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On April 10, 1998, the Agreement was signed, bringing a start to peace in Northern Ireland. We look back on the achievements of the past twenty years with the help of famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

Northern Ireland is today celebrating 20 years of peace and two decades since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement on April 10, 1998. As we reflect on the trials and tribulations but the ultimate success of the last 20 years of maintained peace in Northern Ireland, the words of Irish poet Seamus Heaneycome to mind.

Perhaps more so than any other Irish poet, the Nobel Laureate for Literature, who passed away in 2013 aged 74, left us with the words with which we can speak about this troubled time in Ireland’s history and how it was overcome.

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“The Cure at Troy” is Heaney’s retelling of Sophocles’ “Philoctetes,” the story of how Odysseus tricked Achilles’ son into joining the Greek forces at Troy towards the end of the Trojan War. A favorite of massive Heaney fan Joe Biden, it was originally penned as a tribute to Nelson Mandela in 1991 and an indictment of apartheid South Africa.

Especially today, however, we can see the influence of the Troubles running through Heaney’s words in “The Cure of Troy,” in particular as he speaks of hope, of hope through history and the hope that a massive change can take place. For the Agreement was truly that “once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave” that changed Northern Ireland. It was the “great sea-change on the far side of revenge.”

The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes – Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,

They torture one another,

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols

Beat on their bars together.

A hunger-striker’s father

Stands in the graveyard dumb.

The police widow in veils

Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracle

And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:

The utter, self-revealing

Double-take of feeling.

If there’s fire on the mountain

Or lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.

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Courtesy of Frances Mulraney Irish Central

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