Break down barriers of division in Northern Ireland, says Tommy Bowe
Rugby hero in charity walk urges more engagement
Cross-community events such as Walk the Walls for Cavan must be pushed as "a way of life" for the people of Northern Ireland, Ulster and Ireland rugby star Tommy Bowe has said.
As an ambassador for the Active Communities Network, Bowe will be involved in a walk from New Barnsley PSNI station to Belfast City Hall in aid of little Cavan O'Neill this weekend.
The local three-year-old, who has cerebral palsy that affects his lower limbs, needs to raise £80,000 to have life-changing surgery in America.
With £62,000 of the target already achieved, Sunday's walk and a gala ball in Finaghy the night before will be used to boost the total and perhaps even hit the target so that the little boy can head to the States for the crucial operation.
For Bowe, the 200-strong crowd expected shows how well both sides of the community can work together for a greater good.
"For me it's a cross-community event," he said yesterday at a Belfast 'peace wall'.
"I grew up in Monaghan and went to school in Armagh, so I was forever going across the border. I grew up not really knowing much about the peace walls in Belfast, but certainly border control was a big thing.
"Growing up in the 1980s, I lived in Emyvale, a stone's throw from the border, and I've been living in Belfast on and off for 12 years.
"I think, year-on-year, cross-community is now a way of life, but it's always a case that it has to be pushed and it has to be encouraged.
"For young people coming through, we want it to become something that they're used to.
"On Sunday we start off in New Barnsley and then we'll zig-zag through the different walls to get both sides of the community together. There will be a barbecue, music, Irish dancing and the circus school will be in the City Hall when it finishes. It will be a celebration, but it will also show that both sides can work together and enjoy ourselves together."
With sport such a huge part of Bowe's life, helping young Cavan increase the use of his legs is a cause close to his heart.
"It's a very tough illness that Cavan has," he said. "If we can help make his life that bit easier, it's something that is inspiring and I really hope we raise the money to make sure we get him what he needs.
"I became involved with the Active Network charities about a year ago, and what they try and do is to get kids from, I suppose, underprivileged areas in Belfast and elsewhere to get active and to play sport.
"I grew up playing every sport going - be it Gaelic football, soccer, horse riding or rugby - and I'm very fortunate to have made a career of it. But through sport at any level you get to meet people and learn skills, and that's what Active Communities is all about."
- Walk the Walls for Cavan starts at New Barnsley police station in west Belfast at 10am before proceeding to Belfast City Hall for around 12.30. All welcome to join in and people can also donate along the route or at justgiving.com/cavansfirststeps