Shared Education was a cross community visit involving St Mary’s Primary School Kircubbin and Victoria Primary School Ballyhalbert, funded by Council Good Relations Programme and The Executive Office. The P7 classes took part in a shared history/ shared educational project to the Belgium and French battlefields. The young people had the opportunity to build friendships with others from a different religious background while being able to see at first-hand how all sides of the divide from Northern Ireland and other countries fought side by side during WWI.
Good Relations staff, eight teachers and accompanied the 41 young people. United Ulster History Forum guided the young people through the information at a level that was understandable and relevant, with a local background and knowledge the young people were able to hear the stories of locals who fought from the Ards Peninsula. Prior to traveling the young people met for an introductory workshop.
Shared Education was designed to build bridges and better relations between the young people, their families and villages, before the young people transition to post primary schools and thereby support the Peace process to move forward. The visit was a memorable experience for both young people and adults with friendships built over the few days.
The four-day stay included visits to Commonwealth and German Cemeteries and memorials such as Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium and The Somme battlefields, Beaumont Hamel and the Newfoundland Canadian Cemetery in France. Wealth laying at the Menin gate, and football at the site of the Christmas Truce provided different experiences. Visiting the Passchendale Museum, young people were able to go into replica dugouts and experience life as it would have been then.
Local connections were actively explored through the story of young James Crozier who defied his mother to join the 36th Ulster Division and who was shot at dawn for leaving his post. At Sucrerie Cemetery where one of the teachers found the grave of her great uncle and at Delville Wood, they found the graves of two Irishmen from Portaferry. The monument to the children who were killed during the war and the grave of John Condon from Waterford at 14 years one of the youngest soldiers resonated.
Key memorials visited included the Thiepval Memorial, The German Cemetery with its statue of mourning parents. Of particular significance were the memorials, battlefields and stories associated with the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division, including the Ulster Tower, a replica of Helen’s Tower; Celtic Cross to the 16th Irish Division at Guillemont; Messines Ridge and 16th Irish Division memorial in Wytschaete Cemetery and grave of Major Willie Redmond, 16th Irish Division.
They stopped at two markers on the road representing the exact spot when the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division fought together. They visited the Peace Tower in Messines opened by Queen Elizabeth and President Mary McAleese in 1998.
What worked well and what, if anything, didn't?
The visit and learning of this project has improved attitudes between young people from different backgrounds and to some degree brought the communities together as the children move onto post primary education. Based on the 2017 achievements, the 2018 programme has set ambitious shared history and relationship building targets.
Feedback from young people:
‘The travel and visiting another country was in itself exciting’
‘I knew a little about the history before but now I know even more’
‘I knew nothing now I know a lot’
‘I liked finding graves with the same names to see if I was related’
Feedback from Teachers:
‘I stood there and thought of everything we had seen – it was very emotional’
‘The knowledge of the guide and being able to bring to a level for the young people to grasp was fantastic’
‘Great to have a local aspect as the young people were able to relate’.
Future trips will allow more free time in which young people can interact better. The schools have also agreed that the young people will jointly research local links in advance.
Donna Mackey, Donna.Mackey@ardsandnorthdown.gov.uk