As Peace Boat docked in the port of Dublin on October 17, 2018, an intimate group of about 20 Peace Boat participants visited the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Founded in 1974 as a response to the violence and conflict in Ireland, the Centre aims to cultivate positive relationships between people from socially, culturally, politically, and religiously diverse backgrounds. Eamon Rafter, Glencree's Learning Coordinator, accompanied Peace Boat participants to the Centre after having spent nearly ten days on board providing a series of lectures and workshops on the challenges unique to the conflict in Ireland.
Glencree's staff welcomed Peace Boat participants to their on-site cafe with a lovely spread of homemade scones and hot drinks. While enjoying these refreshments, several participants expressed their reasons for joining the optional tour to Glencree. Waseda University student Ikeda Fumi had studied the conflict in Ireland and wanted to gain a deeper, more personal understanding of the challenges faced by the Irish. Through understanding the positive ways Glencree addresses and manages conflict, Ikeda believes that she and other Japanese nationals could learn skills beneficial to the reconciliation of peace between Japan and its neighbouring countries.
For the first part of the tour, Glencree Staff member Val Kiernan led the group on a short stroll up the old Military Road to the German Cemetery. Although Ireland remained neutral during the Second World War, many Germans were killed on Irish soil. In 1959, the German and Irish governments agreed to use the land at Glencree as a centralized burial ground for these fallen soldiers. Many participants were moved to learn of the Remembrance Ceremony held every November, when the German Ambassador and descendants of those buried at Glencree travel to the cemetery to attend a memorial service held in their honour.
Through the support of Peace Boat interpreters Kenji Son and Patrick Leong, Val Kiernan taught Peace Boat participants about Operation Shamrock, which found homes for hundreds of orphaned German children.
Following the tour of the German Cemetery, Ms Kiernan took the group inside to discuss the history of Glencree and its role in transforming conflict. Nestled in the Wicklow Mountains, about an hour's bus ride from the bustling city of Dublin, she explained that Glencree's geographical location is quite unique. Initially, Glencree was home to military barracks, and later a reformatory school for impoverished children following the Great Famine. Through initiatives like Operation Shamrock, in which Glencree played a key role in fostering hundreds of needy German children at the end of the Second World War, Glencree was able to transform the historical conflicts embedded in its soil into internationally-recognised peace initiatives.
Ms Kiernan was joined by her colleague Naoimh McNamee, Glencree's Chief Executive Officer, who gave an overview of the different programmes Glencree offers today. Many Peace Boat participants were surprised to learn that Glencree's peace work extends beyond the conflict in Northern and Southern Ireland to encompass a Refugee and Intercultural Integration Programme, among many other initiatives. Following a delicious lunch prepared by the Centre, participants were able to experience first-hand some of the exercises Glencree uses to relieve trauma in refugees. Nadette Foley and Louise Keating, who run the Refugee and Intercultural Integration Programme at Glencree, led a workshop on how to use CAPACITAR breathwork techniques, tai chi energy exercises, and various pressure point holds to relieve stress and improve emotional wellbeing.
Afterwards, Peace Boat participants were able to reflect on their own country's stance towards refugees and think critically about what elements can help achieve peace for those in conflict. According to Mr Rafter, proactive initiatives like those pioneered by Glencree are a necessary component. "There's nothing inevitable about the peaceful world. We need to work for it. We need to be more compassionate."
Report and photographs: Shantel Dickerson