ECHOES OF THE HAPPENINGS AROUND OUR TOWN AND BEYOND

Diane V. Byrnes, Producer and Host

ECHOES OF ERIN on WEDO 810AM

OCTOBER 19, 2003

INTERVIEW with FATHER AIDAN TROY, Holly Cross School, Belfast

Fr. Aidan Troy

All photos on this page curtesy of Ann and Jeff Kaduck

Father Aidan Troy is rector at Holy Cross Parish in Ardoyne, North Belfast. He chairs the Board of Governors of Holy Cross Girls' Primary School. For more than twelve weeks, four to eleven-year-old girls faced daily demonstrations and abuse by loyalists objecting to the Catholics going to school through 'their' neighborhood. This happened two years ago and many of you would have seen Fr. Aidan Troy, the young girls and their parents of Holy Cross School on television. Those pictures were aired around the world

DVB: Hello Fr. Aidan Troy and welcome to Echoes of Erin here on WEDO out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. How are you?

FrAT: I'm great, thanks Diane, it's good to talk to you.

DVB: It's good to talk to you too. It has been about two years since pictures of you and the school girls and their parents were shown around the world. What is the situation at Holy Cross School today Father?

FrAT: Overall Diane, it's good to be able to say that the school is operating in much better conditions now. However, there are still things that perhaps your listeners would find interesting. We can't have any day of school without police being present on the road just to make sure that things don't deteriorate. But I think the overwhelming sense is one of huge relief that these little girls can now go to school either with their parents walking, or in buses or in cars. The school which is a wonderful little school of about 220 girls, as you say between four and eleven years of age. So overall we are very, very grateful to God that the situation is so much better than it was this time two years ago.

Fr. Troy with Girls 4 & 5

DVB: Father, haven't the girls been able to walk that same route for the thirty years the school has been there?

FrAT: Absolutely. Many, indeed, of the Mothers of these little girls went to that same school and walked up and down that route without any hindrance at all. That's why the blockade of the road was such a shock. It was the first time, really, in 'the troubles' over the last thirty-three years that the children had been directly targeted. And that's why I think it is so hard for any of us to understand how it happened, why it happened. I think the danger Diane is, naturally for balance we are inclined to say well on the one hand this happened, therefore this other thing happened. Where in fact, I think the essence of what happened is just so awful that these little girls were directly blocked from going to school. Now I know there are issues with regard to security with regard to housing, with regard to health. My basic thesis, and I have tried to be honest about this is, you cannot take out adult argument on the backs of little girls going to school. And I will not stop saying that because I think it needs to be said.

DVB: The people in the community who led these demonstrations and encouraged them, have their issues been addressed?

 

Girls 9&10

FrAT: Their issues have been very, very well addressed in many ways. For instance there is a housing program in that estate called the Glenbyrn Estate which was the place of the protest. There are traffic calming measures that have, sort of, ramps on the road. People are acting and feeling more secure, but I think it is important for us to realize that the next step is the most difficult step. And that is for us to try to get the loyalist protesters, the parents, and ourselves talking again. It will be very slow. I am not one these people who expects miracles just at the drop of a hat. We have got to move on from, as it were, security measures and the horrible protest, and say 'look, we have to share this same little area of North Belfast together.' This is what I am in America for, I want to spread that message of reconcillation and peace, and I'm going to try to do something about it.

DVB: Certainly, you have worked with the school community and all the residents in the community in open dialog in trying to help solve this problem. And I have read where you have an exciting idea on the horizon. Would you like to share that with us?

