The Peace Studies programme aims to bring together students from St Michael’s College and Enniskillen Royal Grammar School by exploring our shared local history. One such area of interest that naturally lingers over a cross-community group like us, is the tragedy and societal barriers created by the Troubles, and how we can learn to overcome them. Thus, on Thursday March 7th, we ventured up north to Derry/Londonderry, where we experienced a day of cultural immersion centred around how the city has moved from being a symbol of conflict and warfare, to a symbol of the resolution and move towards peace.
Peter Monaghan, an ex-schoolteacher turned freelance tour guide and all-round expert of Derry/Londonderry matters conducted a highly personalised and in-depth tour of the key sites of Derry’s troubled past. We stood in Derry’s Bogside, at “Free Derry Corner” and the site of the atrocities of Bloody Sunday in 1972. Through poignant personal anecdotes and an insightful personal connection to the massacre, Peter effectively detailed the events of that day, highlighting the devastating consequences. Interestingly, Peter also explained his criticism of those who reacted by enlisting in the IRA in the following days.
This message of not reacting to violence with further violence pervaded Peter’s speech. As we stood on Derry’s 17th century walls, surrounded by figures that withstood the bloodshed of the Troubles, we heard a recount of Peter’s teenage years, when a British soldier was shot dead in Derry city centre by a sniper. Whilst Peter fell to his feet in horror and shock, a young girl of similar age carried out a compelling act of courage, by placing the dead soldier’s beret over his eyes as a sign of respect.
All present (along with being better-informed on local history and likely well-fed from a quick dash to Foyleside) took away the message that the new equilibrium of peace must prevail. Although our politicians today, 21 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, might like to broaden the superficial lines of division between nationalist and unionist communities, the spirit of a 21st century city like Derry, and the fact our two schools were able to meet on a day like this, show how these barriers cannot stand.
By Ronan Lunny Year 13