The former US senator credited with brokering the Good Friday Agreement, George Mitchell, joined artists, poets and musicians for a special Rising to Reconciliation event at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to mark the 18th anniversary of the historic accord.
Ireland’s acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan said of the event: “I know that the powerful performances we will see on stage will be an inspiration as we continue the unfinished business of reconciliation on this island and as we continue to honour the vision of the Good Friday Agreement.”
He said he was delighted that Senator Mitchell could take part given his integral role in the peace process, eighteen years to the day after the Agreement which ended the Troubles.
Senator Mitchell recalled: “In Northern Ireland, over a span of five years, I chaired three separate but related discussions. All were difficult and contentious.
“The main negotiation lasted for nearly two years. As I’ve often said, we had 700 days of failure and one day of success.
“For that, many people deserve credit, none more so than the political leaders of Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.”
He expressed his joy at coming back years later with his son to visit a peaceful Northern Ireland but recalled he had been disheartened at first. He confessed that he had considered quitting after a year and a half on a flight home to New York. “I was filled with doubt and despair.
“What sense did it make to pursue what was obviously a hopeless task – especially since the reason for this flight home was to be present at the birth of my son.
“But he revealed how it was the arrival of his only son Andrew, he also has two daughters, that drove him to “see it through all the way to an agreement”.
“Late in the middle of one night I sat watching Andrew sleeping. I then started to think about how different his life would be had he been born a citizen of Northern Ireland.
“This conflict was made and sustained by men and women – it could be ended by men and women and I knew them. All of the doubts I had about my role in Northern Ireland vanished,” he said.
Presidents, poets and peacemakers gathered for the celebration. President Michael D Higgins, former President Mary Robinson and former Taoiseach John Bruton were among the dignitaries for the ‘Journey in Words and Music’ event hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Poetry Ireland.
It included work from internationally acclaimed poets, including Eavan Boland, Colette Bryce, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and John Hewitt as well as live readings and music by Bafta-winning actor Andrew Scott, singersongwriter Paul Brady and broadcaster Olivia O’Leary.