I was born in Co Tipperary. It was my first home. When I visit, I feel the arms of the county around me and the accent is music to my ears. Childhood memories are stirred of carefree days and freedom. In Cork, I have a similar sense of place, community and home. Both counties are part of my identity.

My friend said that there would probably be a bomb somewhere

My first trip to Northern Ireland (NI) was in 1998. I was visiting my friend Therese in Donegal. We decided to take a trip into NI to visit Omagh. On the way there, a news bulletin said that there were several bomb scares.

My friend said that there would probably be a bomb somewhere and she abandoned the visit to Omagh – we visited Enniskillen instead.

We dropped our two daughters – 13 and 12 – to a shopping centre and we went into a cafe for a chat. We emerged from there to find a police cordon around the shopping centre because of a bomb scare.

I tasted fear that day

I will never forget the relief of seeing Therese’s daughter Lorna pushing my daughter Julie in her wheelchair through the front door of that shopping centre to be reunited with us.

I tasted fear that day but I could drive away and leave it behind. It was the day of the Omagh bombing. A dark day for NI.

We live here in Cork, in total harmony

There have been many dark days with atrocities visited on both communities. I still hold that the scars run deep and peace on this island can never be taken for granted. All of the people in NI have suffered enough. Holding on to the hurt lengthens the healing process.

It is easy for me to say “let it go”. We live here in Cork, in total harmony, where one’s religion is not an issue. I firmly believe that people are entitled to freedom of expression and identity is important and personal.

A tourist’s perspective

I have visited NI many times and have had the pleasure of calling on many NI farmers during the nine years of the Irish Farmers Journal farmyard competition. Wonderful hospitality and friendly chat was always part of the package.

It is one of the saddest letters I’ve read in quite a while

This year, we holidayed in Donegal and took a few trips to NI. I wrote about my personal experience as a tourist. This week I received a very long, detailed letter from a man who describes himself as “a Protestant farmer and a proud Orangeman.” It is one of the saddest letters I’ve read in quite a while. I usually ignore letters that are not signed. The writer has my name and contact details.

This man apologised for not giving me his identity because of fear. His family have lived in the area for 400 years and yet he feels unwelcome by his nationalist neighbours. I accept his reason but how sad is it that a farmer living on this island feels this way? It illustrates the fragility of peace in Northern Ireland.

Maybe I did present a negative

His reason for writing to me was that, in his view, I presented a very negative view of the “12th July celebrations.” Normally there are 18 large parades. This year there were 100 smaller parades because of COVID-19 restrictions. Maybe I did present a negative view but Tim and I were doing what we always do – visiting, exploring, eating nice food and enjoying ourselves – wherever we visit.

I write about my experiences as they happen and the old saying holds true: “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” In national school I learned the name of the NI city as Derry just like I learned the name of the town Dingle in Kerry. Those names come easier to me than Londonderry or Daingean Uí Chúis for Dingle. It’s just that simple.

Our lived experiences differ

He also tells me: “There has been a mass exodus of Protestants from the city over the last five decades.” He says that I don’t understand the Orange Order culture. How could I? Our lived experiences and culture are poles apart. Both are valid.

I wish nothing but peace and harmony to all the people of NI. I love Phil Coulter’s music and the late Seamus Heaney’s poetry. Seamus received a Nobel Prize for literature in 1994. David Trimble and the late John Hume received their Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their work for peace in Northern Ireland. Two different backgrounds coming together for the greater good. That surely is the way forward. Thank you for your letter.