Being invited to meet the American Ambassador at her residence in Dublin’s Phoenix Park was a great ending to a journey that began back in October 2022 for the ‘Better Together’ project, where pupils from Ballinamore Community School and Enniskillen Royal Grammar School got the opportunity to visit each other’s schools and communities and hear each other’s stories against the historical backdrop of ‘the troubles’.
The ambassador took great interest in the pupils’ collective endeavor, which took the form of a collage, piecing together the many perspectives and narratives they have explored over eight workshops and trips to both Belfast and Dublin. We were delighted that the pupils got the opportunity to engage with the ambassador and speak to her about their project.
During the project itself, we heard various visiting speakers including a PSNI Chief Inspector and a Garda Superintendent. Many speakers resonated strongly with the pupils through their sharing of personal stories of grief and pain within their community, like the speakers from the Belfast Peace Walls Tour and, closer to home, Robert Northridge and Dean Kenneth Hall. The pupils learned how their generation are reaping the benefits of a peace that was forged 25 years ago by politicians and kept alive by the work of many individuals within their communities. The project itself is the brainchild of a community volunteer, Máirín Martin who is chairperson of Ballinamore Community Centre. Máirín attained funding for the project from the International Fund for Ireland.
Central to the collaboration was a trustworthy sharing of political and personal views and values and it was refreshing to witness the honesty and maturity of the young people involved. Keith Duggan, in his Irish Times article, observed that, ‘it does seem like an informal triumph to see a group of teenagers from divergent backgrounds talking and laughing in a classroom’. Hopefully, they have made friends along the way and hopefully, at some stage, they may find the opportunity to give back to their communities. They certainly will have many lasting memories from a very worthwhile and enriching experience. We have just learned that pupils and staff will be invited to a symposium in Ballinamore in the Autumn to celebrate the achievements of the programme. In the meantime, congratulations and well done to all the pupils involved.
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