Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland interface children play their hearts out for peace at PeacePlayers Flagship games

By Claire Williamson

It's a sporting competition, but the main goal is peace.

They come from some of Northern Ireland's most divided communities, where relationships have been tarnished by decades of deep-rooted sectarianism.

Peace walls may keep them apart, but last night those barriers were torn down in the pouring rain as children from both sides of notorious interfaces across Belfast came together to compete in the PeacePlayers Flagship games.

They began with the neutral sport of basketball, before learning new skills in rugby, Gaelic games and football, which they may not have had the opportunity to play before.

Team chants and songs rang out at the Queen's University Belfast playing fields as the rain pelted down, but the smiles and laughter continued undeterred.

The experience is not just about physical competition - the event uses sport to unite, educate and inspire young people.

The Flagship games are one of the biggest PeacePlayers events of the year. They lead on from the Belfast Interface games, which develop skills in the three sports so children are ready for the Flagship games.

Youngsters from each section of Belfast, their area identified only by a colour - red for north, navy for east, yellow for south and pale blue for west - took part.

And they were in good hands, with volunteer coaches from the IFA, GAA and Ulster Rugby on location to teach skills and officiate matches.

Managing director Gareth Harper said: "Peaceplayers is a community relations through sport charity. We use the neutral sport of basketball initially with kids to help them develop relationships, and the Belfast Interface games is a full manifestation of our work.

"Some of these children may never had the opportunity to play Gaelic, soccer or rugby before because of where they come from.

"The Belfast Interface games and the idea behind it is, we give those kids the opportunity to do that.

"They then begin to realise that Gaelic football is for everyone, rugby is for everyone, and not for one community or the other.

"They also build up strong relationships, and the interface games themselves are about making new integrated teams in each part of the city. So, for example, in north Belfast we have a team which is made up of Catholic and Protestant kids from either side of the interface coming together under a new identity wearing their red team colours. That's the whole idea of the programme."

Among those who turned up to support the games were Ulster Rugby stars Robbie Diack and Sam Arnold.

And Sam even gave the youngsters an extra treat by joining in on their game of tag rugby.

Robbie told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's hugely important. To see all the communities together playing all these different sports and having fun and being competitive amongst each other and at the end of the day shaking each other's hands and enjoying the whole atmosphere is fantastic to see."

North Belfast mum Annette Flanagan's two sons, Keelan (14) and Darragh (10), were taking part. She said: "It's amazing. Seeing everyone playing sports and learning new sports and realising they are all as one when they play sports."

Children from each side of Belfast came together to take part in PeacePlayers Flagship games. These games consist of 3 different sports, Football, Gaelic and Rugby with volunteer coaches from GAA, Ulster Rugby and IFA. These games use sport to unite, educate and inspire young people in divided communities.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph