Remembering Seamus Kelters: Pioneering Trauma Journalist

By Gavin Rees

Some years ago, Seamus write a piece for the Dart Centre website on the challenge reporters face when covering anniversaries.  He recounted a father the words of a father speaking of his teenage son’s death: “The bullets that killed James didn’t just travel in distance, they traveled in time. Some of those bullets never stop traveling.” I think that’s something that’s very easy for journalists to forget."

That story also gives just one hint of Seamus’s skill at his craft. He had a flawless knack for finding the telling detail, and to compress it into brief, arresting prose that would unfold in your head, like a de-concertina-ing route map that opens up to show a landscape wider than the headlines alone might suggest.  

I first met Seamus playing the role of a real tour guide around 2005. He was co-hosting a Dart Centre workshop in Belfast, and he had offered to give the out-of-towners a spin around the sites in his car.  He showed us the territorial fault-lines, the spaces were the divisions between the two communities were at their most intense, where people had been put out of their houses in the 70s, a street corner where a solider had been shot, a bar where drinkers had been gunned down by paramilitaries, and many more things. One couldn’t have had a more insightful - or a more generously given - introduction to how the violence in the city had gathered force. 

Those unlucky enough not to have met Seamus and driven with him around Belfast should read Lost Lives. It is what my friend Gill Moreton, a psychologist with family connection to Northern Ireland, calls simply “a work of humane genius.” Seamus and his co-authors hang the story of what happened, not around politicians’ speeches, acts of government and the brute mortality statistics, but around the individual lives of the 3600 people who died. In its restraint and humanity, and its conviction that the past and present do necessarily live inside one another, it is an astonishing example of what journalism can do and what it is for.