Episode 35 - Freya McClements

EPISODE SUMMARY “You want to do them justice and to do their stories justice.” Telling the stories of the children who died in the Troubles. “We've done interviews with just shy of 100 families who lost children during the Troubles,” explains Freya McClements. “And you feel like you know them. The thing above all is that you want to do them justice and to do their stories justice.” Freya is discussing the research that she and Joe Duffy have done for their book Children of the Troubles, which is published in October. She describes the opportunity to write the book as “a privilege”. Freya admits that the research has been difficult and upsetting. “Your focus is always that it's not about you. It's about the person that you speak to, but how you then convey their experiences or what they say to the world." Listen on to hear the full interview with Freya.

FULL SHOW NOTES

“You want to do them justice and to do their stories justice.”  Telling the stories of the children who died in the Troubles.
 
“We've done interviews with just shy of 100 families who lost children during the Troubles,” explains Freya McClements. “And you feel like you know them. The thing above all is that you want to do them justice and to do their stories justice.”  
 
Freya is discussing the research that she and Joe Duffy have done for their book Children of the Troubles, which is published in October.  She describes the opportunity to write the book as “a privilege”.  Freya admits that the research has been difficult and upsetting.  “Your focus is always that it's not about you. It's about the person that you speak to, but how you then convey their experiences or what they say to the world. 
 
“But there were times when we were doing several interviews in a day with people who had lost children. If you think of what might happen to you in your lifetime, to lose a child is probably the worst thing that can happen. And in violent circumstances - sometimes unimaginably just terrible, terrible circumstances. 
 
“You might be sitting down with the mother or father of this child, who has maybe never before spoken to anybody, who's been carrying the hurts and the trauma and the grief of this for 40 years, for nearly 50 years in some cases. 
 
“And there was one moment in particular - I'd been talking to the mother of a little baby called Angela Gallagher, who was an 18 month old who was killed by a ricochet bullet in Belfast at the very start of the Troubles. Her sister had her by her hand, and she was walking to go and get sweets. There was shooting going on between the IRA and the British army. One of these bullets ricocheted and hit little Angela. I was driving back up the road to Derry. And the tears were just coming down my face as I was driving along the road. I had to pull over and stop.”
 
Freya believes the work that she and Joe Duffy have done is important in helping people today understand the past.  “I'm confident and Joe is confident this is going to make a real contribution to our understanding of the Troubles and hopefully to that discussion about where we go from here,” she says.  “That is the achievement.”
 
For many parents, the most important thing is that their lost children are remembered and the tragedy of their deaths is acknowledged.  This is especially important because of the lack of counselling and support services during the Troubles – and the lack of them even today. “It's about giving space to reflect and to talk about things that really haven't been talked about,” adds Freya.
 
She continues: “There's the importance of acknowledgement.... there were families who would say, we have never spoken to anybody before, but because this is a book, we want this done in the book, because there's going to be a record of the children. And we want people to know. And I mean, there are mothers and fathers, siblings out there who are really elderly. In 10 years time, they are not going to be here.”
 
Freya explains: “There was a huge number of deaths, a toll of bad luck or bad chance or accident, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time. In some cases, there's nothing that can be done. One father said, ‘I wish we had a case. I follow all those other families in the news that can take cases. If that was me, I'd be up in that court every day. But it was just an accident. There's nothing that we can do.’ That's powerlessness.”
 
She recalls one story that she found particularly touching.  “One man spoke about how he thinks he received phone calls from the man that he thinks killed his daughter and it was an accident and he hadn't meant to do it. He got these phone calls late at night. And this man would cry. And he just said how sorry he was. That father's view was that he’s suffering - and that's a tragedy, that he's suffering.”
 
Freya believes that examining the past is a positive process for those involved “to give them a voice”.  “The idea that that you're bringing anything [traumatic] back is just ridiculous because it is always there.”  But, she adds, there are many children who died for whom there is no close family left – they have all died.  
 
An abiding reflection is that the pain of loss is common across the communities and whatever the causes of deaths.  Freya explains: “I always go back to two interviews I did when I worked for the BBC, with two sisters [of men who had died] - one had a brother who was in the UDR who had been shot by a sniper and killed, and the other had a brother who was a member of the IRA, who'd been killed by the British army. 
 
“We played the two interviews without identifying who the people were and who the victims were. When you listen to them without that knowledge, all you heard was two sisters who talked about how family life had been destroyed, who talked about the effects on their mothers, talked about the fact that the brothers weren't there, to see them get married, to see their nieces and nephews, to have children of their own.  It was that loss and the impact of the Troubles on a really human level.”
 
Freya is left with a strong sense of tragedy for the children who died.  “It doesn't matter what the circumstances are. The deaths of every single one of those children was wrong. And it should it should never have happened.”
 
Freya was interviewed in the latest Forward Together podcast, other episodes are available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.
 
A panel of past interviewees Denis Bradley, Maureen Hetherington and Julieann Campbell, together with Gerard Deane and Paul Gosling, will discuss the Forward Together series of podcasts.  The event will take place at 2pm on Wednesday 18th September at the Holywell Trust, on Bishop Street in Derry/Londonderry.  It is open to all.
 
Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council.
 
 
 
This podcast is funded through the Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland's Media Award Fund and the Reconciliation Fund of the Department for Foreign Affairs. Holywell Trust receives core support from Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland. CRC Disclaimer - This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council. (c) Holywell Trust 2019