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Deaths of Great War unite two religions

(Seamus McKinney, Irish News)

The deaths of Irish soldiers from north and south of the border in the First World War was the inspiration behind a graduation ceremony which brought nationalists and loyalists together yesterday (Friday).

Catholic and Protestant schoolchildren from throughout Ireland also attended the International School for Peace Studies (ISPS) event at Derry's Waterside theatre.

The school, which is linked to the International Peace Park at Messines, is the brainchild of former UDA political advisor Glenn Barr.

Others attending yesterday's graduation included representatives of the British Legion along with Ancient Order of Hibernians national president Jimbo Crossan and teachers from Protestant and Catholics schools.

Mr Barr, ISPS chief executive, said the school used the Great War to engage children in learning about their shared history, cultural heritage and peace and reconciliation.

As well as taking groups, including adults and school children, to Belgium to view the battlefields of Messines, war graves and the Irish Peace Park, it works with pupils before and after visits.

"During that war people fought together rather than fighting each other," Mr Barr said.

"The 16th Irish and the 36th Ulster divisions, if the First World War hadn't broken out, they probably would have fought each other and here they were thrown together at the Battle of Messines in 1917 when they fought side by side."

Mr Barr said the fact that nationalists and unionists were attending the courses gave him great hope.

Mr Crossan said he was motivated to take part in the course by his desire that his children would live in peace.

"Most of my family had to live through the Troubles," he said.

"We were always looking for change but there was no vehicle there for change.

"There was so much interest shown in this within the AOH that I had to turn people down."

Frank Maskey, a teacher at St Patrick's secondary school in north Belfast, said it wished to give pupils as broad an education as possible and engage with all other schools.

"Having come through this, it was a very, very valid programme. The boys certainly got a lot out of it, as a teacher I certainly got a lot out of it and I know that the boys did make good friends," he said.

A new programme of ISPS courses starts in September.

August 24, 2007

This article appeared first in the June 23, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News