From OONAGH TIMSON, in DUBLIN
"You are not entitled to kill in my name," said a small grOup of people to the extremists. Out of that group grew a movement called 'Working for Peace" and out of "Working for Peace" came the idea of a Centre For Reconciliation which would have representatives of many other peace groups on its council.
This compact group looked around, they had no money, but had a burning, thirsting desire for constructive action towards peace. Action that would help to bring a lasting peace. Finally, just 12 miles from Dublin, in the Wicklow Hills, they came upon a large group of buildings belonging to the Government. They had found the place which was to become the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation.
"Peace is a low level of violence coupled with a high level of justice. We must positively promote justice throughout Ireland," said Fr Shaun Curran, Si.
He and "Glen," the gentle St Bernard who nuzzles into one's arm and stands as high as a small donkey, are the complete community at Glencree. From Monday to Friday that is. On Fridays the students arrive. Thirty in all. This week they are from the University of Dublin, next week there are 30 young Methodists.
Every weekend, in fact, is hooked by young people giving their time, labour and enthusiasm, helping to build and create a truly Christian Centre at Glencree. More student workers would like to come but accommodation such as it is, is sufficient only for 30.
"They are remarkable," said Fr Curran. "1 try to stop them from going at the work so hard, they end up with blistered hands and aching muscles."
We walked around the centre. The old buildings form three sides of a square. Anchored in the middle. in a sea of mud and builders' materials is the small caravan in which Fr Curran lives. Glen has his kennel next to the caravan,
At the opening ceremony in March of this year Fr Ray Davey in his address summed up the hopes and aspirations of . Glencree when he said of the concept of peace: "It is a dynamic concept — something we have to work and strive for. It means a society where there is wholeness and harmony, where the rights and worth of every person are recognised and implemented. Where there is real consensus. Further, it means social justice. True peace can only flourish where there is justice for all the people. We must be aware of this not only in Ireland but when we think of the Third World."
Fr Davy went on to say that Glencree should he a place "where all the Churches will be challenged to put aside instinct for self-preservation and proclaim in word and deed a living faith of love and forgiveness for the whole community."
The board of directors for the centre consists of 13 people, three of whom are ministers of religion, one Catholic, Fr Curran, one Methodist, Rev Dennis Cooke, and one Presbyterian, Rev John Morrow, The rest of the council is drawn from peace groups working throughout Ireland.
"We want to help people become more conscious of the basic causes of violence. We can only act as a co-ordinating centre in trying to get rid of the problem." Fr Curran feels that violence must be seen in its widest sense, as pressures from one group to another. "We only become conscious of it when it spills over into bloodshed."
At the centre itself there is a lot of work to be done on the old buildings, which have been leased from the Government for 99 years at a nominal rent. Originally a barracks, one of a series built in 1800 and linked together by the military road which was also built by the Army and which runs across the Dublin mountains.
he most wanted man at that time was Michael O'Dwyer, leader of a group of Republicans in the Bray and Wicklow area. He surrendered at Glencree Barracks on the condition that he would he sent to the States. However, the British authorities sent him to Tasmania where he ended up as Chief Constable of Sydney.
From the mid-1800s until the 1930s the barracks was a reformatory and is still known in the area as the Old Reformatory. During the last war it was used as a base by the Irish Army's Construction Corps. It was then handed over to the Red Cross for refugee children from Europe who were taught English there before being adopted into Irish families. For the last 25 years part of the Old Reformatory has been used as a Government store, the rest becoming quietly derelict.
It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of money to transform a barracks built 175 years ago into a living, breathing working Community for Peace. Credit facilities for £50,000 came from Guinness Mahan, merchant bankers, and the gratuitous services of architects Robinson, Keefe and Devane were accepted.
A non-profit contract was made with builders John Sisk, who are doing all the skilled work necessary on the project. Seven weeks voluntary labour on the site was provided by 50 young people from 12 countries in July and August. This was done in two work camps organised by Voluntary Service International and Ecumenical Youth Service.
The students have cleared and terraced one side of the steeply sloping gardens which was completely overgrown with bushes and brambles. Banks of earth which had built up around the base of the building have been dug out and moved to a lower part of the grounds where the level needs to be built up to at least 6ft. in order to lay a football pitch.
Work started last March during peace week when the late President Childers planted the first tree. It is hoped that the Reconciliation Centre will be taking in its first group of people at Christmas when phase One of the project will be cornpleted.
Phase One is the provision of good accommodation for 30 people, plus kitchen, dining and relaxing rooms which will be open for use by non-resident groups. Phase Two will provide another 30 sleeping units plus offices and meeting rooms. Next summer it is hoped that 150 extra young people will he camping in the grounds.
Money for Peace is a problem. In America where Fr Curran went to try to raise funds he was told by one group: "If it was money for guns, father, I could get you plenty but a peace centre, father, 1 don't know." There's not much coming in from the people in Ireland, either. Partly because not much is known about the centre by the people; but also, in the past it was rumoured that Money collected for peaceful purposes had found its way into weap_on-buying. These difficulties are being overcome but for Fr Curran who sees each day in terms of the number of people killed, progress is heartbreakingly slow.
To get to the centre you take the Glencree Road from Rathfarnham where you climb higher and higher into the mountains and the hubbub of Dublin falls away behind you. Up and up you climb, then the road runs straight ahead. There are no houses or people — just a desolate deserted place with the brooding purple brown mountains and the boglands around you. The clouds are heavy and lumber across the sky, pushed forward by the piercing cold, gusting wind.
The road dips imperceptibly and you take a sharp left turn where you drop quickly to the tree-laden, autumn-coloured, valley, warmed by the late sun. As you approach, and while you are in the centre at Glencree, hope, peace, and love seem to reach out towards you, shutting out completely all strife, all politics and every hesitation. All the "but ifs" that keep us from positive constructive action. Here is hope and the place where we can all try again. This time, everyone is involved, everyone can add their small handful of time, or of money or of work and each small handful will be built into the fabric of life at Glencree To promote reconciliation and peace education both in Ireland and on the international level the Centre plans; 1). To be a meeting place for people from diverse backgrounds and traditions. 2). To provide rest facilities for people living in conflict situations.
3). To initiate research into and develop education programmes about the causes of conflict and ways of resolving it.
4). To provide training programmes for community leaders working in conflict situations.
5). To, present audio-visual exhibitions dealing with the key social problems which have led to conflict in Ireland, showing Third World and international parallels. 6). To be an international conflict studies centre organising a winter and/or summer semester for overseas postgraduate students of conflict studies.
7). To foster and support reconciliation work throughout the country by providing a living example of it at the Centre.