The Queen, The President and The Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines

On Nov 11 1998 as Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland my wife and I had the very great privilege of witnessing the opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park together with its Round Tower at Messines in Belgium by President McAleese and HM Queen Elizabeth.

This was the first major public event at which the President and the Queen took part and it eventually led  to the visit by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011 and to the subsequent return visit to Windsor by President Higgins.

The International Fund for Ireland set up by the Irish and British Governments had helped to fund the late Paddy Harte TD from Donegal and the late Glen Barr from Derry in their efforts to promote reconciliation between the two traditions in Ireland by bringing in from the cold the memories of the many Irish people who had fought in the First World War but who because of historical circumstances had been forgotten about both at local and national levels.

The International Fund for Ireland sent many young people from both traditions and from North and South to Messines to help construct the Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower and in so doing to learn construction skills and to learn about each other’s traditions.

The Park and Round Tower which was the vision of Paddy Harte and Glen Barr is there for all to see to this day. The law of unintended consequences led to its opening by President McAleese and Queen Elizabeth and the tremendous deepening of the relationships between the people of these Islands which followed.

An interesting sequel to the opening of the Peace Park took place when Queen Elizabeth visited the community project led by Glen Barr in the old Rochester Shirt factory at Ebrington in the Waterside area of Derry. I was there together with the Board members of the International Fund for Ireland in front of our backdrop which included the Round Tower in the Peace Park.

When the Queen came along she and I had an interesting , animated and amusing conversation remembering the opening of the Peace Park by herself and President McAleese including the length of time it had taken to build the Round Tower!

Our deepest sympathies go at this sad time to the Queen’s family and to all those who hold her in high esteem throughout the world.

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