Rev. David Latimer, the man behind the iconic Peace Tree at Ebrington which will be officially unveiled on Friday, explains why it is so important to him.
By far the most exciting peace-building initiative I’ve been involved with has been the partnership I established with schools back in 2012.
I continue to be astonished by the willingness of schools right across the nine counties of Ulster to participate in this new initiative by writing a 25 word ‘Peace Pledge’. To date, 415 schools - embracing the Controlled, Maintained, Integrated, Irish Medium and Special Education sectors - have created peace pledges. In addition, all 11 district councils in NI, and a handful of politicians, have written a peace pledge. A grand total of 430 pledges have been embossed onto metal oak leaves and skilfully incorporated into a 15 foot tall metal oak tree by nationally renowned artist/sculptor, Maurice Harron.
A further surprise to emerge on this long journey - designed to give young people a prominent platform to raise their voices and share their vision for a better future - was the decision by The Executive Office to publicly display the Peace Tree at Ebrington Square.
At the new pedestrian entrance leading into Ebrington, the site of a former British Army base, a prestigious plinth has been built. Last Monday evening, in response to a text informing me the tree had been fixed onto the plinth, I made my way to Browning Drive to see it for the first time. It took my breath away.
Seven years ago, I could never have envisaged such an outcome. Travelling to schools and colleges in NI’s six counties and also in the border counties in all winds and weather; returning weeks later to collect pledges and frequently losing my way disguised any notion of ever being able to publicly display the words and wisdom
of the young for all to see.
In the beginning, this was undeniably the stuff of dreams. Little acorns, in the fullness of time, become large oak trees!
The encouragement, friendship and support of a local steering group cannot be underestimated. This group of volunteers includes Marie Lindsay, St Mary’s College, Yvonne Connolly, St Mary’s College, Stephen Doherty, Lumen Christi College, Pauline Ross, Derry Playhouse, Dr Liam Campbell, Ulster University, Noelle McAlinden, NI Arts Council and Maurice Harron, sculptor/artist, along with a brilliant cohort of post primary students. All of them progressively paved the way for the fulfilment of our highest wishes.
Unbelievably, an iconic piece of public art in Ebrington Square will serve as a ‘Beacon of Hope’, inspiring many to turn their dream of peace to reality. When all is said and done, my abiding delight is reserved for the young growing up in our cities, towns, villages and rural communities, whose vibrant ideas and clear perspectives can, I believe, shine a new light onto the path helping us all see the way forward more clearly. The young are a country’s richest resource and its best hope for the future!