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Born just minutes after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement two decades ago, Kerrie Hope Patterson embodied the spirit and optimism for a Northern Ireland that would be better for the next generation ... so what does she make of it now?

When the 20th anniversary is marked on Tuesday, one young woman from Lisburn will also be celebrating her birthday. She talks to Stephanie Bell about forever being associated with a landmark date in world history

Kerrie Hope Patterson
Kerrie Hope Patterson
Kerrie Hope Patterson after she was born in the Royal Victoria Hospital
Clive and Anne Patterson with baby Kerrie who was born just minutes after the Good Friday Agreement was signed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Kerrie with her mum Anne, dad Clive and younger sister Alex
Kerrie with US Senator George Mitchell at an event commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement

When she was born 20 years ago, Kerrie Hope Patterson was Northern Ireland's most famous baby. The eyes of the world were on Northern Ireland on April 10, 1998, when at around 9pm the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Just 25 minutes later, Kerrie came into the world.

Known then as 'The Peace Baby' in the days that followed, Kerrie's picture appeared in newspapers around the world and the media continued to follow her every step as she grew up.

Even today as she prepares to celebrate her 20th birthday quietly at home in Lisburn with her family - mum Anne, dad Clive and younger sister Alex - she is bombarded with media requests including from a TV crew in France.

Now a young adult studying at Trinity College Dublin, she says she has always appreciated the significance of her birthday and the new era of peace that came on that day.

She loves that her parents marked the occasion by giving her the middle name Hope which she says is always an opportunity to talk to people about just how far Northern Ireland has come.

Like most people, though, she is concerned about the implications Brexit will have on the border and it saddens her that our politicians haven't taken their seats at Stormont for over a year.

Kerrie is a striking and articulate young woman and is in her second year of a four-year course in law and business.

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So far she is enjoying the business side of her degree and is considering a further qualification in accountancy when she graduates.

She has been given an internship next year with well-known firm KPMG, who are a team of expert business advisers for companies in Northern Ireland.

Her future is filled with - as her middle name says - hope and opportunity. She is very aware that the Good Friday Agreement has played its part in helping her generation aspire to achieve their dreams.

"I don't mind talking about the agreement as it is nice to be able to show how many opportunities there are now," she says. "I'm studying at Trinity and my parents have been able to give me prospects and it is the same for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"That day in 1998 is one that I see as being very positive.

"I definitely can see the progress of the last 20 years in terms of hostility and a more integrated society and bringing the two communities together and more equal opportunities for everyone in Northern Ireland."

Kerrie grew up a Protestant in Lisburn where her dad Clive is a well-known GP.

She went to the non-denominational grammar school Wallace High in Lisburn and it has been natural for her to have friends from all walks of life.

While history was being made in Northern Ireland on the day she was born, it was of course also a momentous day for her young parents who were welcoming their first child into the world.

As then-Prime Minister Tony Blair stood on the steps of Stormont Castle describing "the hand of history" he felt upon him, Anne was at the nearby Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast giving birth to her daughter.

Kerrie says that she treasures her middle name. "It is on my student card. It is not your typical name and people would always remark on it and it gives me an opportunity to talk about hope and how far Northern Ireland has come," she adds.

"We've had a very successful 20 years with peace growing in the country and better relationships.

"Hope has a really nice meaning after all the Troubles that Northern Ireland came through, and to me it opens the door to a new start and a new beginning.

"To be honest, I would never have noticed what religion someone was when growing up.

"I suppose you could say I lived in blissful ignorance. To me there is no difference, everyone is equal and everyone is the same.

"While at school I went to a non-denominational grammar and I never had any preference or prejudice myself.

"I always found it so nice to have friends from both sides.

"I have a Protestant background but some of my best friends are Catholic, it really doesn't matter to me.

"I think the fact it is easier for people to mix is another benefit of the Agreement, but progress has been slow when it comes to integration.

"I think we need to give young people more opportunity to integrate. I wouldn't have met my Catholic friends if our school hadn't been mixed."

Frequent visits to Dublin growing up gave Kerrie a love for the city and as Queen's University didn't have the course she wanted, it seemed natural that she would study at Trinity.

She hasn't made her mind up exactly what she wants to do when she graduates and still has two years of her degree left.

"I always saw Dublin as a city with so much diversity and opportunity," she says. "I'm keeping my options open at the minute, but I'm really enjoying the business side of my course.

"I'm halfway through now and I get home to Lisburn as often as I can - it is so easy on the bus and you can be home in two hours."

Kerrie is very close to her younger sister Alex (19) who is studying biomedical science at Queen's and misses the fact that they don't get to spend so much time together now.

"We are both studying so we see less of each other but we are still best friends," she says.

"We've always been very close and it just makes going home more special when I get to spend time with her and my family. "

Life is full and busy for Kerrie. Yesterday, she had a full day's activities leading up to the annual Trinity Ball.

Tomorrow she will do a charity sky dive in Dublin to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society.

On Monday she will be coming home to enjoy a quiet dinner with her family ahead of her birthday on Tuesday.

Kerrie says that sharing her birthday with the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement has made it extra special over the years.

"I love it that my birthday is on the same day as history was being made in Northern Ireland," she says.

"Looking back it is nice to have all the different interviews with my parents and me that have been in the papers over the years.

"It makes the date that bit more special to me to have it on such a significant day.

"It has been a privilege to have that anniversary on my birthday."

Of course, the fall-out from the current political stalemate in Northern Ireland is not lost upon Kerrie.

While key figures from the negotiations two decades ago will be back in the province next week to take part in a series of events and with exhibitions running to mark the occasion, the fact the Assembly hasn't sat for more than a year casts an inevitable shadow.

Kerrie admits she too can't help but feel concerned about the current deadlock.

The debate over the border as terms are agreed over Brexit is something she has also been following closely.

"I feel that things like Brexit have the potential to be a barrier to progress in Northern Ireland," she says.

"And also Stormont not sitting means that there are hurdles that we can't overcome."

Typical of the spirit of the middle name she carries, Kerrie adds: "I really do want the politicians to resolve their differences.

"I would never want to come across as political.

"I'm not in a role where I would be guiding the country, but I guess that perhaps politicians in Northern Ireland need to be more a bit more optimistic and open-minded.

"I think the current situation is sad as it allows the conflict and insecurities from the past to surface.

"I wouldn't want us to take a step back after all the progress that has been made since the agreement."

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