Students to extend hand of friendship across Border
‘We’ve expanded the idea of borders from the idea of the Irish Border to all kinds of borders’
Ali McCarthy and Aoibhinn Fitzgerald of Scoil Mhuire are backing the Friendship is Bigger than Borders Initiative. Photograph: Michael MacSweeney/Provision
Together they answered Ireland’s Call and now former Irish rugby stars Trevor Ringland and Hugo McNeill are lending their support to a unique initiative by secondary students to hold out the hand of friendship across the Border.
The Friendship is Bigger than Borders initiative is the brainchild of student Aoibhinn Fitzgerald (15) from Cork but Mr Ringland from Belfast and Mr McNeill from Dublin are happy to back the student-led initiative.
Mr Ringland said: ‘We want to congratulate all the young people involved in this great initiative. We were lucky that sport enabled us to meet and make lifelong friends with people from the other side of our respective Borders.
Mr McNeill added: This project will provide such an opportunity for so many of our young people across this island and we look forward to lending our support by joining with students from North and South on the Border.”
The symbolic event, where 25 secondary students from the Republic will meet 25 students from Northern Ireland and shake hands near the Border, takes place just outside Derry on Thursday afternoon.
Aoibhinn Fitzgerald, a pupil at Scoil Mhuire in Cork, explained that the idea for the initiative came when she visited Northern Ireland during the summer and saw just how much teenagers have in common, North and South.
“I loved Northern Ireland when I visited there in the summer and I didn’t noticed any Border when I went across into the North but all the talk on the news was Border, Brexit, Border, Brexit – it was constant on the radio and TV.
“The idea for the initiative came from my desire to simply find a way to reach out to my peers in Northern Ireland to pledge that through mutual respect and understanding, no Border should hinder our friendship.”
Aoibhinn raised the idea when she returned to school at Scoil Mhuire and the school was highly supportive and the idea spread to a number of other Cork schools with several sending representatives to the event in Derry this week.
Those coming from the south include pupils from Scoil Mhuire, Christians Brothers College, Presentation Brothers College, Rochestown College and Midleton College, all in Cork, as well as Kings Hospital in Dublin.
Joining with them at the Border will be 25 pupils from Northern Ireland from Loreto Grammar School in Omagh and St Columb’s College in Derry as well as a number of Protestant schools in Northern Ireland.
‘Cracks in the paving’
Among those joining with the students on the day will be former Loreto Grammar School pupil Claire Bowes, who as 15-year-old Claire Gallagher, lost her sight in the Omagh Bombing of August 1998.
Said Aoibhinn: “We got the idea of doing this Crazy Paving Challenge from talking to Claire – someone from one side of the Border is blindfolded and someone from the other side has to guide them through the paving.
“The cracks in the paving symbolise borders but you can’t get through borders without assistance from your friend so we’re hoping to post that on Instagram and Snapchat and challenge others to reach out too – in friendship.
“But we’ve expanded the idea of borders from the idea of the Irish Border to all kinds of borders – some physical, some perceived and implied, so it’s really about reaching out and overcoming prejudice through friendship.”
For further information on the project, which is supported by Co-operation Ireland, please visit Instagram site friendshipbiggerthanborders