Messines is not just a history lesson; it is a transformation of understanding, attitudes and relationships best described in the Belfast Telegraph article by Susan Keown, Head of History at Lisneal College.
"A heart warming experience""
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 came 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 war, the huge loss of life and tells the true stories of Nationalist and Unionist, Protestant and Catholic - how they fought side by side and died side by side, how they supported each other against the common enemy and how some tried to save each other.
When the pupils stood still at the grave of Major Willie Redmond, the brother of John Redmond leader of the Nationalist Party in Ireland at the time, and heard of the endeavours of John Meeke to save his life, they were almost embarrassed 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 heart warming 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 Poelkapelle 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."
United in Remembrance 2008 Remarks
Oakgrove Student During my time in Belgium a lot of the experiences we had hit me very hard. For me personally, the German Cemetery at Langemark was the most shocking. There where 45,000 bodies placed in a cemetery the size of a football pitch. Everything was just squashed in. Every grave was just a slab on the ground with not just one body but up to 15 bodies per grave.
Nothing however, was more hard hitting than the mass grave in the middle of the cemetery. In a small plot were the bodies of 25,000 men who were merely tossed into a hole in the ground. It hit home to me then how harshly the German men were treated after the War.
Therefore, on this Remembrance Day I aim to not just remember those allied soldiers that died but also those German soldiers who fought and died bravely for their cause.
I learned a lot from my experience in Belgium and I hope to use my experiences to continue to break down the boundaries in the communities here.
St. Cecilia's Student I think it is fair to say that each of us standing here today have gained an awful lot from the "Messines Experience". Although the students involved came from different political backgrounds, we were able cast our differences aside, and lasting friendships were formed within the group.
Obviously, the purpose of the trip was to learn about the Great War and the impact it had on so many people's lives, however, I was also able to gain something more - standing in the actual battlefields really brought home the sheer atrocity of war and the reality of what all those who served, and their loved ones had to suffer.
The experience was an emotional learning curve which I'm sure none of us will forget. I have gained a deeper understanding of the tradition of Remembrance and of why we are all gathered here today. I feel that it is important that we should remember all the men of the war in the way which they would have wanted - as brothers - as they fought and died together, side by side.
Lisneal Student We have come together today as kindred spirits, to remember those from Northern and Southern Ireland who marched together, fought together and died together during the First World War.
We are also here to show that if the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division could unite under the harshness of war then we who come from Unionist and Nationalist backgrounds can unite in remembrance of those brave men, not only for our sakes but also for the sake of those who will follow in our footsteps. I only hope that many more students get the same opportunity.
The Messines Experience holds something special for us all. It is because of our past that we can make a change to our future.
Lisneal Student The poppy is traditionally regarded as a symbol of Remembrance of victims of the War due to its growth upon the fields of conflict during the First World War.
It is a symbol that should remain commonplace today and in the future to remember those men and women from different religious backgrounds who perished during the two World Wars, and for those who fought to protect the freedom we experience today.
The poppy is said to grow on disturbed ground. Fields that were barren before battle exploded with these blood red flowers.
From our "Messines Experience" we have learned that the traditions of the poppy still lives on and is what we believe to be "the souls of the soldiers". The souls of those soldiers both protestant and catholic, who died for our freedom.
Our opinions on the poppy may have changed, however it should be a flower of Remembrance, not a symbol of division.
St. Cecilia's Student When I agreed to go on the trip I honestly didn't know what to expect so I began researching World War I and reading poetry in my English classes. As I researched I began to learn more about the futility of war and its horrors.
Overall I enjoyed the trip and it is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. I would definitely advise other people to go because personally I think it is the key to breaking down barriers between different religions.
I am glad I went on the trip because I have met some of the most amazing friends that I probably never would have known due to the differences in our religion.
Oakgrove Student A man once said, "You don't know where you are going, unless you know where you've been". That is why the School Links Project is so important. It taught us that we can take an example from those men who fought in the First World War - our ancestors, who fought and died together. In the midst of war, none of them took into account the creed of their fellow fighters. Today, 90 years after the initial step was taken, we are here to prove that the same line of thinking is still alive.
In November 2006 pupils from Crana College, Lisneal College and St. Cecilia's College joined together to hold a Remembrance Service. It took place in St. Cecilia's College and it was the first of its kind in a Catholic school in Northern Ireland. We have tried to carry on this tradition and we can take pride in ourselves in that. This time next year we are hoping to lay a wreath together as one group of people.
Remarks by Jill Markham, Principal, Oakgrove Integrated College
It is my pleasure to speak at the end of this third service of Reflection and Remembrance. I want to thank the governors and staff of St Cecilia's College and Lisneal College and especially the young people from those schools and from Oakgrove who have made today possible.
The funding by Atlantic Philanthropies and Queen's University enabled the trip to take place. Ms Devlin, Mr Rowan and Mrs Carolan from the three schools, and in particular Mr Glen Barr and staff of the International School for Peace Studies who led the visit to Messines and provided the young people with a wonderful experience. The trip to Messines was important, but I hope that the learning from it and the change which it can bring in our community will be even more important.
Oakgrove is a mixture. That is what integrates schools are all about. Nothing in Northern Ireland or in Derry-Londonderry divides quite as much as history, and the ways in which history is represented or misrepresented by others. One of the greatest dangers in a place where history is difficult is that people ignore or avoid it. Today is a challenge to that. There are many different views about Remembrance, and we believe that those views should be heard in a way which honours and respects all those who hold them.
World War One is particularly in our minds today, as we mark the 90th anniversary of the guns falling silent, and personal tragedies like that of Wilfred Owen, whose mother read the news of his death as the Armistice bells were sounding over Shrewsbury. Those young people - dead and gone - had high hopes of a better world. We should remember them.
We are told that Northern Ireland is moving to a better future, one where people can engage with each other normally. We look to that, and we hope for that. If that bright future comes, we cannot think that it will just happen or that it will be easy. But if young people from different traditions are beginning that journey, then older people have a duty to go with them. There is a great saying from an American poet: "Do not go where the road may lead, rather go where there is no road and blaze a trail."
I want to thank those who through today's events are blazing that brave, bright trail to a better future, shared by all of us.