Twenty-five years after the Good Friday agreement brought an end to decades of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Boston leaders say it serves as a model for peace and bringing people together during times of conflict.
The Good Friday agreement was a historic political deal that ended “the Troubles,” nearly 30 years of sectarian violence on the Irish island that claimed the lives of thousands of people in the fight over whether Northern Ireland should remain in the United Kingdom or join Ireland. The agreement, which was signed on April 10, 1998, had significant impacts worldwide and in Boston.
“You realize just how rare it is to have a successful peace interaction., to have peace break out and be able to be sustained for 25 years,” said Bill Walczak, who co-founded the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester.
Following the agreement, the center was selected as a site as part of an international project to bring together Catholic and Protestant leaders from the Irish island. While at the center, they worked on community programming for children and other vulnerable populations.
Dorchester had undergone its own experience with tension among different racial and ethnic groups, and Walczak recalled that history made it an innovative spot for Catholics and Protestants to work together.
“This stuff can work: Pulling people together. Getting people to see that we’re all humans,” he said. “We’re all humans, we all have the same problems, we have the same issues, the same joys.”
Brian Kane, now the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, worked at Boston College’s Irish Institute when the Good Friday agreement was signed —an institute created in 1997 to continue the peace-building process.
On April 10, 1998, Kane remembers he felt relieved.
“I wish we didn't have to keep learning the lessons of the Good Friday agreement today, when you look around the world and even here with systemic racism and all kinds of stuff, there are still so many divisions in our society,” Kane said.
The day of the signing, Frank Costello was working in the Clinton administration. The former staffer for Boston Mayor Ray Flynn now lives in Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Costello said, decades later, it’s still a reminder that peace cannot be taken for granted.
“That signing was not just emotional, it was exhilarating and inspiring,” he said.
President Joe Biden will travel to Northern Ireland on Tuesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the peace accords.