Peacemaker Ian Bothwell opens new centre in Crossmaglen, South Armagh with Crossfire Trust
South Armagh peacemakers Ian and Pauline Bothwell opened a new centre in Crossmaglen yesterday, which they hope will mark a new phase of their work in the area.
The couple have been working in south Armagh since the 1970s from their base in Darkley, under the banner of Crossfire Trust.
Ian, who is originally from Tynan in south Armagh, went to bible college in the 1970s and later felt a vocational calling to south Armagh and Crossmaglen in particular.
Together, the couple and a large team of volunteers and supporters, offer a wide range of services to the community, including sheltered accommodation, help with furniture, clothing and food, as well as counselling.
Yesterday their vision of 20 years to open a base in Crossmaglen came to fruition when they cut the ribbon on their cafe and drop in centre, Something More, in the site of the former post office.
Several dozen supporters from both sides of the community joined them for a celebratory barbecue followed by a hired ice cream van.
The official ribbon cutting ceremony was carried out by Crossmaglen freelance journalist Paul Rooney, who has known Ian for over 40 years.
He told those gathered: “Ian and Pauline have been doing great work in this area for over four decades and after many trials, they now have their own base here.
“It is great to see people working here for the good of all, Protestant, Catholic and dissenter coming together, which has always been my goal in life. There is strength in unity. And there is no such thing as a Protestant or Catholic in heaven - just Christians.”
Pauline Bothwell was impressed by the local support.
“The support has just been amazing, she said. “The level of donations and people dropping in and the atmosphere has been wonderful.”
Ian Bothwell thanked the volunteers from Crossmaglen and residents from Darkley who helped prepare the centre for opening - and for local businesses who donated materials.
“Now we will be able to mingle here and have support groups and discussions around the pot belly stove in a place we can now call home.”
The premises is a rented shop with a large patio to the rear, but he hopes to buy a property in the town with a residential aspect.
“It has always been my dream to put my head on a pillow of a bed in Crossmaglen, to come home to the people here and not to be walking on eggshells about the past,” he said.
His aim is to provide reclining chairs in front of a log fire so that “men who walk the roads early in the morning can come in and hear something good”.
There is a need for deeper conversations about the past, he believes.
“We have been too polite when it comes to making peace. We hint at things but we don’t really talk about the deep things that separate us.
“We need to find the words and sentences to revisit the past - but not get stuck in it - and to find a better place with greater unity, cooperation and goodwill with people who are trapped in recycling the hurt.”
His Christian faith has kept him motivated and comforted for 42 years, he said “and in turn I have been able to comfort others”.
“A few years ago somebody issued a wee death threat to me. But to me this was still the safest place on earth. So I went and sat on the square and had a coffee and was very comfortable. It didn’t put me off, but rather made me ask ‘where were they coming from and what was the problem?’”
His vision is also to share a faith which is not dependent on political events such as Brexit.
“Reconciliation belongs to the God of the cross,” he said. “We need to get it back from the government, because when Europe kicks up a storm we all fall apart. But we shouldn’t. Instead our passion and conviction should come from a good source. A source who says: ‘Come to me all of you, and I will never throw you out - come on in - there is a place in this home for everyone’.”
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