Ulster's workers for peace

Through the tumult of violence and hate in Northern Ireland can be seen glimmers of enlightenment and hope: * Hylda Armstrong, whose 19-year-old social-worker son was shot by an unknown gunman in his own home, went on to found a movement to bring Protestant and Roman Catholic children together.

"There's no point in being bitter," she says. ". . . There is a force for good in the world. . ."

* Children from the bomb-scarred tenements of west Belfast shout with joy as they catch sight of the sea for the first time in their lives near a community house which brings children of both faiths together on the tip of northeast Ireland.

"Strange place, that," the children say after seeing the peaceful streets of Ballycastle in northern County Antrim. "No burned out shops. . ."

"We never claimed we would solve the Irish problem," says Dr. Ray Davey, the Presbyterian minister who started the program, "but to begin the process of reconciliation. . ."

* Ulster police detective Ben Forde, with 21 years on the force (15 investigating terrorist crimes), detects signs of a "spiritual awakening" among some prisoners. He has just written a best-selling book called "Hope in Bomb City."

These are just three of many people in Ireland working to restore peace in the midst of the sectarian and political war which has made headlines for most of this century. They know their work can be dismissed as superficial, "goody goody", or "Pollyanna" in nature. But they say true peace begins within, in individual consciousness. The process has to be begun by someone. It takes a long time to develop.

Violence, they say, is a worldwide issue, not just an Irish one. So far, the churches in Northern Ireland have not solved it. It is up to individuals. Success could be an example to many other countries, if it ever comes.

The three are among 10 who have told their stories in a new book, "Profiles of Hope" (Christian Journals Ltd., Belfast and Ottowa), by Belfast journalist and broadcaster Alf McCreary. They present a side of Northern Ireland the rest of the world all too rarely sees.

The best-known workers for peace here so far have been Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, who were awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize. They no longer work together.

Some of those in this book are also known outside of Northern Ireland.

Anthony O'Reilly, for instance, is a former rugby union international who is now president and chief executive of the giant H.J. Heinz food company in the US. He is trying to promote peace and culture throughout all Ireland by channeling money (some $500,000 a year) to both north and south through the Ireland Fund which he helped to found in 1975.

Ireland, he believes, is "geopolitically unimportant," unlike South Africa or Israel, so the Irish people had to take the initiative for peace themselves: "We have to try to focus their energies and creative sense of compromise. . ."

Dr. Brendan O'Regan is a former chairman of the Irish Tourist Board in Dublin who developed the big duty-free shopping center at Shannon airport. He has set up the non-political, nongovernmental Cooperation North, which tries to cement ties between north and south by bridging people together in various ways.

"You have to have faith, which is another word for optimism," Dr. O'Regan told Mr. McCreary. "Despite the dreadfulness of much that has been happening, there is a tremendous courage and determination shining through it all, particularly in Northern Ireland."

But most of the people Mr. McCreary chose to interview (he lets them tell their own stories) are locals, known only to those they help here.

Maura Kiely says she almost lost her Catholic faith after gunmen fired indiscriminately into a crowd of people leaving a church in February 1975, killing her 18-year-old son. "I was numbed," she says. "I could not say a prayer. . . .[But] out of evil comes good. . ."

Now she organizes meetings for other women who have lost husbands or sons to the sectarian violence which has killed almost 1,500 civilians and wounded almost 13,000 more since 1969 alone.

Liberated as she feels by helping others overcome bitterness and grief, Mrs. Kiely is also realistic. She knows it is premature to try and invite the widows of IRA gunmen and of police to sit together. She hasn't tried it.

Joan Orr had two grown children abducted and shot by unknown assailants. She speaks simply of her battle to "conquer hatred." She believes she has succeeded by establishing a movement called "Witness For Peace." It donates money to any group or individuals in community work between Protestants and Catholics.

Also telling her story: Jane Ewart-Biggs, whose husband was shot three weeks after becoming British ambassador in Dublin.

Mr. McCreary has covered Northern Ireland since 1969. He says the book is devoted to the concept of "bridge-building," and he ends by quoting the famous lines from Irish poet William Butler Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree": "and I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow. . ."

The profiles in the book, he believes, "remain a witness to a far , far better way forward for all."

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