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Armagh service hears partition 'remains a symbol of cultural, political and religious division'

Neither heads of state of Ireland or the UK were in attendance at the event.

Updated Oct 21st 2021, 12:12 PM

secretary-of-state-for-northern-ireland-brandon-lewis-left-and-prime-minister-boris-johnson-attends-a-service-to-mark-the-centenary-of-northern-ireland-at-st-patricks-cathedral-in-armagh-picture Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

THE ‘SERVICE OF Reflection and Hope’ to mark the centenary of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland took place in Armagh this morning. 

The church service, which was jointly organised by the main Christian churches on the island of Ireland, does not have the heads of state of either Ireland or the UK in attendance. 

President Michael D Higgins previously declined an invitation to the ceremony saying that the title of the event “wasn’t a neutral statement politically”. 

Yesterday, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth would not be embarking on a planned trip to Northern Ireland after she accepted medical advice to rest for a number of days. The event was to be among her engagements during the visit.

Speaking at the beginning of the service, Church of Ireland Dean of Armagh Shane Forster sent his good wishes to the monarch.

“We extend to Her Majesty our prayerful good wishes, and in doing so, acknowledge the significance of her commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation,” he said.

Welcoming the congregation, he said:

Our past has shaped us and scarred us, it has divided us. And, yet, it has also on occasion brought us together. As we lament our failures, sorrows and pain, and recognise our wounded yet living history, may we with a united voice commit ourselves to work together for the common good, in mutual respect and with shared hope for a light-filled, prosperous and peaceful future.

Around 150 people are attending the service, including a number of schoolchildren who spoke about their hopes and dreams for their futures. 

Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin, who grew up in Derry, spoke about the partition of the island and sait it “institutionalised difference and remains a symbol of cultural, political and religious division between our communities”.

“Today I reflect as a church leader on the past 100 years. I have to face the difficult truth that perhaps we in the churches, could have done more to deepen our understanding of each other, and to bring healing and peace to our divided and wounded communities,” he said.

minister-for-foreign-affairs-simon-coveney-attending-a-service-to-mark-the-centenary-of-northern-ireland-at-st-patricks-cathedral-in-armagh-picture-date-thursday-october-21-2021 Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Minister for Foreign Affairs Affairs Simon Coveney and Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers are representing the Irish government at the event. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also in attendance, as is Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan.

The leaders of each of the main Northern Ireland political parties aside from Sinn Féin are present. 

Organisers of the event have described it as “a unique service” that is not in the tradition of any of the denominations represented. 

The sermon was delivered by the president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Dr Sahr Yambasu. Originally from Sierra Leone, he is the first African-born leader of one of Ireland’s main churches.

He said: “Today, we are marking a point in our history. We have come a long way – not just a century but centuries.

During that time, people have cared for one another and made efforts to build community. For this we give thanks. But we have also been blighted by sectarian divisions, terrible injustices, destructive violence and by win-lose political attitudes. And for this, we have cause to lament.

“So, this service provides us with an opportunity to give thanks and, also, lament; to imagine what could be and to choose the way forward that can be mutually beneficial.”

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children-from-local-schools-singing-during-a-service-to-mark-the-centenary-of-northern-ireland-at-st-patricks-cathedral-in-armagh-picture-date-thursday-october-21-2021 Children from local schools singing during the service. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Other church leaders present include: Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Dr David Bruce, President of the Irish Council of Churches Dr Ivan Patterson..

The decision by President Higgins to decline an invitation to the service put an increased focus on the event and the church leaders organising it said they were  “saddened by the polarised public commentary” that surrounded his decision.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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