Life-long Passionists

Life-long Passionists Brian McKee, conflict resolution activist in the North of Ireland.
Personal Profile
Matthew Carlson speaks with a conflict-resolution activist


Although Brian McKee may have seemed like any other lad growing up in Ireland, he was always a little different than most people his age. Brian grew up in the Passionist Holy Cross parish in Ardoyne, where much of his life revolved around his family, GAA and of course, the Church. “I joined the local GAA club when I was 10 years of age, and I became an altar boy – I passed the test on March 15, 1967,” Brian says.

He recalls that at that time, in order to serve as an altar boy, he had to be able to recite the Mass in Latin. He was only seven years of age when he passed the test to become one.

Growing up in Ardoyne, he realised that his parish was a little different than others around. “We were different and, in many ways, we were special and that was something that set us apart from the rest.”


He recalls growing up in a very Catholic community that was surrounded by several Protestant areas, which Brian says often made him feel alienated. However, the Passionist community itself was very close. “There’s a big sense of belonging in the parish and I suppose the parish’s identity was very important to people and the priests were very close to the people,” he explains.

Brian was 10 years old when the Troubles began in Ardoyne. In an area that was greatly affected by the conflicts, he says he remembers all the terrible things that happened during that time. “Ninety-nine people from Ardoyne parish were buried as a result of the conflict. Plus, there would have been 400 people from the parish that would have been imprisoned during the Troubles because of the conflict,” he said.

Brian is currently writing a book that tells the story of what happened that first weekend in August when the Troubles began. He describes that the streets where he and his mates would play war games quickly became dangerous battle grounds.

After attending St Malachy’s College in Belfast, Brian spent a number of years at the Passionist Juniorate in Tobar Mhuire, Crossgar and then a year with the homeless in a night shelter in Guildford, Surrey. “This was undoubtedly a year in which I learned so much about the reality of loneliness and isolation in people’s’ lives,” he says. This is where he says his passion for people continued to grow.

After Brian met his wife, Elizabeth, and was married, he decided to get a better paying job, so he spent 10 years teaching in primary and secondary schools. After that, he became the youth director of the Down and Connor Diocese. Finally, he came to where he is today, self-employed, working with various organisations around Ireland and the world, moving towards reconciliation.

Most of Brian’s work is centered around bringing peace and reconciliation in the North. At the moment, he is working with the youth from Ardoyne and Connor and teaching them about the impact of gang culture and the importance of making positive life choices.

At the end of this year, he will be taking these young people to Cape Town in South Africa to work with residents in townships and to explore juvenile prisons: “Once you get them out of their own environment and get them to see a different side of life, it just changes their life for them.”


Brian’s work in bringing people together has allowed him to travel to different parts of the world. He has been to Africa, the US and all over Ireland teaching young people about the impact their lives can have and how they can pave the way for peace. “It really opens your eyes to how big this world is and I think that part of the difficulty is when people are working somewhere, whether it’s Ardoyne, Belfast or Dublin, we can get caught up in the immediate,” said Brian.

“It is the importance of giving young people that opportunity, to get out of their own environment and get them to see how big the world is and try to get them to see the importance of all the small choices that they make are going towards the lives that they are creating.”

Although reconciliation within the Church and all of Ireland is important to Brian, he doesn’t feel that the Church views it as that big of an issue. “The institutional Church largely sidestepped the task of peace building and conflict resolution, and while many individuals, priests and religious courageously stepped forward, they were often viewed as the mavericks of the Church,” he says.

According to him, people say that the Church is becoming less relevant, but it is the Church that makes itself irrelevant by retreating to safe grounds and expecting people to come to them. “The Church has never been more needed and the message of the Church has never been more relevant, but we often make the choices not to go into those places,” says Brian.

He plans to continue to work within the Passionist order and with the youth to bring peace and reconciliation to Ireland.