Pride and Progress

Pride and Progress

December 5, 2016 Blog 0 Comments

I had the privilege of marking the 20th Aisling Awards ceremony in the Europa Hotel on Thursday by delivering the main address to our audience of 400 leaders from across the city — and further afield.
I was in at the birth of the Aisling Awards in a Falls Road pub in 1997 and have seen its star rise in the years since — just as the community it serves and celebrates has also been on the up.
This is what I said:

“A dhaoine uaisle, pléisiúr atá ann a bheith libh anocht ag an fhichidiú breithlá de Ghradaim na hAislinge. Is iomaí duine anseo anocht atá ag amharc siar ar na blianta  a d’imigh ó bhunaigh muid na gradaim ghlórmhara seo, ach is chun tosaigh a ba mhaith liom bhur n-aird a dhíriú anocht.
It’s a great pleasure to address this 20th birthday bash for the Aisling Awards tonight. Most of us who are of a certain age are looking back and marveling at the distance we have traveled in the blink of an eye since that first awards ceremony on the Falls Road. Reflecting on where we’ve been is gratifying and uplifting but if we believe the peace process is a journey rather than a destination then our firm focus needs to be on the road ahead.
Because that’s really what the Aisling Awards are about: building the peace.
Yes, they are a joyous celebration of sport, community, business, culture and education but at heart we know that the audacious advances we have made in all those areas over two decades were made possible by the peace we enjoy.
It is not a perfect peace but it is a peace of which we should be very proud.
When I look out at this room, I feel that pride in Belfast and recognize it as a unifying power when so many other forces would divide us. 
For pride in our city and our people is the engine of the positive change we desire.
It was a pride which united four Aisling Awards Persons of the Year who have passed on:
Terry Enright who understood that our breathtakingly beautiful backdrop as a city – the Black Mountain – was a birthright which came with the obligation to protect and preserve its splendor.
Inez McCormack who made her life’s work the lifting up of workers whose backbreaking work makes our hospitals and care homes places of care and healing. Mother-of-eleven, Emma Groves who responded to losing her eyes in an act of violence by responding with a saintly life-long commitment to peacemaking.
And Fr Alec Reid who found hope in one of our darkest moments as he knelt in prayer beside two dying soldiers. His prayers were to be rewarded with a peace many thought impossible.
In the pantheon of our Aisling heroes we are privileged to have so many peacemakers.
Naomi LongJohn HumeMartin McGuinness & Ian PaisleyTom Hartley and Mary McAleese are among the exceptional bridge-builders who can’t be in the audience tonight. But we are honoured to have many inspirational  Aisling Persons of the Year return for this gala evening:
The Knox Family of the unforgettable and deeply loved Oscar fame. Oscar has gone but they continue to be cherished by this city.
The gang of four Liam MaskeyJackie RedpathGeraldine McAteer and Sammy Douglas who were honoured together and whose work for economic empowerment goes on relentlessy.
Architect of the festival phenomenon known as Féile an Phobail, Caitríona Ruane.
Alex Maskey who in 2002 as First Citizen changed forever the way Lord Mayors of Belfast serve our great people.
Shane Finnegan and Joe Brolly who raised our understanding of love thy neighbour and giving to a new level.
Geraldine Finucane whose unquenchable  thirst for justice reminds us of how incomplete our peace remains.
Captain Fantastic Anto Finnegan whose grace and generosity in the face of terminal illness is a stunning profile in courage. Anto can’t be with us but those who know him won’t be surprised to hear that yesterday he sent me a note wishing you all well tonight.
For any city to produce one person of the stature of those I have listed above would be considered a mighty achievement. But in Belfast we are turning these superheroes out as if on a production line. 
I wanted to bring you just one message from the heart of government and from the hearts of all those who cherish and treasure the fragile peace we have created.
And that message is that the work has only started. We have conquered some formidable mountains over the past 20 years but the Everest of a truly shared and prosperous future has yet to be scaled.
But conquer that great mountain we shall. Because the great leaders gathered in this room, the cream of our citizery — and the thousands and tens of thousands outside who support your efforts – would have it no other way. Together, we will, as Martin Luther King assured us, reach the mountain top of a truly renewed, revived and resurgent Belfast — and when we reach the summit of a new society, we will ensure there is a seat at the table there for all.”

20 years of the Aisling Awards.

The name of acclaimed Belfast troubadour Bap Kennedy, who passed away in November, was added to the Aisling Roll of Honour at the gala event

About the Author

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is the outgoing Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast and a civic activist in Belfast.