I think the answer is a yes and a no! We had no formal preparation at all. But I did become prepared on my own with the experiences that I had the year before which did help me a little. But then I wonder of anyone can be completely prepared. I will give you a sense of this with the events leading up to meeting him.
It was only after the peace process in 1999 that I got involved in Northern Ireland again. I started talking to some friends about my dad and suddenly I found myself reliving Brighton as if it was that day again. I was going through all the same feelings and it was scary. I knew it was time to look for ways to heal and get support. I had put my trauma in a box and now the box was open.
Miraculously I heard about a project at Glencree Reconciliation Centre, which was offering support for victims who lived in England as well as from Northern Ireland. I knew this was exactly what I needed. I remember walking into the room the first time and looking at the faces of all who were there: mothers and fathers of dead soldiers, people injured in bombs, father of dead son. I knew it was safe for me to open up and feel my pain. No one there would be scared of my pain; they would understand. And the next few months I did grieve, rage, cry and laugh with others. I knew how important it was as I was beginning to trust myself again as I felt and let go of each piece of the pain.
I also met ex‐combatants and found that by seeing them as human beings, discovering their humanity, I was discovering my own humanity. After a particularly intense weekend where I had spent all my time with four ex‐IRA guys, I woke up overcome with feelings of betrayal. These men could have killed my dad and I had walked in the hills with them. I felt the feelings of betrayal and discovered a wall of pain. I cried for hours and hours, and afterwards I knew that the saddest thing was they were my brothers not my enemies. I concluded that the truth was that there is no us and them but only you and me. The idea we cannot be friends with the other side is a myth that keeps us from realizing that we are all brothers and sisters.
Later that year I met people who knew Pat Magee, the man who had been charged and sentenced for planting the bomb that killed my dad. I had first talked about meeting him in 1986 and now the opportunity was there. He had been released from prison as part of the Good Friday peace agreement. Three times different individuals said they could arrange the meeting. But each time I heard that he didn’t want to meet me. I remember feeling disappointed but also trusted that it just wasn’t right. Then at a peace conference I read out my poem, “Bridges Can be Built.” Someone there said they could arrange the meeting, and this time it happened. Apparently, Pat was always saying he would meet me!
I received a phone call on Friday, November 22nd that Pat would meet me that evening at my friend Anne Gallagher’s house. I was going to Ireland anyway and I would just arrive later at Glencree. My first thought was, “Oh, I am not in the mood. I am not ready,” But then I thought, no, I can trust this is the day I have been working towards. I got the ferry to Ireland and to take my mind of the enormity on the meeting I played cards with two businessmen sitting next to me. I lost each time but it got me to Ireland. I was scared but thought Pat might be more scared.