Tribute paid to Glen Barr for his work on peace park
Paddy Harte jnr says the project ‘was a gamechanger’ for British-Irish relations
File image of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Belgium. File photograph: Aidan Crawley
Mr Barr, who died on Monday, and Mr Harte’s father, former Fine Gael TD Paddy Harte snr, founded the park together in 1996.
It was opened on Armistice Day 1998 by then president Mary McAleese, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and Belgium’s King Albert II.
The park stands near the site where the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division fought together at the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917.
Mr Barr had previously been involved in the Ulster Defence Association in his native Derry.
As chairman of the co-ordinating committee that ran the Ulster Workers’ Council, he helped bring down the 1974 Sunningdale powersharing executive, but in latter years became interested in working for peace and reconciliation in Ireland.
Paddy Harte snr is not well at the moment, but his son paid tribute on his behalf to the work Mr Barr did in bringing the park to fruition.
Mr Harte jnr said Mr Barr had gone on a “very courageous and sometimes treacherous journey of reconciliation, which he began in the 1970s.
“He became a positive force for peace and reconciliation and focused on enabling young people to make positive changes in their lives.”
The Peace Village at Messines was founded shortly after the peace park, with a view to bringing children from across the religious divide in Northern Ireland to Belgium.
Mr Barr brought 7,000 children to Messines through the peace school he set up in Derry.
Mr Harte jnr said it was worth remembering that the peace park was founded in the same year as the Belfast Agreement.
“It undoubtedly provided a neutral space which played a part in facilitating the settling in of the agreement,” he said.
“For much of this journey, he [Mr Barr] travelled with my father and their shared vision, energy and drive delivered the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Belgium, which was the culmination of many years of building cross-community trust and understanding throughout this island.
“Not only did the Peace Tower open up a difficult past around how we treated those who died in the first World War, it was a gamechanger in the maturing of relationships both on this island and between this island and Great Britain.”
Two years ago, Mr Barr and Paddy Harte jnr, on behalf of his father, received a presentation for their work for peace from the Inishowen Friends of Messines, at Fort Dunree, Co Donegal.
Spokesman Fearghal O’Boyle had said the notion that there was something in the shared history of the island that could be used to unite the two traditions in Ireland “was quite revolutionary in itself” before the peace park was founded.
“Up to this point, for most of our modern history, each group has reached back into the past to pick the episodes and events that served our own outlook and sense of self, and very often that was at the expense of the ‘other side’,” he said.