March 31, 2013

Bill Nemitz: A promise kept, as another Mitchell bears witness

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Former Maine U.S. Sen. George Mitchell poses with his son, Andrew, during their trip to Northern Ireland last year.

BBC photo


“GEORGE MITCHELL: My Journey’s End” will be shown at the Maine Irish Heritage Center at 34 Gray St. in Portland at 7 p.m. April 12 and 2 p.m. April 14. A $5 donation is requested. For more information go to

Nicola Stevenson's husband, Ian, is a police officer. She explains how even now the family's vehicles must be checked for bombs before anyone heads out in the morning.

"Peace for us isn't very peaceful," Nicola Stevenson tells an empathetic Mitchell. "Because you've got that fear always hanging over you."

Or, as young Lucy Stevenson confides to Andrew while giving him an archery lesson at a nearby community center, "Sometimes, when there's a policeman been shot, you sort of think, 'Oh my goodness, that could have been my dad.' "

Yet despite the lingering fear (a policeman in County Armagh was shot and killed by an IRA splinter group as recently as 2009), it is the children – all precisely the same age – who weave a thread of hope into this narrative.

"I've heard Mom and Dad talk about problems and troubles that was," Conor Robinson tells a curious Andrew during their tour of the family's idyllic farm. "But I've never experienced any troubles or nothing like that."

Nor has Alex Best. He takes Andrew to his school outside Belfast, where they soon find themselves staring up at faraway Stormont – the site of the peace talks and now the seat of Northern Ireland's government.

"He could have stayed home and helped you," says Alex of Andrew's father. "But he decided to come over here and help me."

"Yes, exactly," replies Andrew with a smile.

"Well, tell him thanks," grins Alex.

Then there's Claire Gallagher. She was 15 the day, four months after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, that the Rear Irish Republican Army killed 29 people and wounded another 220 with a massive car bomb in the town of Omagh.

Gallagher, who met Mitchell when he and President Bill Clinton visited the town two weeks later, lost her eyesight in the blast. But she never lost hope that the fragile peace agreement, too, would survive.

"I suppose I just never considered that someone like the senator would remember me – and would continue to remember me," Gallagher, now married with children of her own, tells the BBC crew as the Mitchells arrive for a visit.

Remember her? Mitchell named his daughter after her.

"George Mitchell: My Journey's End" will be shown at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on Gray Street in Portland at 7 p.m. April 12 and again at 2 p.m. April 14.

It is, explained Mary McAleney, a former member of Mitchell's U.S. Senate staff and now chairwoman of the center's board of directors, a chance "to celebrate and recognize what the senator did, what a man from Maine did and what a person who's Irish did."

And how Mitchell, himself the grandson of Irish immigrants, kept that promise he made way back on April 10, 1998.

"Because I had children late in life, I'm not going to see my kids grow into full adulthood," said Mitchell, who will turn 80 in August. "I wanted them to get a sense of what had been a very important part of my life in Northern Ireland."

During their visit to Stormont, as they sat alone (without microphones) in that visitors gallery listening to the minister's endless briefing to the Assembly, Andrew finally turned to his father and said, "Dad, this is really boring."

"Well," Mitchell told his son with a smile, "that's the point."

Mission accomplished?

" 'This is really boring!' " echoed Mitchell with a chuckle last week. "It was a perfectly fitting ending."

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: 

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