How a tragedy shared by a young Protestant and a catholic spawned a camaraderie among  communities in County Antrim – By David Honeyford

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A couple of years ago I told my story of growing up in a Presbyterian Manse, getting married, having our own kids and my son starting to play rugby. Through relationships in the rugby club we brought our team of Under-8’s to play GAA. I told of that journey and how I ended up becoming the Development Officer of Glenavy GAC, with some of the stories around that. If you haven’t read it, here’s the link:

What follows is the next chapter –  what happens when ordinary people step out of their comfort zone, where actions speak louder than words.

Getting to know our neighbours – By David Honeyford

In early January 2019 I was involved in a car accident. That weekend I was to take part in a local Peace 4 initiative to develop understanding between the local GAA community, Loyalist Bands Forum and Orange Order. If I’m completely honest, I wouldn’t have felt fully comfortable being one of the representatives from Glenavy GAC, but a few months earlier at our 75th Anniversary Gala Dinner the club had honoured me with the Club Member of the Year Award, one of the most humbling experiences of my life. This had removed any remote lingering doubts that I was fully accepted and now part of the GAA furniture.

At the end of that first week in January, now with staples in my head and my body hurting from the accident, I wasn’t sure about going but my wife Elaine encouraged me. Life is all about choices, and that change of heart was one of my better ones!

My understanding was that the three organisations were coming together at a hotel. When I arrived, I soon realised how mistaken I was. Our group from Glenavy was joined by St Patrick’s GAC and Carryduff GAC. We were staying in a hotel in Fermanagh, with the Orange Order going to a different hotel and with the Loyalist Bands forum going to another hotel. All on different weekends. You couldn’t have made it up. This was funded by the fourth tranche of EU Peace funding, and here we are talking to ourselves.

Matthew Bradley

We eventually got together for the first time about a month later in Lisburn Island Centre. Initially it was a bit like being at a wedding, before you get to know the other family. Once into the dinner and a few drinks, everyone relaxes and enjoys the craic. This get together was something like that!

During the evening, Scott, a member of Lambeg Orange and Blue, asked if I knew Matthew Bradley from Glenavy. Matthew had made the headlines 2017 in heartbreaking circumstances, when tragically on the 3rd November, as a 24 year old out celebrating his friend’s upcoming wedding, he was mown down by a hit and run car in Liverpool.

Matthew was a young landscape gardener and they’d become good friends at Greenmount College. He played football for Glenavy GAC. His heartbroken parents faithfully worked away in the neighbouring St Clare’s Community Hall. It’s impossible to imagine the pain through which this family and friends have been put.

Tragically, it was at Scott’s stag weekend that Matthew was killed. A life, cut down and destroyed, but a legacy remaining and here we are chatting.

It was an emotional conversation, but the hurt and sense of loss in a way instantly smashed down the barriers between neighbours, who until that point were strangers.

Visiting each other

Over the coming weeks and months, there were fascinating visits to the Orange Museum, and to the Bands Forum in Lisburn to learn of band culture. Even growing up, with my Granny taking me to the parades, this was an education. We were warmly welcomed every time and those where nights of great craic, yet challenged in our thinking but ultimately we all got to know some great people and characters. The final evening was in Glenavy, as we built understanding between different aspects of our culture.

May 16th Stands Out

It was my birthday, and exactly two weeks after I’d been elected to Lisburn Castlereagh City Council. I was always interested in politics, regularly frustrated by local politics. Yet, I hadn’t been frustrated enough to get involved and let my own voice be heard. That had changed since I had made the, what had seemed completely natural step of bringing our Under 8’s rugby team up to learn to play GAA and getting involved in my local club.

Simply, I got involved in politics through wanting to see what had happened between the kids at Lisburn RFC and Glenavy GAC – something that become normal.

So, the Bands and Orange Order members where invited up to Glenavy GAC. Matthew’s parents had prepared a meal for us all at the neighbouring St Clare’s community hall.

A few years prior, Matthew had drawn a garden design for a piece of unused ground to the side of the hall and after his death, his dad Donal had worked to plant it out so everyone in the community could enjoy it. PIt’s a beautifully peaceful garden. Tranquil. A special place, with special memories. The band’s members had asked to visit.

So, the bands and the Orange Order, arrived and had loads of questions about GAA games, Scór and culture – all the questions I myself had a few years earlier. Funnily, they wanted to know about our funding, as did we theirs. In their heads the GAA got all the money, and in ours it was the reverse. We all quickly realised that we had loads in common.

On that warm sunny May evening, we walked the GAA pitch and chatted while our under age players trained. We sat in Matthew’s garden and we chatted. We chatted over a dinner, we mixed up into quiz teams and just had a bit of craic. They embarrassingly sang Happy birthday!

Simply, we all got to know our neighbours. It was great craic. Everyone was a credit to their GAA club, bands and lodges.

Matthew’s legacy had helped bring our divided communities together, to enjoy each other’s company. If this was even just for a moment it took courage from everyone.

Living here, we regularly hear loads of empty words about a ‘shared future’, but hope needs action.

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  1. Cllr David Honeyford
    We disregard what we don’t understand it takes courage to get involved in each other’s culture-sport etc and will pave the way to reconciliation the opposite stance leads to long term division as individuals we all make our choices and will get the country we deserve

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