A former play based on the testimonies of six Northern Irish families who experienced the killing of a child during the Troubles is to be adapted for a special presentation at Westminster.
Friends and families of the six children will tell their stories for MPs on Tuesday, June 28, supported by three professional actors who have also experienced grief and trauma resulting from the Troubles.
The narratives were originally performed in 2018 for The Playhouse Theatre & Peacebuilding Academy in Londonderry, an initiative using theatre as a tool to explore community-relations issues in a safe and accessible environment.
A shortened adaptation of the testimonies, called The Crack In Everything, will now be remounted for the non-theatre setting of Portcullis House in London, at the invitation of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
The narratives, spanning the years 1971 to 1981, relate a complex and remarkable interweaving of events. The diverse testimonies, gathered from all sides of the community, have been edited by writer Jo Egan.
Among those presenting in Westminster is Sarah Feeney Morrison, the niece of Kathleen Feeney, who was 14 years old when she was shot dead by an IRA sniper in the Brandywell area in November 1973.
Sarah voices her mother, Mary, who was 15 at the time of her sister’s death, and said that doing so helped her understand the effect it had had on her family. She said that telling the story from Mary’s perspective had brought her closer to her mum and that she felt “privileged” to be able to do it.
The 25-year-old, whose criminology dissertation research centred around the original play through the study of victimology, said: “Growing up in Derry, I didn’t have a lot of information on what happened to my aunt Kathleen. I just knew she was killed by an IRA sniper when she was 14.
“There was so much silence surrounding it and I didn’t ask questions. My mum was hurting and she didn’t want it impacting her own children.
“It was only when I read the original script for the play, written from my mum’s perspective, that I learned the whole truth.
“Having to say my mum’s words about raising us gave me a different perspective on what she’s been through, and I have so much admiration and understanding for her. It’s brought us even closer.”
Sarah, who has been trained by The Playhouse as a “leader for peace”, said the production highlighted many issues left behind by the Troubles for her generation, including trans-generational trauma.
And she also said she hoped The Crack In Everything would “open hearts and open minds” and reinforce just how precarious peace in Northern Ireland was.
“The first night we staged it was very nerve-wracking, because all the families were there and we wanted to do each story justice,” she said.
“This time I feel much more comfortable and I’m ready for the voices to be heard, including my mum’s.
“I hope that when we go to Westminster there is more compassion surrounding the stories and that those in the audience realise that these aren’t just numbers coming out of Northern Ireland.
“It’s all too easy to sweep things under the carpet if you’re not directly affected and I hope the MPs watch with open hearts and minds to what is currently going on in Northern Ireland.”
Marjorie Leslie was 24 years old when she was caught up in the Claudy bombings of July 31, 1972. The mum-of-two, who was a social worker at the time, was also babysitter to eight-year-old Kathryn Eakin, a much-loved neighbour and family friend, who was killed in the bomb.
The grandmother, who devotes her time to working with the Churches Trust and volunteers in the cancer ward of Altnagelvin Area Hospital, lives with the memories of that horrific day and says the pain is still “raw”, particularly in the run-up to the 50th anniversary.
Marjorie, whose Achilles tendon was shattered in one of the explosions, will also be at Westminster, to tell her own story and that of Kathryn’s. She described being part of The Crack In Everything as “cathartic” and said she wanted the audience at Westminster to hear what happened at Claudy from someone who had been there and suffered first-hand.
“I’m not at all nervous. I want them to hear it from the horse’s mouth,” said Marjorie.
“I lived it, I saw it and I’m here to tell the tale, except this isn’t a made-up tale, it’s a factual story. All the stories are.
“When I started this process four years ago for The Playhouse, I found it difficult. But Jo Egan was brilliant and got me to where I am now.
“It has been cathartic. I never realised until the day I started this just how much was locked away behind closed doors in my memory.
“I’ve met people from the Creggan in Derry who I would never have had an opportunity to speak with before. We’re all the same. We might be different religions but we’re all human and carrying the same baggage of hurt.”
Other stories being shared at Westminster are those of Damian Harkin (8), who was killed by an Army lorry in Derry’s Bogside; Annette McGavigan (14), who was fatally wounded when the Army fired into a crowd of bystanders at a riot in the Bogside on September 6, 1971; Julie Livingstone (14), who died on May 13, 1981, from injuries sustained after she was shot by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army in west Belfast; and Henry Cunningham (16), a passenger in a van fired at by three UVF gunmen on August 9, 1973.
A panel discussion will follow.