Belfast Telegraph

Priest hails bonfire festivities organised in Shankill as 'very positive'

By Christopher Leebody

A Belfast parish priest has described the "very positive experience" around Woodvale during the run-up to the Eleventh Night bonfire.

Father Martin Magill of St John's Parish, Belfast, was part of a tour of the area, originally organised by three academics from Taylor University in Indiana who are involved in peace and conflict studies.

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Spending time on the Shankill Road, they visited a number of sites during the day, concluding at Woodvale Park, where a festival has been held in the run-up to this year's celebration.

"There was a bonfire on the lower Shankill area so we stopped to take a look at it. We drove on to Woodvale Park and met Winston Irvine. A project, The Caravan Gallery, had very good photos displayed in one section of the park," he said.

Speaking about the music, carnival and photographic exhibition in the park, Fr Magill said: "What I saw yesterday was very much a sense of carnival atmosphere. It reminds me a little bit of the Feile.

"We've been hearing a lot about the bonfire on Avoniel. This felt like a tale of two cities. This felt like a very positive experience."

He added: "All the focus will be on the likes of Avoniel - there's obviously something very good going on here. It was part of a bigger festival."

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Alongside Fr Magill was Alan McBride, co-ordinator of the Wave Trauma Centre, who lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond in the 1993 Shankill bomb attack.

Mr McBride said: "While I've been critical in the past of unionism and particular unionist leadership, yesterday was a really good news story.

"Full credit to the people of upper Shankill and the Woodvale for putting on what was a really great event and festival.

Professor Scott Moeschberger, Fr Martin Magill, Alan McBride, Professor Michael Hammond and Professor Kevin Johnston at the Woodvale bonfire
Professor Scott Moeschberger, Fr Martin Magill, Alan McBride, Professor Michael Hammond and Professor Kevin Johnston at the Woodvale bonfire

"I live in east Belfast, the stories around here have been so positive compared to Avoniel."

Alan McBride stressed that he sees the Woodvale Festival as an example of the kind of positive steps which can be taken to make the celebrations more inclusive of those from a Catholic tradition.

"What I would love to see is how we can make this a tradition and an event that Catholics could come to. It is very much about embracing each other's culture and traditions.

"I have been a big supporter of Feile.

"I managed to get a play about the Shankill bomb in the Feile this year called What If.

"A play about the Shankill bomb told from the perspective of the victim. These are small steps that we are making moving forward."

He added: "We need to show the positive aspect of our culture and traditions. People friendly, environmentally friendly. If we don't start to embrace each other's culture, how are we ever going to normalise this? I think the whole Twelfth of July celebration is hugely marketable."

Belfast Telegraph


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