On Thursday 15th June a group of 22 pupils, accompanied by Mrs Bailey, Mr McClenaghan and Mr McIlvenny, jetted off to Belgium for four days to explore the Battlefields of World War One. We flew into sunny Paris and enjoyed a bus tour of the city before a brief stop at the Eiffel Tower for lunch. We then headed on to Ypres – a quaint little Belgian town just over the border, and our home for the next four days.
We set off early on Friday morning back over the border to northern France to explore the Somme Battlefields. We walked through trenches at the Newfoundland Memorial Park, ate lunch at the Ulster Tower and visited the Thiepval Memorial. We spent the day with our guide, Miguel, who told us of battles won and lost in the very fields we found ourselves. On Friday night, we went to the last post ceremony at Menin Gate, a commemoration held every night at 8pm in Ypres to remember those who lost their lives in the war.
Saturday saw us stay locally to explore the battlefields of Ypres and Messines. We began with a visit to the Flanders Field Museum in Ypres before meeting once more with our guide, Miguel, to set off to the battlefields. We were told stories of Irishmen from both the north and south who braved the battlefields of Messines in 1917 and who were recently commemorated with a new memorial unveiled only a few short weeks ago. We were able to visit the Island of Ireland Peace Park on our last evening. This site was opened by Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth in 1998 to remember all those men from the island of Ireland who fought and died in the war. It was a poignant place to visit together on our last evening.
We had a wonderful visit to Bruges on route to the airport on our last day. We were able to enjoy a canal boat ride and visit a Chocolate Factory to sample some of the locally produced Belgian chocolate.
We had an excellent time away in Belgium, thankful that the sun shone on our time there, and thankful for the lessons learnt and memories made.