Belfast: Queen Elizabeth visited the set of Game of Thrones in Belfast yesterday. The HBO show has pumped over $100 million into the Northern Irish economy as well as 900 full time jobs and 5,700 part time jobs.
Alas, despite the HBO series success the “Game of Moans” continues in Northern Ireland as the marching season approaches and the annual July 12th Orange Day “festivities” are planned with, no doubt, much complaining from unionist politicians that their heritage is being ignored.
This is the same heritage that was dominant in Northern Ireland since its creation in 1921 and allowed exactly one Catholic into government during its first fifty years.
But unionism has changed, learned to share power, however grudgingly, and Northern Ireland is poised on the cusp of a new era. Whether that era is peaceful and leads to an agreed society or whether it falls far short is still to be decided.
While most of the upcoming marches are peaceful, a handful are not and they cause sectarian tensions to rise in the midst of what looks like a long hot summer.
It is all about symbols, which was never more evident than this week when a flag shop had to remove the Ivory Coast flag from the exhibit because it resembled the Irish tricolor.
I wish the protagonists had tagged along when a group of us with the American Ireland Fund visited a Catholic school in North Belfast to talk about the volunteerism efforts taking place there.
It was a heartening experience. Six young girls, the first generation to come up through the educational system since The Troubles ended, warmed the hearts of all with their outline of what they try to do for the less well off and the mentally challenged.
They also talked about cross-community relations, working with Protestant kids.
Keep in mind this school was in North Belfast, scene of so much sectarian tensions over the years when kids were harassed on their way to school.
Every one of the girls stated they would have no problem being educated together with Protestant kids given that they had mixed and mingled with them on various projects.
What struck me on this brief evidence was despite the flag-waving, the next generation of kids in Northern Ireland has moved on. They are no longer prisoners of violence or history’s clammy death grip.
They were like teenage girls everywhere with big dreams, giddy with their Snapchat and Instagram, but with an extra sense of the need to reach out to the less well off and the people marked as “different” in their society.
The cessation of violence has allowed a space for this to grow. The work of the American Ireland Fund and other entities such as Atlantic Philanthropies have provided a powerful American boost to peacemaking.
I saw the impact in the hopes and dreams of young girls in North Belfast this week.
John FitzPatrick, the new Chairman of the American Ireland Fund, has made support for the peace process a major initiative. I could see why as I gazed upon the faces of the new generation alive with hope
Let us hope the past does not strike back and recapture and destroy the ambitions of this new generation.