It is the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the building of the Island of Ireland Peace Park, which is situated near to the Peace Village (itself opened by the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern). At the same time there is an important archaeological excavation in progress at nearby Hill 80 where both the 16th Irish Division (Catholic) and 36th Ulster Division went into action side by side for the first time. The Peace Village asked if we could take part in a commemorative ceremony at the Island of Ireland Peace Park.
‘The outcome was a battlefield trip which both gave our GCSE History students in Year 10 a boots on the ground experience to accompany their study of the First World War and a beautiful ceremony in which our singers and musicians performed.’ Said Mr Cinnamond, Vice Principal – Academic and History teacher at St Joseph’s.
The ceremony was attended by, amongst many others, the Irish Ambassador to Belgium, Helena Nolan, the British High Commissioner, a representative of the Belgian King and the Mayor of Messines. Students from St Joseph’s, Newtownhamilton High School (Newry) and St Paul’s High School (Bessbrook) led the ceremony with some incredibly moving speeches and readings on the significance of the Peace Park, the Good Friday Agreement and the Battle of Messines – by St Joseph’s Year 10 student Harry Williams. The finale was the reading of the Seamus Heaney’s poem the ‘Cure at Troy’ accompanied by St Joseph’s Sixth Former Lia Taylor playing an Irish air on the flute.
‘The whole event was an incredibly moving experience, with students from both communities in Northern Ireland coming together with our own, remembering the past but being optimistic about the future,’ Mr Cinnamond added.
It was then back to the Peace Village for the symbolic planting of an apple tree by the Ambassadors and students. Armagh, where our two partner schools are from, is known as the Orchard County, hence the selection of the apple tree.
After the reception our combined ‘team’ took on a German school at football and won by 3 goals to 1.
Seamus Heaney’s poem, The Cure at Troy, was read, including the verse from which our headline was taken:
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.