It was an idea that developed out of a group of eminent people from Ireland that were inspired by a visit to the First World War battlefields of the Somme area of France in 1996. The concept that came from the trip, and the commitment of the members who made the trip, was to do something towards ‘Forgiveness and Reconciliation' on their return to Ireland; thus, the building of "The Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower".
The Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower is dedicated to the memory of ALL those from the island of Ireland who fought and died in the First World War regardless of their religious beliefs. It was erected by the Journey of Reconciliation Trust with the support of the people of Messines, and built in part by young people from both communities in Ireland and from both sides of the border. The President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese, along with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Majesty King Albert II, officially opened the Peace Park on 11th November 1998.
There is a huge amount of symbolism used in the park:
- The design of the Peace Tower itself is built in the shape of a traditional Irish ‘Round Tower' and is similar to hundreds of towers that were built all over Ireland, some as early as the 8th Century, long before there was talk of political division within the country;
- Both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland governments provided the funding for the building of the Park.
- The opening of the Peace Park by the 3 heads of state symbolised a new level of unity and hope for harmony between the 3 nations, particularly between the communities on the island of Ireland.
- The Peace Park was built to encourage reconciliation between communities in Ireland, north and south, through remembrance of the sacrifice that both communities made during WW1.
- The Tower is 32 meters high, representing the 32 counties in Ireland
- The limestone used to build the tower came from an old Workhouse in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, symbolising the suffering of the poor who made up the majority of the army.
- Young people from all parts of Ireland assisted the contractors who built the Tower. The majority of them viewed involvement in this project as part of their commitment to advancing peace and reconciliation, based on the obvious futility of the battles fought during the First World War.
- There are 4 plots of Irish Yew Trees symbolising the spirits of the dead soldiers from each of the provinces in Ireland returning home.
- There are the three name stones for each of the army divisions created in Ireland and in which men from the island of Ireland served. These name stones contain the numbers of dead, wounded or missing soldiers from these divisions. Of course there were many other thousands of unknown Irishmen that joined up outside Ireland, and who died with other armies.
- There are 9 "talking stones" (LINK) on which inscribed writings are done by Irishmen who witnessed the horrors of The Great War first hand.
- The Peace Pledge (LINK) is another strong symbol of reconciliation and a symbol of hope for all the people of Ireland.
- There is another name stone set within the viewing/seating platform that contains the names of all 32 counties in Ireland in continuous lettering symbolising that the counties are linked, connected and interdependent.
Information is available in three languages - Irish, English and Flemish
This component of the overall project is essentially a combination of a memorial and a reminder to visitors that war creates victims and hardship; but it is also a tourist attraction creating a lasting impression as a memorial to the dead.