A Catholic priest at the heart of the Holy Cross school dispute is set to leave the North.

Ardoyne priest Father Aidan Troy hit the headlines during the Holy Cross dispute in 2001 when schoolgirls from a Catholic school were prevented from walking to school by loyalist protesters.

For more than three months, the Catholic schoolgirls and their parents had to walk to school protected by a phalanx of heavily armed police and army. Blast bombs, stones and bottles filled with urine were thrown at the children.

Throughout the protest, Troy had to undergo relentless abuse from protesters and was warned by police on a number of occasions that his life was under threat from Loyalist paramilitaries.

At the height of the protest, Troy welcomed famed U.S. civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks to help walk the little girls to school.

Even after the protest ended, Troy was vocal in condemning dissident Republican punishment attacks on young people in Ardoyne which sparked a rise in teenage suicides.

He was prominent in efforts to stop rioting along the interfaces and is credited as having helped to broker peace talks between Nationalists and Loyalists over contentious Orange Order parades.

Expressing sadness that he was leaving Ardoyne after seven years to take up a teaching post in France, the Co Wicklow-born cleric said, "I'm going to miss the sense of community and closeness even across the divide. It has been an extraordinary place.

"I thought I would leave Ardoyne in a box. I'm really heartbroken, but in my way of life you are moved on after a certain number of years and my superior and his advisors suggested I take this change.

"I thought about it overnight and I remember when I was in Rome for seven years and I was asked to come to Belfast, I thought it was the end of my life. So when I was asked to leave here in conscience I couldn't say no."

Troy said he was thankful that cross-community relations in the area had improved enormously since he first came to Ardoyne.

"This was the quietest summer in the seven years I've been here and I know the amount of hard work which went into that.

"I stood beside people from every side of the divide working towards that and I'm delighted that we achieved a peaceful summer for both communities."