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""I didn't realise how much history there is involving Ireland and World War 1. This experience has taught me a lot and really opened my eyes, and I hope to take this experience back home and use it to teach others what it's all about""Sean, Community Worker
 

A Heartwarming Experience

The following account comes from Susan Keown, Head of History, Lisneal College.

"Off to Belgium for six days - what were my expectations?

At least it would be a welcome break and an opportunity to see the battlefields I had taught about for 13 years. At best it would mature the pupils, enlighten them to the huge loss of life and give them a chance to experience it with pupils from another tradition.

I was not prepared for the major life change these pupils were about to undergo. The young people went to Messines as one kind of person and come back another, fired up to promote change and tolerance in their own country.

The Messines programme is so meticulously thought out that those who take part in the six days are taken on a journey which describes and explains the horror of war, the huge loss of life and tells the true stories of Nationalist and Unionist, Protestant and Catholic - how they fought side by side, how they supported each other against the common enemy and how some tried to save each other.

When the pupils stood at the grave of Major Willie Redmond, the brother of the leader of the nationalist party at the time and heard of the endeavours of John Meeke to save his life, they were almost embarassed to admit any differences they had.

It was so clear that our petty differences at home need to be banished so that we can live the lives that these men were so callously deprived of.

The shift in attitudes, a shift that I have been battling so hard to create in my own classroom for over a decade, was happening in front of my own eyes in the space of six days and how heartwarming it was to see it take place with such ease.

The programme is a fine balance of study and socialising which gave the pupils an experience they will never forget.

Highlights? There were so many. One example is of the moment when we stood in Poelcapelle Cemetery, when Ruth McPhillips began to sing the ballad of the youngest soldier to die in World War I - John Condon, a 13 year old nationalist from Waterford.

When her beautiful song was over no one could speak - no words could express the sadness we all felt - moments of remembrance like these are so rare indeed in this hectic 21st century.

Mr Glen Barr has tapped into the past to heal the present. I hope that this schools' project goes from strength to strength and that more and more pupils get to experience Messines - it can have nothing but a positive effect on the future of relations in this country. It has been a privilege to be part of the process"

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