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""I feel that the Messines Experience should be brought into the educational curriculum in the north and south so everyone can experience it""John, Conflict Resolution Student
 

In the beginning...

On a cold wet November day in 1996 Glen Barr stood for the first time at the colossal Thiepval Commonwealth Monument on the Somme bearing the names of 74,000 soldiers who had perished in that slaughterhouse in 1916 and who have no known graves. Along with 49 other people from different backgrounds and different parts of Ireland who made this historic journey not a word was uttered as each and every one of them choked backed their emotions.

The short distance to the Ulster Tower commemorating the sacrifice of the men of the 36th Ulster Division only intensified those emotions. Glenn pictured his father, brother and his mother's four brothers all ‘going over the top' on the 1st July 1916 into the greatest single disaster in the history of the British army. However, arriving at the little village of Guillimont only 5 or 6 miles away nothing could prepare him for the sight that was to confront them. Here, where the men of the Nationalist 16th Irish Division had fought and died, there was a neglected Celtic cross, surrounded by a rusting metal railing, bearing the inscription in Irish, translated into English, "TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE HONOUR OF IRELAND".

How could the memory of those from the Unionist 36th Ulster Div, be so revered while that of the young men of the Nationalist 16th Irish Div. had been confined to the annals of a forgotten history? Glen was angry at the difference between the two memorials and full of guilt that the educational system had not taught anything about this part of history and angry at himself for not making an effort to find out. That night Glen vowed to do something about it and to make amends.

Along with the rest of the group it was agreed that they would create a new organisation, later to become the "The Journey of Reconciliation Trust", of which Glen Barr served as Joint Executive Chairman. It was the JORT that was to build the "Island of Ireland Peace Park" in Messines to symbolise the coming together at the Cross of Guillimont and the Ulster Tower in a joint memorial to the memory of all those from the Island of Ireland who fought and died in "The Great War".

Messines was selected because it was at the battle of Messines on 7th June 1917 that the Nationalist 16th Irish Div. and the Unionist 36th Ulster Div. fought and died together for the first time and where the young John Meeke of the 36th Div. risked his life to retrieve the badly wounded Major Willie Redmond of the 16th Div. from the battlefield. Two men from different traditions, both there for different political reasons, sworn enemies in Ireland, brothers in arms on a foreign battlefield fighting a common enemy.

This story transformed Glenn Barr's life and when JORT decided that its work was completed with the official opening of the Peace Park on 11th November 1998, Glen decided to set up the International School for Peace Studies to tell the story to others, especially our young people.

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