On Friday evening PPI-Northern Ireland hosted over 100 Catholic and Protestant children at Seaview Stadium to play rugby, soccer, and Gaelic football at the Game of Three Halves, the flagship event of the Belfast Interface Games. The Flagship Event is the culmination of the Belfast Interface Games summer camps, which included four camps over a span of two weeks in each part of the city of Belfast – north, south, east and west. Organized in partnership with Ulster Rugby, Ulster GAA, and the Irish FA, the games allows 9 to 13 year olds to participate in the country’s three major sports. During the project launch back in May, Belfast’s Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said: “I applaud everyone involved with this project and congratulate them for their efforts and achievements in bringing our young people together. Sport is a great way to encourage teamwork and help forge friendships which will hopefully last for a lifetime.”
Local sporting stars Nick Williams and Neil McComb from Ulster Rugby, along with Drew Wylie from Ulster GAA Champions Monaghan, were on hand to provide children with encouragement. PPI-NI Board member, Jim Fitzpatrick, manned the microphone and encouraged the ‘travelling support’ of 20 plus parents to cheer on the teams from the stands. PPI Executive Director Brendan Tuohey, who was joined by his daughter Meave, presented awards alongside Gregory S Burton (US Consulate general) and local sporting stars.
The smiling children and cheering parents stood in stark contrast to the chaos outside the stadium, where violence erupted injuring 56 police officers. The disorder broke out in Belfast’s main shopping district, as loyalists blocked the intended parade route of a nationalist march. The sounds of drums and marching bands momentarily overshadowed the excitement of the final between South and East Belfast, as young children marched in front of their elder family members.
Inside the stadium however, the disruption was quickly masked by cheering fans. Children inside the stadium (who were the same age as those marching outside) were crossing religious boundaries and competing as a unified team. A parent commented on their way out , “the Belfast Interface Games tells a tale of another Belfast, one that unfortunately will not grab the headlines, but one which represents all that is good about the city of Belfast.”
This project is supported under the Belfast PEACE III Plan by the European Union’s ‘European Regional Development Fund’ through the PEACE III Programme administered by Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Partnership.