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28 September 2000 Edition

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Reclaiming history

Against a backdrop of flames, fleeing residents carry the handful of belongings they've salvaged in the few moments before their homes are completely engulfed in fire.

Adams said he had discovered history when he had discovered his own subjugation
It's only a few seconds of black and white footage, but in 1969 the image of people being forced to flee from their homes in Bombay Street and other streets in Catholic areas of Belfast entered the northern nationalist psyche.

Thirty years later, with many Catholic families still living in fear of sectarian loyalist attacks on their homes, the cry of ``no more Bombay Streets'' still carries considerable resonance within nationalist communities in the North.

``Burned out'' is a short video documentary produced by ``Dúchas'', a local history group and a women's media study group based on the Lower Falls Road, Belfast. They detail the events of August 14th and 15th 1969, when families in the Clonard and Divis areas of West Belfast were driven from their homes - in what can best be described as an anti-Catholic pogrom.

As well as archive footage and stills, the film includes interviews with a number of key witnesses: Geraldine O'Reagan, Rita Canavan, Mary Kennedy and John Fusco. Significantly this is a story not only told by the people themselves but also made by members of their community. It is an exercise not just in retelling but also reclaiming history.

``People need to take ownership of history,'' Sinn Fein President and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams told the audience, at the video launch in Springvale Training Centre last week. Recalling the words of ANC member Robert McBride, Adams said he had discovered history when he had discovered his own subjugation.

Congratulating the team behind the making of ``Burned out'', Adams pointed out that, ``in the past women have generally been silenced out of history''. Claire Hackett, project manager congratulated the women involved in making the film for ``their skills and the effort they brought to the project.''

Speaking at the launch, Marilyn Hyndman of Northern Vision asked why it had taken 30 years for this story to be told. ``Why didn't we have this sort of film being produced and shown as the events were taking place?'' said Marilyn.

``One of the most celebrated campaigns for access by local people, was by the aboriginal people of Alice Springs, who targeted a satellite system, broke into it and used it to televise their own programming,'' said Hyndman. ``Now aboriginal people in Australia are broadcasting programmes in 15 different aboriginal languages.''

It's time to move on from the cult of silence which has surrounded the last thirty years of conflict in the North of Ireland, Laurence McKeown told the audience. Acknowledging the ethos of ``whatever you say say nothing'' within Republicanism, the former H Block hunger striker said that the current political process did allow more space for many untold stories to be told. ``It's time to move on and to talk about many of our experiences,'' said Laurence.


An Phoblacht
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