Belfast Telegraph

Peace the real prize for Good Friday Agreement baby Caolan Maxwell

By Leona O'Neill

It isn't just the Good Friday Agreement that is marking an important milestone today.

Caolan Maxwell was born 20 years ago on the day the deal was signed.

Arriving into the world as pen was put to paper on the Agreement that ended a long and brutal conflict, he symbolised the birth of hope and optimism for Northern Ireland.

Now as a young adult studying mechanical engineering at the North West Regional College, Caolan, from Londonderry, says being born on such a historic day has always been a bit strange.

But he is disappointed that instead of celebrating a monumental achievement, his generation feels we are "stuck".

"To be born at such a pivotal moment in Northern Irish history is quite a surreal feeling," he said.

He added: "My family were directly impacted as a result of the Troubles - as one would expect growing up as nationalists in Creggan at a time, when routine stop and search would have been carried out and the constant unrest in the area.

"I only really heard about the Troubles second-hand through people in the family talking about it.

"It wouldn't have been a big part of my life.

"I suppose the first time I would have heard of the Troubles would have been from news reports looking back.

"I am, of course, grateful to have grown up in a country at peace."

He said young people today had the chance to shape their future in whatever area they chose.

"We can get the opportunity to do this uninhibited by the impact that war has on communities and countries," he added.

"There are so many benefits my generation have been afforded because of the Good Friday Agreement. The most important of which is, basically, we are not caught up in the middle of a war.

"We have also been able to bear witness to the fact that bridges can be built and that the two people can move forward regardless of the fact that they were fighting for many years.

"We have seen them stop and say that it's better for everyone to move forward. It gives a good light that we can pass on.

"If they can do it, why can't we."

The journey towards peace ran alongside Caolan's childhood.

His many milestones - first tentative steps, a nervous first day at school - coincided with the new Northern Ireland making taking uncertain steps towards a better future.

But he says that, despite great progress being made, we still have a long way to go.

"I think Northern Ireland today still shows some signs of a divide, such as the peace walls throughout Belfast," he explained.

"However, as a country we have developed massively in the last two decades.

"There's much less of an 'us and them' mentality and more of a 'we're in it together to do the best we can for the younger generation'."

Yesterday a survey revealed that 51% of people here are still more likely to make close friends with people of the same religion. And 30% said that half of their close friends were of the same religion as them.

It is something Caolan is very conscious of.

"Growing up, I didn't really have any Protestant friends," he said.

"I only really made friends with Protestant people when I went to college around four years ago.

"I didn't know their religion, they didn't know mine. We just became friends.

"It was never the kind of thing you would think to ask someone.

"What concerns me most now about Northern Ireland is that we don't have a sitting government at Stormont.

"It seems that all the work that was done just got stopped coming up to the 20th anniversary."

And he added: "It should have been something that they were celebrating, moving even further forward instead of going back to a political stalemate."

Belfast Telegraph

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