The Ulster project just wrapped up its tenth annual summer program in McPherson County. For the past month, teens from Northern Ireland were paired up with teens in McPherson County as part of a program that began over 40 years ago as a response to violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
“In the 70s and 80s, the country was in a bit of a war zone,” said Chris Clague, who served this year as one of the project counselors.
Clague continued, “Thankfully now, things have drastically improved through cross-community projects such as the Ulster Project, where people go out of their way to bring Protestant young people and Catholics together at a young age to kind of break down the stereotypes that have been built up in our country.”
Clague went on to explain that, in Northern Ireland, students are still segregated based on their religion, and people in general are very aware of who in their community is Protestant and who is Catholic.
“We have divided schooling systems in Northern Ireland,” Clague explained. “Meaning the Protestants grow up through the Protestant system, and Catholics grow up through the Catholic system.
“So I was probably 16 or 17 years old before I had a positive relationship with a Catholic person,” he continued. “Before then, I knew them as, ‘The Other Side,’ the enemy in all of this, and people who were nasty, and I feared them as well. But through a cross-community project that I’d done through school, I was able to break down those barriers and build up positive friendships with Catholics.”
For many of the Irish teens who participated in the Ulster Project this year, this was their first time to the United States, and for most of them it was their first time to Kansas. In talking with both the American and Irish teens, it was clear that the people they met and the relationships they built were what made the program all worthwhile.
“[Kansas] is great, the people are lovely, so welcoming, very gracious,” Clague enthused. “I, and of course the teens, appreciated the hospitality, allowing us to come in, stay at their homes for a month and feed us, transport us to everywhere that we need to go.
“It’s something that we definitely don’t take for granted.”
Enrollment for the 2017 Ulster Project in McPherson County will open up in the fall.
For more information on the Ulster Project in McPherson County and their counterparts in Northern Ireland, visit their facebook page at www.facebook.com/mcphersonulster .