For What It’s Worth
I got the chance to dish out some gongs this week to those starting out on their glittering career paths and a genuine gold-plated sporting hero who has spent a lifetime knocking it out of the park.
At St Genevieve’s High School in West Belfast, I told annual Prizegiving Night that I grew up in Ramoan Gardens, where St Genevieve’s was first based. Throughout my teenage years, I pined for an invite to the Andersonstown girls’ school. Turns out, I had to wait a full 40 years for that invite to be issued — but better late than never. And while I am now much too old to chase the schoolgirls round the yard — my plan in 1974 — I did recognise a few grandmothers who were always too fleet of foot for me back in the day!
I have had the opportunity to visit many superb schools across Belfast — all of which thrive under great leadership — but none inspired me more than St Genevieve’s when I visited the school as mayor earlier this year. The dedication of the teachers is matched by the ambition of the pupils and the pride of their parents. Located on one of the most impressive school campuses in all of Belfast, St Genevieve’s is transforming lives through education and opportunity.
And watching the bright and confident recipients of the school awards on Tuesday night reminded me of how far we have journeyed towards peace. Because St Genevieve’s is always connected in my mind with one of the worst days of our grim past: on Good Friday 1972, I watched a gun battle take place throughout the day as British soldiers trapped in St Genevieve’s engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the IRA. That black day ended with the shooting dead in crossfire of Martha Crawford, mother-of-ten and my mother’s best friend.
I dared to mention the past in the presence of these young beacons of hope for the future at St Genevieve’s, only because I wanted to underline our determination never have to go back to those dreary days of death and division. Indeed, the work of peace is now being handed over to the high-achieving pupils of St Genevieve’s as they leave school and set out on their career paths. And from what I witnessed, we could have no more capable custodians of the peace than them. Congrats to Principal Mirella Smith at St Genevieve’s and all the wonderful prizewinners.
On Friday, to mark United Nations International Day of Peace, I was invited by Springboard — a remarkable organisation — to make a Special Inspiration Award to Dame Mary Peters. I was honoured to do so and took the occasion to reveal a few peace process secrets: the moments of reconciliation around the marking of Armistice Day and meeting Queen Elizabeth during my tenure as mayor would not have happened without Mary Peters. An Olympic gold medal-winner, she has scaled the sporting heights but it’s her work as a peacemaker and bridge-builder which seals her place in Belfast’s history. Comhghairdeas, Mary.
Finally, my multi-talented pal Larry Kirwan has just released an album of Political Songs to mark the swan song of Black 47 who are laying down their guitars and uilleann pipes after 20 years on the road. Here’s the cream of the crop: Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’. New Yorker Larry Kirwan — whose biography Green Suede Shoes is an Irish American classic — says these are his political songs but for me they are soul songs. Mo cheol thú, Larry.
“Young people speaking their minds, a’getting so much resistance from behind.”