Celebrating the peacemakers

WHILE many countries have war museums, few celebrate the struggle for peace in the same way.

War, sometimes a defensive action but frequently an act of aggression, has its heroes, celebrated for their strength and resolution, whereas the peacemakers of this world tend to be regarded as weak and cowardly.

I’ve always thought this a depressing reflection of humankind, and of what we might ultimately aspire to.

Two Kinsale men had similar reservations about humanity’s approach to conflict resolution.

They wanted to further explore the nature of peace and of alternatives to violence. Several years ago, they formed the Kinsale Peace Project.

Kinsale is perhaps best known for its gourmet restaurants and tourist attractions. But nothing daunted, with no funding and little infrastructure, Padraig Fitzgerald and Gerard Timmons decided to invite some notable speakers to Kinsale to discuss these issues — Fergal Keane, Fergus Finlay, Richard Moore and Trocaire’s Justin Kilcullen, to name a few. The response was immediate and encouraging.

Now they are looking forward to a visit from that tireless campaigner for the marginalised, and founder of Focus, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, affectionately known to all and sundry as Sister Stan.

“We are very lucky to have Sister Stan visiting us on the 26th of this month,” Padraig told me. “Over the last few years, the events we have organised have been really well attended and have led to some fascinating and useful debates. And whenever their time allows, we’ve also organised for our speakers to visit local primary and secondary schools.

“Our speakers are all people who have had exceptional experiences, and who believe in promoting peace and justice for everyone, both here at home and across the world.”

Padraig, whose day job is an independent insurance agent, visited Kenya on his honeymoon, and he and his new wife found themselves embroiled in the middle of serious unrest, and were forced to spend a part of their visit marooned in their hotel.

They spent many hours talking to local people and were appalled at the poverty and harsh conditions that many Kenyans were forced to endure.

“We both decided there and then that when we got home, we would do something about it,” Padraig explains “We got involved with Fairtrade Kinsale, working for equal rights and fair play for producers, and the Peace Project evolved from that.

“We began to explore the idea of peace within ourselves, the way we all handle the conflicts that are a part of daily life, and how this can impact on those around us.”

One of the Peace Project’s recent speakers was blind peace activist Richard Moore, who lost his eyesight during the troubles in Derry. Richard was only ten years old when a British solider fired on him with a rubber bullet, as he was on his way home from school. “Richard is an incredible human being,” Padraig says. “Rather than making him bitter, this experience led him to see life in a different way. He’s a humanitarian who works through his charity, Children in Crossfire, to eradicate childhood poverty.

“The Dalai Lama is his patron, and we were lucky enough to be invited to Limerick to meet them both. The soldier who shot Richard was there too, something I hadn’t been expecting, and it was incredibly moving to see how this soldier gently helped Richard into the car.”

Richard Moore also appeared on the Late Late Show with the solider who shot him, and used the occasion to promote peace and forgiveness.

His autobiography “Can I Give Him My Eyes” is a best seller.

“Everyone who was lucky enough to hear Richard speak was moved by his deep humanity,” Padraig says.

There have been many practitioners of non-violence as a method for change — Wangari Maathai, who died last year, was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite repeated physical attacks and imprisonment, Wangari formed the Green Belt Movement, registered voters and organised a multi-party democratic movement.

Or Aung San Suu Kyi, who remained under house arrest for three decades, and wouldn’t leave Burma, despite being separated from her family, knowing that she would be refused re-entry.

And of course, Mohandas Gandhi, who employed non-violent non-cooperation as a means for social and political change, and who was assassinated for his beliefs in 1948.

Of those who steadfastly believe in transforming the world from the inside out, peace and human rights activist and acclaimed novelist Alice Walker says: “There might be years during which our grief is equal to or even greater than our hope. The alternative however, not to act, means to miss experiencing other people at their best, reaching toward their fullness. And that has never appealed to me.”

For more information call: Padraig Fitzgerald 086-8583185

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land

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