This was a continuation of a series of events which NIRWN has been holding along with the 'Behind the Masks' programme, a cross border, cross community project based in South Armagh and the border regions and funded under PEACE 111.
At this event the women heard Angela O'Hagan from the Millennium Centre explain how people in her community came together to help secure the funding for the Centre and how Social Economy was key to development of local services. She also highlighted how groups and individuals in rural areas should consider applying to DARD Rural Programme for support to help take their ideas forward as Loughgiel had been able to secure funding to allow them to extend their kitchens and provide new services.
Also at the event Cliodhna Geraghty Project Co-ordinator for the 'Behind the Masks' project explained how the programme was established. It is based on the theory that women, no matter what life throws at them 'put on a face' and get on with it, in other words they hide behind a mask, sometimes afraid to let their masks fall. The women affiliated to the Behind the Masks programme hail from every walk of life and live in the wider South Armagh, South Down and the border regions of North Louth and North Monaghan. The women all lived through and have had varying experiences of the 'Troubles', many lost loved ones, others lived in the border region, where years of unrest and violence pushed apart once close communities. Armagh and Down and their neighbouring counties Louth and Monaghan were severely affected, suffering both social and economic decline. Although living only a few miles apart, as a result of the conflict, communities in these counties were reluctant to engage with each other for decades. Now, this innovative project has brought women together from both sides of the border to share their experiences and move forward collectively.
To provide an insight into the work of women during World War II Isobel Apsley from St John's Ambulance in Larne spoke on how women from all over Northern Ireland, especially the rural areas, supported the Ulster Gift Fund for War Hospitals and Serving Forces. With the lack of supplies and warm clothing women were able to put to good use their skills in crafts and knitting to provide everything from bandages for hospitals to items of warm underwear and socks for the good of all the forces. This initiative called Women's Work and WarTime Comforts helped to save lives and became an essential part of the wartime movement.
To highlight our cultural links Anne Morrison-Smyth from the ULLAN's Society based in Ballymoney spoke on how Ulster Scots and Irish language have similarities and sayings and there is a rich linguistic tradition associated with rural life which lives on in the minds and the words of country dwellers and in the memories of their friends and relatives. She read poems and spoke on the many common sayings we all use in every day life and how they have been handed down through generations and should be celebrated as it is all part of our heritage.
Edna Walmsley Development Officer with NIRWN explained 'Over the past three years we have been building good relations with women's organisations in the rural areas of the border region. Cross-community and cross-border engagement has been extremely beneficial, offering us the chance to build relationships through participating in the events in each area. This sharing of culture and heritage allows us to accept, understand and appreciate each other's differences rather than viewing them as negatives. We are totally committed to our new partnerships and friendships and we will continue to secure reconciliation, tolerance, mutual respect and trust'.