Women's lives touched by conflict in the north

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Women’s Stories from the North of Ireland by Silvia Calamati, Beyond the Pale Publications, £5.99 pbk

EVERY NOW and then there appears a book about the conflict in the north of Ireland, which stands out as something different, as something special. This is such a book. Silvia Calamati went to University College Dublin as a graduate research student from the University of Venice in 1985.

She started to cover the events in the north for the Italian weekly Avvenimenti and for Italian radio and television. She wrote Irlanda del Nord. Una colonia in Eropa (1997). She translated Bobby Sands One Day in My Life (Un giorni della mia vita) and also Fr Joe McVeigh’s stirring book Renewing the Irish Church.

This book comprises a series of interviews conducted in the 1990s, including an interview with solicitor Rosemary Nelson about death threats. Murdered by loyalists soon after, here was a woman who knew the dangers but refused to be cowed and prevented from doing her job as a lawyer.

Here you will find interviews with Bernadette Sands on her brother Bobby, and Róisín McAliskey on her imprisonment.

But these are not just basic journalistic interviews. Silvia Calamati is a writer with an artist’s approach to her subject. She writes with empathy.

Each interview is preface by a few words concerning female characters from Irish mythology that has a relevance to her subject. Silvia has a feel not just for the suffering of the modern generations of women, but puts them in a cultural context.

In spite of all women’s books that has gone before -- even books such as Only the Rivers Run Free. Northern Ireland: The Women’s War (1984) -- this is a book that still has a profound affect.

Who can be unmoved by Rosemary Nelson’s statement of faith in her mission as a lawyer to defend civil rights; who cannot gasp at Annie Armstrong’s account of attack on her home by loyalist gunmen? Or be disgusted and outraged by the account of how a British soldier deliberately shot Emma Groves through her kitchen window and blinded her for life.

Silvia, who this year was awarded the Tom Cox Award for outstanding services to the people of Belfast, has added to the essential library of works about the conflict.

She has not only served the people of Belfast, and of Ireland, but also the cause of historical truth and, let us hope -- speed the day -- justice.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-12-29 13:57:04.
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