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The Vandeleur and Belfast co-operatives, and a sermon!

On the 22 and 23 November 1997, Rev. Roy Magee came with a small group of people from Belfast to Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare as part of an exchange visit. The purpose of the visit was to examine the parallels between two nineteenth century co-operative schemes. These were the co-operative society in Belfast, founded in 1829, and the co-operative experiment set up by Vandeleur in West Clare in the early 1830's.

John O'Brien from Limerick gave a summary of the co-operative in Co. Clare. Vandeleur decided to set up the co-operative experiment after his steward was killed in agrarian unrest. He brought new steward, called Craig, from England to set up the scheme. The labourers did not get much better wages than those on other estates, but did get free schooling for their children, stone built houses and some say in the running of the estate. Vandeleur also did very well out of the scheme because he got more rent due to the success of the estate. The experiment ended after three years when Vandeleur lost his money because of gambling debts.

On Sunday, Rev. Magee departed from his prepared sermon to explain why he decided to talk to the loyalist paramilitary groups. He gave his theological reasoning behind his decision. He said that one of the disciples was Simon the Zealot (a "paramilitary" of the time opposed to Roman rule). He also looked at how Jesus reacted to the Samaritan woman at the well. No other Jewish person would have talked to the woman because of her nationality, religion and gender - but Jesus did.

Roy Magee was a Presbyterian minister in Belfast when "the Troubles" started. He was on holiday with his family in Northern Ireland when they heard about the riots in Belfast in August 1969. They decided to cut short their holiday and return to Belfast. When they got there they found Belfast in chaos, and local loyalists patrolling York Street at night carrying walking sticks. Roy Magee persuaded them to go home, and offered to patrol the street himself. He spent several nights walking York Street and adjacent streets. At the end of the night, he would go home to get some sleep before starting work. He says that he was not sure what he could have done if trouble had broken out in the area, since he didn't even have a walking stick for protection. It was from this time that he established links with people who would later join the loyalist paramilitary groups.

He also said how his congregation was affected by "the Troubles". In 1978, four members of the congregation were among those killed in the La Mon atrocity and Roy Magee went to help identify the charred bodies. (Some of the bodies were so badly burned that they had to be identified using jewellery and dental records). He also described how a girl in his congregation was killed. While a group of students were protesting, two IRA snipers slipped into the crowd and opened fire on troops. The Army fired back but killed the girl as she was crossing the street. Roy Magee and his wife later met the 19-year-old soldier who fired the fatal shot.

He said that it is not possible to forget history in Northern Ireland, but he argues that you should not let history rule your future. As he puts it, if you let history rule your future, then your enemy has control of your history and also of your future.

He says that he loves the country he was brought up in, and wants to see peace there. He thinks that events are moving very slowly in a positive direction, but at least they are moving. The fact that about a quarter of the congregation were from the local Roman Catholic community, and that Andy Tyrie was part of the group from Belfast, perhaps indicate that he is right.

See also:
Kilrush Heritage Centre

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