One Community Centre At A Time
A HISTORY OF THE CHILDREN OF IRELAND GROUP
By Terry Ryan, Chairperson
It all started in July, 1999 when a local friend and I were invited as international observers for the yearly "parade season" in Northern Ireland. Although over 4,700 parades occur annually (each subject to approval by a national parades commission), the July parades are principally seen by Catholics as Protestants celebrating battle victories over Catholics 200 years ago; thus, many parades result in controversy and civil unrest during this time period.
Major parades are held on the anniversary dates of specific battles; thus, viewed by many as a way to proclaim superiority over the minority Catholic population in Northern Ireland. One organization, the Orange Order, responds, however, that the parades are an essential part of Protestant culture and a way of demonstrating their faith and they have the right to walk "the Queen's highway". The parades are additionally controversial since groups insist on parading through predominant Catholic neighborhoods, with organizers maintaining the roads to be traditional parade routes used for the past 200 years. On the other hand, the Catholics see the marches as triumphalistic and degrading.
The parades and related activities, thus, cause much strain in the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods; especially, among the children and teenagers, with kids fighting kids, adults fighting kids, and often escalate to much violence between both adult sides, resulting in serious injuries and death in the on-going disputes. In response, local Catholic communities since 1997 have requested the international community to send observers to the marches and then report back to their various national governments their observations and recommendations in establishing peace.
Although a lot of tragic stories were heard from both sides of the conflict, what moved us the most was the effect on the children during this time of year as well as other incidents from the on-going conflict. One local community indicated that suicide among both Catholic and Protestant, was at an alarming rate in their community of only 79,000 residents. Research found that youth suicide was at alarming rates across the country.
Observations also found that many community centres in Northern Ireland are considered lucky if they have a pool table or ping-pong table; thus, there is a urgent need of recreational and educational resources. We left with feelings that more recreational equipment, plus our showing an interest, will help the kids turn to other forms of venting their frustrations and anxieties rather than turning to violence, drugs, gangs, and as a last resort, suicide.
With these concerns in mind, a fundraising event was held in November, 1999 and approximately $2000 raised to purchase recreational equipment for our first sponsored community centre. From this The Children of Ireland Group, Inc. was formed as an IRS 501( c) (3) non-profit organization that as of May, 2004 has assisted over seventy (70) community centres representing over 16,000 children and youth in Northern Ireland.
Such items as school and artists supplies, school furniture, toys, after school equipment, soccer and football equipment, camping, canoeing, and kayaking equipment are among some of the recreation and education equipment that has been purchased for the community centres. Starting in 2002, a program of collecting used personal computers was begun and has sent over fifty (50) computers to approximately 20 centres, benefiting approximately 2,000 youth . We are very appreciative of
FedEx for their assistance in transporting the computers door-to-door for us!!
Additionally, The Children of Ireland Group works on other youth related issues and is proud of the small part it played in persuading the Northern Ireland government to increase the number of adolescent psychiatric beds from only six to approximately 15 in 2002. Equally as important, the Group has initiated collaborative efforts with the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety and the North & West Belfast Trust to prevent youth suicides. As of May, 2004 discussions were being held to provide consultation from international mental health professional volunteers on successful programs used in other countries.
We invite all individuals and organizations of all faiths and political persuasions to join us in helping the youth of Northern Ireland create a better future for themselves and their country! Please consider joining as a member - you CAN make a difference: On community centre at a time!
Thank you very much for your interest in the Children of Ireland!