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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
 

The Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower

When the Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower was officially opened by H.E. Uachtaran na h-Eireann Mary McAleese, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom and His Majesty King Albert of the Belgians in 1999, the occasion attracted global attention. The three distinguished heads of state officiated at a very moving ceremony which commemorated all those who had sacrificed their lives in the Great War, and in particular the bravery of those from both the Unionist and Nationalist traditions in Ireland who had exemplified the spirit of the fighting Irish, battling for a common cause. The significance of the Unionist Ulster 36th Division and the Nationalist 16th Division fighting side by side in the battle for Mesen/Messines Ridge in 1917, and the possibilities that common heroism offered this generation to engage in practical conflict resolution, was, and continues to be, central to the core of this commemoration. The Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower, beautiful in its green serenity, silently recalling the tumult of war over the now peaceful panorama of Flanders fields, lies close to the entrance of the graveyard where many of those who died at the Battle of Mesen/Messines Ridge have their final resting place. The inspiration for the Peace Park and Round Tower came from the Journey of Reconciliation Trust on a visit to the Somme battlefields in 1996. They presented an unanswerable case for a permanent Irish Commemoration site in Flanders. They were extremely fortunate to find not only a ready acceptance but also a most enthusiastic response from the people of Mesen and from the Minister and officials in the local provincial government. Funding was acquired from the International Fund for Ireland, FAS the Irish Employment and Training Authority, and The Department of Education and Learning in Northern Ireland. Young people from North and South and from both communities, were recruited by Glen Barr, jt-chairman of the JORT and Chief Executive of the then Maydown Ebrington Group, a Northern Ireland-based charity, and went to Belgium to assist the contractors in building a traditional Round Tower, first built by Irish monks in the 8th century to withstand the depredations of the Vikings onslaught.
Everything about the site from the location, the fine flagstone path leading up the Round Tower, the commemorative plaques with such poignant quotations, the magnificent cut-stone Round Tower, the beautifully cared for sward and, most of all, the eerie tranquillity that stays with one forever, marks this as a most special place for everyone, but especially for everybody from the Island of Ireland.

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