FrAT: Well again Diane, in essence, when I have looked around the situation and I said to myself "what could we do as a memorial, as a tribute to those brave 225 little girls and their parents." And I see in the grounds of the church where I live, we have the original Holy Cross School going back to the early 1900's. That is now derelict. The interesting thing now Diane is, one door of that building, which is a lovely red brick building opens out onto the loyalist side of North Belfast. The other door of the building opens up to the Catholic side. Within the next 18 months, I am determined to open that as what I call, a Family Centre. In it I want to see maybe a small cresch for parents of both sides of the community can bring their children in to be minded. Where we create a space for people, even if it's over a cup of coffee or tea, to inch their way towards each other. After school clubs and various activities. Now, some people look and they say to me, "you know Father, you are and idealist, you're a dreamer, this place is going to be bombed, it's going to be burnt." I don't think so. I think there are enough people of good will, who after the Good Friday Agreement are saying "listen, we have got to find a way of living together". I'm offering these buildings and I'm hoping that when they are put up, when they're ready for use, that we'll have a much, much better situation. And that is what I am trying to do. That is what I am trying to get funding for now.

Holy Cross School Building

DVB: Obviously I would think that most of the people in the nationalist community would think this was an excellent idea. Would the people in the loyalist community think that as well?

FrAT: It is quite difficult. I work mainly, at the moment, with Ministers of Religion from the Presbyterian Church, the Church of Ireland, and the Methodist Church, and I am finding tremendous support.

But there is also, I think, wonderful things happening. I'll just give you a very brief example. Just at the beginning of last week I got a telephone call from a man from the Glenbyrn Estate, a Protestant man, one of the loyalist protesters, he said he wanted to speak with me on the phone. He said "one day I spat in your face during the protest." He said "another day I saw you on the footpath and I had the temptation to drive the car and kill you." And I said to him "why are you telling me this?" I thought this was wonderful, he said "I have found the errors of my way, I can't get peace with God if I don't shake your hand. Will you shake my hand?" And I said "but of course." And he called along and there was a moment of reconcillation.

Now I know you can't build a whole, sort of pieces, on one incident. But, if that is happening to one person, and I can be the instrument for more and more people from each side of the community, because I believe basically, it is one community, its not two communities. We have fallen out of love and we have fallen out of trust with each other. And I just want to try and see, can I begin to bring that sense of reconcillation together. That we as Catholics and nationalists are no threat to people who are Protestant and loyalist. I want this new Family Centre to be a place where people can come in. Now if it takes five years to do it, I'm prepared to wait. But we have got to start NOW I think.

DVB: Father, you just sent chills up me relaying that story. Don't ever give up your dreams. Don't ever give up your hopes.

FrAT: Diane, those are words of encouragement. You have no idea how much it means that you even wanted to talk to me today. Because sometimes in North Belfast it can be quite lonely. You ask 'does anybody really care?' and now I find Echoes of Erin is prepared to talk to me like this. And I want to thank you for taking the trouble and your listeners for listening.

DVB: Well I had the good fortune to be in Belfast twice last year. I think you have a wonderful city there. Even in Pittsburgh we have our own little problems, nothing is perfect. But Belfast is an exciting, dynamic city. Although I realize and as many others realize, there are places where things are not as pleasant as other places. You NEVER EVER can give up hope.

FrAT: No, Absolutely not!

DVB: You are the man to do it.

FrAT: I'm going to keep trying and with friends like you and with your listeners, I think we are going to get there.

DVB: I know I will be made aware of a place or an address where people can send donations to help you. Has that been established yet?

FrAT: At the moment while I am working at this conference, very kindly, I have been offered the facilities of a group here in New York called 'Doors of Hope'. They are prepared to take donations. Rather than delay you now, I can get that information to you after the program.

DVB: Father, we are very much aware of 'Doors of Hope' here in Pittsburgh. Many of our Ancient Order of Hibernians have supported that over the years. We are aware!

FrAT: Oh Good! That is excellent.

DVB: Well look, I'm off to have SAMHAIN this afternoon. Much luck to you today and I know you are giving a good talk tonight. Good luck in your travels around the East Coast, and maybe one day you will make Pittsburgh.

FrAT: I hope so.

DVB: Just know, you are always welcome. It was such a pleasure to speak with you today Father and know our prayers are being said for all of you there.

FrAT: Thank you Diane, God Bless.