International Day of Peace and OHHS students
The International Day of Peace ("Peace Day") is observed around the world each year on September 21. Established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.
As part of the trip to Ireland and Scotland in the summer of 2018, Mr. Groh and Ms. Schorsch had the opportunity to tour the murals of Belfast in Northern Ireland, with their students, Oak Hills alumni and community member travelers. One of the stops along the way provided the travelers with the opportunity to leave their mark on the Peace Wall in an area that has witnessed substantial violence.
"The Troubles" refers to the conflict, which spanned over three decades, between the Nationalists and Unionists of Northern Ireland. More than 3,500 people were killed in the conflict. Belfast and Derry contain some of the most famous political murals in Europe. The Shankill Row area contains a large number of murals commemorating, communicating and displaying aspects of culture and history. Almost 2,000 murals have been documented since the 1970s. The Belfast Mural Guide estimated that, in Belfast, there were approximately 300 murals on display, with many more in varying degrees of age and decay.
The first Peace Walls, or Peace Lines, were built in 1969, following the outbreak of the 1969 Northern Ireland riots and The Troubles. The purpose of the Peace Wall was to minimize inter-communal violence between Nationalist and Unionist neighborhoods. Originally few in number, and built as temporary structures meant to last only six months, they have multiplied over the years due to their effectiveness in containing the violence. They have become wider, longer and more permanent.
The Peace Wall now stretches over 21 miles and is primarily located in Belfast and has increased in both height and number since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Three-quarters of Belfast's walls are located in the poorer and more disadvantaged areas of Belfast. Sixty-seven percent of deaths during The Troubles occurred within 500 meters of one of these structures.
In 2008, a public discussion began regarding the removal of the Peace Wall. In January 2012, the International Fund for Ireland launched a Peace Wall funding program to support local communities who want to work toward beginning the removal of the walls. For now, people visit the wall as a means of reflection of events related to The Troubles and to leave messages of love, peace and unity on the dividing structure.
Pictured here are students and educators signing the Belfast Peace Wall in June 2018.