Good Friday Agreement, now 20, also heralded digital age

In April 1998 I was working as a reporter at the Mobile Register newspaper in Alabama. My newsroom was not yet connected to the Internet, and I was still two years away from owning my own laptop computer.

Anxious to learn about the eleventh-hour efforts to reach a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, I drove to one of the city’s few Internet cafes. There, using a  dial-up connection, I navigated to the New York Times, which had gone online two years earlier. That is how I learned that Irish nationalists and unionists, and the British and Irish governments, had reached a deal to end 30 years of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.

My datebook for 10 April 1998, shows only the Delta airlines’ flight number and arrival time of a childhood friend making an Easter weekend birding trip to the Alabama Gulf coast. I did not note the historic peace deal. In the coming days and weeks, however, I did clip newspaper and magazine articles about the agreement, which I added to a folder of hard copy stories about Ireland that I had kept since the 1980s.

Today–after seven trips to the island of Ireland–I read Irish news from Irish media with a tap on my smart phone. I follow Irish politicians and political parties on Twitter. Sadly, I discarded most of my old clip file in the haste of a move, the result of mistaken thinking that the yellowing stories were no longer relevant. I did keep the front section of the 24 May 1998, issue of the New York Times, which reported the favorable vote on both sides of the Irish border to ratify the deal. It began:

The voters of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have given overwhelming support to the peace agreement aimed at settling the sectarian conflict that has convulsed their island for centuries. … The referendum on the historic compromise was the first time since 1918 that Irish throughout the island had voted at the same time on the same issue, and the ballot counting today came on the 200th anniversary of one of the island’s many violent events, the first day of the Rising of 1798, in which Irish rebels tried to free their island from the British.

At a graffiti-covered “peace wall” separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 2016. Note William of Orange, “King Billy,” charging on white horse in the mural at right, which indicates what side I was on at the moment.

In the spirit online news reading, here are just a few of stories about the 20th anniversary of the GFA:

  • The Journal.ie offers this background piece on the deal.
  • Kerrie Hope Patterson was born in Northern Ireland less then 30 minutes after the agreement was signed, the Belfast Telegraph reports. Today, the “peace baby” is a student at Trinity College Dublin.
  • The Agreement “ended the bloodshed in Northern Ireland but has failed to achieve broader reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist political parties,” Padraig O’Malley writes in the Boston Globe.

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