Successful Peace Related Trip to Belfast

A group of over 25 local people comprising of members of the Blayney Cultural Network group, Church of Ireland and other local civic leaders travelled to Belfast on Friday last 29th March on a facilitated trip to various parts of Belfast.  The two day trip was part of a project titled ‘A Community Together’, which has as its aims to promote awareness of different cultures and to celebrate diversity.  The Project is supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

The Community Together project is based in Castleblayney and works with hundreds of young people and adults from cross community and ethnic minorities using primarily the medium of art to overcome religious cultural and ethnic differences.  Castleblayney Community Enterprise is partnered with the Blayney Cultural Network Group and Church of Ireland on this project.

On arrival to Belfast the group was immediately met by their guide and facilitator Mary Montague, who has dedicated her life to working for peace in Belfast and Northern Ireland.  Mary who was a Peace Award winner in 2015 has used her sense of compassion and justice to gain the trust of all conflicting parties and has long since been a community voice from the grass roots to support the development of the Cease-Fire and the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

The visiting party began their learning on Friday afternoon with a three hour workshop on Cultural diversity, which was facilitated through TIDES Training, which was in fact Co-founded by Mary Montague in the year 2000.  The thought provoking workshop, which challenged all the workshop participants to examine their own perceptions and attitudes as to how they perceive others.  The workshop which was aptly delivered jointly by Lulia Picu – Iwaisi a Romanian native, who has now settled in North Belfast since 2014 also give an overview of the DARE programme, which is successfully delivered in Belfast.  The programme which is also funded through the PEACE IV Programme has as its aim to build, improve and sustain positive relationships through training and dialogue with local people and their neighbours from different cultures and their countries.  Part of the workshop also included an input from a lady from Yemen, one of the Arab World’s poorest countries who give her story of civil war in Yemen and how she ended up in Ireland and the difficulties she faces. 

The trip also included a further three hour workshop on Saturday morning, which was facilitated by Mary Montague.  The workshop began with an overview of Mary’s own work and role in front line peace-building for more than 40 years.  Mary told of how she began her peace path in 1975 after witnessing tragedy after tragedy in her own Community St. Agnes’ Parish in Anderstown, where her and her husband Paddy brought up their two children as well as fostering catholic and protestant adolescents during the worst of the troubles.  She explained how her mediation work led her to work and roles in international peace building in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Sudan.

The morning also included the input from two ex-combatants from both political persuasions, who give an open and sincere account of their role in two paramilitary organisations and their time as prisoners in Belfast jails.  Their journeys also took them to a present day role in peace building and giving mediation talks.

In the afternoon the group continued their visit to Belfast with a three hour guided tour of West Belfast, which witnessed most of the past, sectarian and political divide.  The tour which was comprehensively facilitated by the tour guide give a balanced view of the troubles and visited the main areas of the Republican (nationalist) and Loyalist (unionist) of West Belfast.  These included stops on the loyalist Shankill road and republican Fall’s road and included stops at various points of the peace line and at the peace wall.

The visitors also got an excellent insight to the issues facing the communities on both sides of the Peace Wall and how even today, glaring reminders of the divisions still remain.

The tour ended in City Hall, which is the civic building of Belfast City Council located in Donegal Square, which was opened in 1906.  Here the Castleblayney touring group received a guided tour of the building by an experienced guide who provided an excellent insight to one of Belfast most iconic building.

The group thoroughly enjoyed the trip and had much learning from it.  Those who travelled acknowledged and thanked Castleblayney Community Enterprise for Co-ordinating the visit.

Notes to the Editor:
The Special EU Programmes Body is a North/South Implementation Body sponsored by the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Ireland.   It is responsible for managing two EU Structural Funds Programmes, PEACE IV and INTERREG VA which are designed to enhance cross-border co-operation, promote reconciliation and create a more peaceful and prosperous society.  The Programmes operate within a clearly defined area including Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and in the case of INTERREG VA, Western Scotland.  The PEACE IV Programme has a value of €270 million and aims to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland.