Centenary service focuses on past and future

·2-min read

In the build-up to the service to mark the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland, much of the attention focused on who would not be there.

First, Irish president Michael D Higgins declined his invitation to attend, stating that the event had become politicised.

Then, on the eve of the service, the Queen was forced to pull out after becoming ill.

Covid reduced the attendance further.

The imposing St Patrick’s cathedral in Armagh can seat 500, but social distancing meant that only 150 could attend the Service of Reflection and Hope.

But, as he started the service speaking in both English and Irish, the Dean of Armagh Shane Forster made clear that this would be an event focusing as much on the future as the past 100 years of Northern Ireland’s existence.

Northern Ireland centenary
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) talks to children after a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh (Liam McBurney/PA)

Schoolchildren played a prominent role throughout the service.

A choir of pupils from local schools sang a song called We’re The Future Of Tomorrow.

Then, in a section called Voices Of Hope, three young people delivered readings which sent a message to the politicians in attendance of their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next generation.

Later, school pupils carried a lantern symbolising the light of hope through the cathedral where it was received by the leaders of the main churches in Ireland.

As they addressed the congregation, the church leaders reflected on what had gone before, as well as the future.

Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland John McDowell said: “We obsessed about some things: especially borders.

“One way or another, we’re obsessing about them again, and being distracted from really thinking about what a good society would look like.

“But I am hopeful.

“Hopeful in a new generation who know that the big problems we’ve landed them with, especially climate change and economic inequality, can only be tackled together.

“I think there are already signs that the next generation will see the things that we obsessed about as secondary and place their priorities elsewhere.”

Northern Ireland centenary
Sean Coll and Linda Irvine speaking during a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh (Liam McBurney/PA)

Dr Ivan Patterson, the president of the Irish Council of Churches, said “we need to learn” from the example of young people.

“They are a generation who want to build peace, a generation who respect and care for this planet in solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable here and around the world.”

The service included a prayer in Irish led by Linda Ervine and Sean Coll.

Intercessions were offered by Professor Mary Hannon-Fletcher and Robert Barfoot, both of whom were injured in the Troubles.

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