We may think of Ireland as the origin of Guinness and St. Patrick’s Day, but the country’s history is far darker than many Americans realize. For centuries, Nationalists who believe Ireland should be completely independent from the United Kingdom have been in constant conflict with Unionists, who believe it’s necessary to remain part of the UK. For most of the late 20th century and early 21st century, Maze prison, located just west of Belfast, has been the symbolic center of the struggle between these two factions, but that chapter of history might be coming to an end. Daniel Libeskind has been chosen by the Northern Irish government to transform the prison into a museum dedicated to peace.
Freedom poster featuring the now-demolished Maze Prison via kyz/Flickr
Maze prison, also called Long Kesh or simply “the Maze”, has been closed since 2000. Instead of allowing the building to remain in ruins, a constant reminder of years of bloodshed between brothers, the Northern Irish government will turn the site into a museum and international conflict resolution and transformation center.
Libeskind, who oversaw the building of the 9/11 Ground Zero memorial in New York and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, spoke about this unprecedented opportunity to turn what was once a symbol of hate and discrimination into an icon for solidarity and peace.
“It’s a very interesting site and I think to give life to this site, to bring something really positive, (we can) say we are here Northern Ireland,” Mr Libeskind said in an interview with BBC News. “The peace process resonates around the world, whether it’s in New York, Europe, it’s a very important thing and something that really moves the world forward.”
The key for Libeskind, and those who will work with him on the redesign and renovation, is not to memorialize the prison’s sordid past, but to act as a foundation for civil discourse, diplomacy, and mutual respect between those of all backgrounds and political beliefs. “It’s about the future, it’s not about us being stuck in the past,” he said, “We must remember our past, but nonetheless we must look toward the future and the peace building and conflict resolution centre will be doing exactly that.”
Although violence between Nationalists and Unionists still erupts in Ireland from time to time, those at McAdam Design, which brought Libeskind in for the project, are confident that the new center for peace will discourage that behavior. The center is due to be built on the grounds of the prison’s former H-blocks, taking up less than 8 percent of the 347-acre site.