Peninsula Messines Shared History project
Friday 16th November saw members of the United Ulster History Forum, Upper Ards Historical Society, Cloughey District & Development Association, Ballywalter Youth worker along with the County Down RCN development worker and the Rural Enabler for Co Down travel to the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal as part of a cross border shared history project at Fort Dunree Museum.
Fort Dunree is home to the Inishowen Friends of Messines group which honours the fallen from the Inishowen Peninsula who died at Messines during World War One.
The fallen included Catholics and Protestants, Orangemen and Hibernians, hurlers and cricketers, dreamers and adventurers and those who joined the war because their political and church leaders of the time told them it was the right thing to do. Fort Dunree, which spectacularly overlooks Lough Swilly was handed over to the Irish Army by the British Army in 1938, and after major restoration is now open to the public as a museum and conference venue for peace and reconciliation.
The event was facilitated by Jude Cumiskey, Rural Enabler (Co Down) and Maureen McNair, Rural Enabler (Co Donegal). The project was supported by the Rural Enabler Programme, which is funded under the European Union’s PEACE III Programme through the Special EU Programmes Body and managed by Rural Community Network.
Hosting the visit were John McCarter, Chair of Fort Dunree Museum and PJ Hallinan, Chair of Inishowen Friends of Messines who said “The Inishowen Friends of Messines was formed to both remember the dead and to use this element of our shared history to build peace and reconciliation between the people of this Island today. The importance of this shared history was underlined during the recent visit of the Queen when both heads of state paid their respects at both the Garden of Remembrance and the Islandbridge Memorial”.
The visit consisted of a tour of the museum and exhibitions. This was followed by dialogue and discussion on the need to develop education about the history of conflict, to build understanding of how history is shared, to promote culture and heritage, mutual understanding and respect and best practice/ideas for future shared history projects.
Jude Cumiskey told us “The aim of this project was to develop the capacity and skills of group members from the Ards Peninsula through this cross border visit. It was also to support partnership working and sharing of experience and practice in building good relations through history and culture with the Inishowen Friends of Messines Group in Co Donegal”.
“The welcome and hospitality we received at Fort Dunree was absolutely outstanding,” commented UUHF Chair, Nicky Gilmore “as a group, we look forward to our next historical trip - which hopefully will be to Belgium - to explore WW1 battlefields and graveyards. The human cost of warfare is really brought home
when one views the Inishowen Friends Of Messines memorial wall”.
Maureen McNair said “Cross border/cross community projects like this are vital in developing a shared history, recognising that whether you are Catholic living in Inishowen or Protestant living in Ards, we all share the same history”. Maureen continued “Projects like this give communities the confidence and courage to recognise this and provide a safe space to learn, support and nurture what we have in common rather than what divides us”.
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