The formation of Crosspaths
The report from the Northern Ireland group
Members of the Northern Ireland group told something of the story of the formation of Crosspaths, the group which makes up the participants from Northern Ireland, over the past decade. The story is an important one as it shares something of the journey made by participants in the SICRIE project across a historic and often dangerous interface.
Following the ceasefires of 1994 and the political negotiations of 1998 - leading to the signing of the Belfast Agreement and subsequent endorsement of the agreement by referendum – members of both communities had engaged with one another and become acquainted through their community and political activism. Up until 2002 the area of Belfast known as inner East Belfast was relatively peaceful. For various reasons violence erupted in 2002 and there was ongoing trouble between Short Strand (a mainly Nationalist and Catholic community) and lower Castlereagh, Woodstock and Ravenhill Road (mainly Protestant and Unionist). The sight of this renewed conflict and the engagement of many young people in the violence prompted some of the community leaders to work to alleviate community tension and bring the violence to an end. As they reflected on this experience and discussed their common desire to ensure that another generation did not grow up in the context of violence they committed themselves to meeting regularly and modelling a different way of relating across the interface.
The group decided to explore some element of shared history and settled on the idea of engaging with the Messines Project which sought to revisit the common sacrifice of Protestant and Catholic, Irish and Unionist soldiers in the First World War. The International School for Peace Studies website explains the concept:
In 2005 the group from Belfast made a visit to Messines and reflected on this common heritage and sacrifice – a historical event and reality long forgotten over the years of sectarian division and conflict in Northern Ireland. It was making this trip together that transformed the group from being community leaders with a common concern to people who had become friends. The growing friendships allowed for further reflection on their experience during the years of violence since 1969 in Northern Ireland. Memories of friendships that existed before the onset of the conflict further served to create space to revisit the present. As one member of the group explained ‘history brought conflict into our lives, we didn’t ask for it.’
For many of those involved the trip to Messines was an enormous step. It created the risk that willingness to engage with those from the other side of the interface could meet with disapproval within their own communities. For some the decision to go meant having to deal with their painful experiences of past violence, for some it meant dealing with their fear – ‘knowing that it was the right thing to do didn’t make it an easy thing to do’. However, following the success of the Messines trip they formalised the existence of the group calling it Crosspaths engaging in many other visits during the next few years and most recently in the SICRIE Project.
As part of the SICRIE Project the group took time to reflect, not only on their history but also on the lessons learned. Here are some of the comments from members of Crosspaths reflecting on their journey:
Crosspaths has made a significant contribution to the SICRIE Project. Understanding their story and gaining some insight to the risk taking that went on to create this fellowship of friends has been a great inspiration. Walking the streets of Short Strand and East Belfast with them and hearing them recount the memories of both violence and reconciliation has allowed insight to a model for dealing with difficult interfaces in other contexts.
Some of the lessons that can be carried into other difficult interface situations are:
If you visit the PowerPoint or PDF presentation from the Belfast project at the Toolkit Map you will find images from East Belfast and Messines.
You can read more about Messines projects and other community peace building projects in Northern Ireland at these websites and other links within these sites: