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A call for peace in Ireland.

Crossmaglen, Ireland

When I told Irish people I was going to Crossmaglen for a peace and demilitarization festival in September, most looked at me as if I had two heads. Crossmaglen is notorious as a site of violent conflict in the war between Britain and Ireland. The rolling farm country surrounding this small town of 3,000 along the north-south border is home to four military bases and nineteen watch towers with cameras, listening devices, and heat sensors.

Heavily Republican and anti-British, the residents of Crossmaglen have endured twenty-six years of house searches, summary arrest, strip searches of schoolchildren, and shoot-to-kill murders by British occupational forces.

Since the Irish Republican Army cease-fire last year, tensions have eased somewhat here between residents and British forces, but the militarization of the region, including regular helicopter surveillance and fortification of bases, has only increased.

It was into this environment that eighteen American social-justice activists came in mid-September to help with a peace festival, vigil, and protest.

The most dramatic event of the weekend was a silent vigil on Friday evening. Some 200 residents of Crossmaglen and nearby Cullyhana marched in the shadows of the watch towers that loom over the town square. At the conclusion of the vigil, townspeople placed candles and tied white flags to the wall of the base that houses British troops and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The flags symbolized the 3,187 lives lost in the conflict since 1969 - Irish, British, Catholic, and Protestant.

During the day, below the circling helicopters, children had fun drawing, making sculpture, painting faces, and working on banners for the vigil. Many painted the Irish tricolor flag on their faces, and wrote IRA on their arms. Except for a few boys who had to be stopped from throwing rocks at the British base, the event was remarkable for the lack of signs of conflict. Similar protests elsewhere in Northern Ireland this summer have ended in a rain of plastic bullets.

Peace activists, most of them from the southern counties of Ireland, attended a conference examining the effect of the international arms trade on human rights.

For most, it was their first trip into the north. Many spend their time focusing on far-away places like Bosnia, Central America, and East Timor, but are not involved in the struggle for justice in the north of Ireland.

"It is incredible that we are discussing the arms trade in Crossmaglen," said Patricia McKenna, a Green Party member of the European Parliament.

American activists went to Crossmaglen under the auspices of Peacewatch Ireland/Arnean Siochan Eireann, a Boston-based group formed last year to show support for peace and justice activists in Ireland.

For more information, write Peace Watch Ireland, P.O. Box 2453, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.
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Author:Cahill, Sean
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Nov 1, 1995
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