is about the loss of both brother and self. When thinking back on his brother’s murder by paramilitaries, David said: “I’ve missed him all of my life. When he died, I died.”
The danger some of the men experienced caused them to suffer from thanatophobia (the fear of death). After being wounded in a bomb, Eugene said: “Once I was hurt, I knew I could be hurt again.” He also discussed the normality of shooting, riots and bombs; death anxiety was not an implausible dread, considering the environment around these men in the thirty years of conflict.
Another very sad theme that comes across in the men’s narratives is their lost potential. For instance, Henry said, “I had dreams — whenever I was young — of being a baker, getting married and having a family, but life took a different course.” After being shot at just 16 years of age, Henry’s life became “dark”. He was diagnosed with depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Many of the men still suffer from different forms of mental illnesses, showing an ongoing fallout from the conflict. ‘Brian’s Story’ begins with the sound of a helicopter and he explains: “It’s war in my bedroom every night. Happens as soon as my dreams start. Absolute war. Helicopters flying through my windows. Shootings.” Brian’s words shows how war does not end with peace, but continues with the shell-shocked survivors, who relive the violence in flashbacks and nightmares.
War neurosis has caused a further divide in Northern Ireland. Michael states: “I know what it means to be a separate entity from the rest of the people,” and reflecting back, he said: “I led my life a bit apart, a bit silent, a bit alone.” Michael shows the victims’ feeling of being alienated from the rest of society, because other people cannot comprehend their pain.
‘William’s Story’ gives a glimpse into the trauma of witnessing too much. William, who attended the event, said that he could not bring himself to listen to his recording. His narration begins and ends with the same desire: “I want to forget about it. I want to forget about it. I just want to forget about the past.” While William wants to forget, his account proves that it is important for society to remember him and other victims.
The audio memoirs end with Paul, who was shot by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) six times and left in a wheelchair. This is a remarkable story for the victim’s empathy and compassion for others. While talking about the ripple effects, Paul worries for his family (who witnessed the attack) and neighbours (who had been the UFF’s intended victims), but also for the perpetrators. One of the UFF gunmen was later killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Paul said: “Now his children are victims too.” Paul’s consideration for others inspired the title of the exhibit, as he says that he stands for everybody, “Everyone is my people.”
These are very important stories. The poignancy of the men’s lives and the beauty of Teya’s script, as well as the Coyles’ editing combine powerfully. Despite the relevance of the stories in peacebuilding, there were a lot of empty seats in the audience. These stories should be heard, so that we can learn from them and build a better future together: