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‘Groundbreaking’ evenings in Newtown 16.12.09

IT’S NOT every day that members of the GAA, Orange Order and Ulster Scots Association gather in the one room to explain their historical and cultural roots but that’s exactly what has been happening in Newtowncunningham in recent weeks in an initiative sponsored by NCDI. Following the most recent of these gatherings, Jim Devenney of the East Donegal Ulster Scots Association remarked that such gatherings were “history in the making.”
Over 60 people turned up at the Naomh Colmcille GAA clubhouse on Thursday evening last for the latest of these information evenings, to hear Ulster GAA secretary Danny Murphy deliver a presentation entitled Playing Games & Practical Patriotism. Among his audience were representatives of the local Orange Order, Ulster-Scots Association, senior members of the Donegal GAA County Board and local GAA clubs.
According to NCDI Co-ordinator Pauline Lavin, the project is part of an initiative developed for the Peace III programme, which aims to reinforce peace and reconciliation in border areas. “It allows people come together to explain their organisations to their neighbours across the community – organisations some of us know a little about and others some of us know very little about. Such discussions help break down barriers and preconceptions.”
Back from left, Seamus O'Donnell, Grace Boyle (both Donegal GAA County Board), Stewart McClean (Orange Order), Cllr John Ryan, Jim Devenney (Ulster Scots) and Charlie O'Donnell, (Donegal GAA County Board). Front from left, Kieran Friel (Naomh Colmcille GAA Club), Danny Murphy (Ulster GAA Council) Pauline Lavin (NCDI) and James Dowds (Naomh Colmcille GAA Club).
In an hour-long presentation, Murphy talked his audience through the colourful 125-year history of the GAA, from its inception in 1884 through to the role it played in the peace process – including the abolishment of Rule 21 which had banned members of the police and British Army from playing Gaelic games.
Referring to the Northern conflict, Murphy expanded: “It goes without saying that society has not been stable in the North. Even this year people have been murdered. Yet politics has at least got to the starting line and people have largely stopped killing each other. People voted for a shared future and respecting diversity is key to that. If someone is a member of the GAA, the Orange Order or the Ulster-Scots they must be given respect. We all have to move away from being offended by other people’s cultures. We are building peace in this country and the GAA will not be found wanting in playing our role.”
Jim Devenney, speaking at the conclusion of the presentation, was glowing in his praise: “As an Ulster Scot who is devoutly committed to the Good Friday Agreement, I would go so far to say that gatherings such as these are groundbreaking – history in the making. I found the presentation very enlightening – it’s a pity I had to wait all these years to hear it. We live in an embedded community here where respect and tolerance have always been extended but this is just wonderful. More of this needs to happen. I was interested to hear how the GAA has evolved and continues to rediscover itself. All of us here have to make a similar journey.”
Kieran Friel, an executive member of the Naomh Colmcille GAA club, added: “We have to look back to look forward. We in Newtown see ourselves as groundbreakers and this is only the start.” Stewart McClean, a member of the local Orange Order lodge, said: “It was a very informative presentation and it is good to be here. The presentation in the Orange Hall last week also went very well. It was interesting to hear the similarities. Danny Murphy explained how GAA members identify themselves by what club they belong to – Orange Order members would appreciate that as they too identify themselves by their lodge.” (Inishowen Independent)
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