At a special “high tea” event last Saturday afternoon, Malibu local Geraldine Gilliland (owner of Lula Cocina Mexicana and Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica) hosted acclaimed Northern Irish author and peacebuilder Tony Macaulay, along with a capacity party crowd.
“We both grew up in Belfast during the Troubles in the ‘70s on opposite sides of the peace wall,” Gilliland wrote to The Malibu Times in an email. “This was a historic event, because when I left Northern Ireland in 1975, I would never have believed all these years later that I would be inviting a Protestant from Shankill Road (Tony Macaulay) to an event at my house in Malibu.”
Gilliland was raised Catholic and taught by nuns, and said her parents wouldn’t let her talk to Protestants.
Responding to that statement, Macaulay said, “We have peace in Northern Ireland now, but we’re still divided. As children, Geraldine and I wouldn’t have met each other, and we were taught to fear those on the other side.”
“There’s a lot of talk about walls these days, but we in Ireland originated the wall,” Gilliland told the crowd. “Our lives were completely changed by the Troubles.”
Even today, 48 “peace walls,” which are high barriers separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, still exist in Belfast — over a total of 21 miles. And more than 90 percent of Northern Ireland’s schools are still segregated, with Protestants attending public schools and Catholics attending private Catholic schools.
Macaulay described the period of time referred to as the “Troubles” as lasting from 1969 to 1995. “It was a time of political conflict in Northern Ireland between the Protestants, who identified with the United Kingdom, and the Catholics, who identified with the rest of Ireland.”
“It was a time of British occupying forces and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), as well as paramilitary groups conducting low-level guerrilla warfare,” Macaulay explained. “Over the years, 3,000 people died and over 100,000 were injured, and for such a small country, it was devastating. Northern Ireland consists of only six counties with a population of 1.8 million.
“Since the ceasefire in 1998, the country has been trying to build a future,” Macaulay said. “In ‘98, there was a realization that neither side would win. There was war weariness after 35 years, and there needed to be dialogue — enough people had already died and suffered. People finally came to realize that killing was not the solution.”
After growing up with walls in Belfast, Macaulay noted that there was now going to be a wall built here in the U.S., referring to the wall President Donald Trump wants to build along the Mexican border.
“I feel strongly that walls don’t work,” he cautioned. “The wall is never long enough, tall enough or thick enough to segregate people. What’s needed is to break down the walls between different ethnic, religious and cultural groups.”
For more than 30 years, Macaulay has been a “peace-builder” using the experience he first gained in Belfast working among different factions in the 1980s and applying it to other conflict situations around the world, including other war torn areas like Yugoslavia and Serbia.
He has also worked on integrating schools in Northern Ireland in addition to working with survivors of violence, mediating between former enemies and bringing conflicting groups together.
“I’ve been in rooms with families who have killed each other,” Macaulay said. “I’ve had to work with people who’ve done violent things to other human beings, yet recognized that they wanted to change.”
On the current trip to Southern California, he’ll be speaking to the Pepperdine University School of Law’s Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution, Mediators Beyond Borders, Loyola Marymount University’s “Peace and Reconciliation” class, UC Irvine Olive Tree Initiative and a Cal State graduate class in peacebuilding.
In recent years, Macaulay has written three critically acclaimed memoirs on what it was like growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, and uses those books as a way of generating conversations between conflicting sides. He read a passage from the first of those books, “Paperboy,” which told of his boyhood delivering the Belfast Telegraph, aka “Belly Tellies,” from 1975 to 1977 to Protestants only, sometimes in the midst of “burning buses, police in riot gear, riots, road blocks and IRA attacks.”
The Northern Irish event at Gilliland’s house also included a youth group from Ireland /Northern Ireland’s nonprofit CineMagic, which planned a range of film projects and experiences in LA over a 10-day period.