A “life changing” journey” is how one participant described his experience on a Limavady Community Cohesion Project in Belgium last week.
Twenty one local community, voluntary and statutory representatives made the trip to Ypres to take part in a unique peace building experience.
The four-day peace course was delivered by The International School for Peace Studies (I.S.P.S.) and funded the under the European Union’s PEACE III Programme which is managed on behalf of the Special EU Programmes Body by the North East PEACE III Partnership.
Craig Barr of I.S.P.S. said: “The main aim of the programme is to build capacity and empower local communities by delivering community development and community relations programmes with a focus on targeting groups, or individuals within groups, who have a role to play within their communities in tackling sectarianism, but who need additional support to understand the processes involved. The programme also exploits the potential for mutual understanding, respect for differences and reconciliation through remembering.”
Through this programme participants challenge traditionally held attitudes which the Catholic and Protestant communities share for one another based on mistrust and intolerance and in turn they bring these new insights back to their communities.
“In this way the benefits gained extend beyond the lifetime of the programme,” he said.
Five group representatives from the Borough laid a wreath at the ‘The Last Post ceremony’ at Menin Gate, in front of more than 1,000 people.
Following the Ypres memorial’s opening in 1927, a ceremony has taken place every night at 8pm, when buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the Memorial and sound the Last Post.
Except for the occupation by the Germans in World War II when the daily ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, England, this event has been carried on uninterrupted.
Limavady Community Cohesion Officer Hollie Brown was part of the wreath laying group.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience that will shape the political opinions of some of the participants for the rest of their lives,” she said.
“I would like to thank each and every participant for their personal contribution and to congratulate Craig Barr and Don O’Donnell for their flawless delivery,” she said.
“Laying the wreath at The Menin Gate was incredibly special and an experience I will never forget. My great-great uncle died at Thiepval Wood during the first day of the Battle of the Somme and I believe I am the first in the family to pay tribute to him at the place he died.
“His body was never found and I was extremely emotional to see his name inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.”
Other highlights of the trip included the sombre visit to Langemark Cemetery, a mass grave site, with more than 40,000 German soldiers, who fought on the other side of the allied trenches, 6,000 of which were young German students.
The group were also shown the grave of the youngest known soldier to die in the war, John Condon, who served with the Royal Irish Regiment.
The group also visited the largest military cemetery in the world, Tyne Cot on the side of Passchendaele, the site of one of the major battles on the Western Front.