Bridging the divide: pupils bring touching dignity to landmark's opening
Published 27/06/2011 | 03:37
Watched by thousands, 600 schoolchildren marched across the Peace Bridge in Londonderry, a lasting show of hope and unity.
The honour of opening the landmark footbridge, a symbol of a new and shared future, was, fittingly, handed to the youngsters of the city.
While high-profile politicians, clergy and other dignitaries gathered at the bridge to officially declare it open, it was the sight of children representing every school in Derry crossing it that will live long in the memory.
Divided equally between the east and west banks, they marched to the starting point at the edges of the bridge and then, in a touching moment, they proceeded to make the journey to either side, meeting in the 'handshake' centre of the bridge, before continuing on their way to the rousing cheers of the thousands gathered by the riverside.
Now lining both sides of the span, the youngsters sang a specially commissioned song called The Bridge, penned for the occasion by Belfast composer Ian Wilson.
The man who declared the bridge open - EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn - said the peace process in Northern Ireland was serving as a beacon of hope for conflict zones around the world, but he also issued a warning.
"Your experience here is an inspiration to others, a model others want to follow in Europe and beyond, but peace and prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Here in Northern Ireland the situation is still fragile."
First Minister Peter Robinson said the new bridge would be the "foundation stone for the regeneration of the city".
He added: "They call it the Peace Bridge. I don't think we need a better name for it. Construction itself doesn't bring peace - peace has to come from people. It is up to the people to take the step to walk across."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described the occasion as a "momentous day" for his native city.
He added: "Whatever you are, a loyalist, a unionist, a nationalist, a republican, a Catholic, a Protestant or dissenter, this is our city and we are the one people, we have the one vision, we have the one plan for the future and it is about economic prosperity, about jobs. We have big dreams and we are going to do our damnedest to see them fulfilled for our people."
After the structure was officially opened a trio of newlyweds who had hot-footed it down from exchanging their vows were given the honour of being next to walk across.
Kieran and Joleen McGuinness had just got married at St Mary's Church in the Creggan. Speaking as they arrived back on the cityside, Mr McGuinness described the privilege as "magic".
He said: "It just fell in nicely for us with the wedding today and it is great to see the new bridge. It is a fantastic day for everybody."
Their sentiments were shared by Gary and Catherine Carlin, who had just tied the knot in Ardmore in the Waterside.
Mr Carlin said it was "great to be part of it on our wedding day".