Belfast Telegraph

The world sees us emerge from the mists of the past

By Alf McCreary

Sir Winston Churchill wrote memorably about the aftermath of the cataclysmic First World War and noted derisively that "the dreary steeples of Tyrone and Fermanagh" had once again emerged from the mists.

The events of the past week dispelled all that, and the steeples of Fermanagh, and Northern Ireland in general, showed the world that this province is slowly emerging from the mists of the past.

This was a week for youth and hope, in a brilliantly-staged extravaganza about which everyone in this province can feel proud.

The begrudgers will complain about the cost and the inconvenience, but they miss the point.

The G8 was about issues like Syria, ending world hunger, tax evasion and other important subjects but the major sub-text was Northern Ireland itself.

We showed that we could hold one of the most peaceful G8 summits ever, and in a land of great beauty and friendliness. Even one of the seasoned protesters joked that he was "intimidated" by the hospitality of this place.

Though we all know how much there is still to be done, we might just believe in ourselves more if major world figures like President Obama keep reminding us how far we have travelled.

The churches played their part in the build-up to the G8 summit, with trade unionists and others in their IF anti-hunger campaign, and there was also an impressive inter-community service in St Macartin's Cathedral in Enniskillen last Sunday. One of the pictures of the week was the embrace between the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, and the Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

Some people said that President Obama's speech in the Waterfront Hall was a little corny, but I disagree. It was well-judged, beautifully written, and delivered with sincerity and panache, by one of the world's great orators.

Certain commentators were unfairly lukewarm, but you still have to pinch yourself at what happened.

Here was the US president on the eve of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland who was talking to a huge audience of young people in an impressive Waterfront Hall, and in the audience the old arch-political enemies Gerry Adams and Sammy Wilson sitting beside each other and sharing in a Mexican Wave.

This would have been totally inconceivable even 10 years ago, and as the Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out, no one would have believed not so long ago that a summit of world leaders could have been held so successfully in a place like Fermanagh where the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb killed 11 people and injured many others in November 1987.

It was in the aftermath of that bomb that I came to know well Gordon Wilson, that staunch Methodist whose daughter Marie was killed in that bomb, and also the Wilson family.

I remember Gordon's courage in standing against violence, and also his despair about the prospects for peace. He remains one of the near-forgotten heroes of the Troubles but this week's events in Enniskillen were a vindication of all that he and his family have stood for, and everyone like them.

The "dreary steeples" of Fermanagh are now reflecting hope for all of us, and thank God for that.

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