Last of the WPFG Medals: Table Tennis Photo: © Michael Fisher

Last of the WPFG Medals: Table Tennis Photo: © Michael Fisher

For the competitors at this month’s world police and fire games in Northern Ireland, this was what it was all about: the prospect of a gold, silver or bronze medal. For many though, the joy came in competing against fellow police, emergency or fire and prison service members and the result did not matter. These medals were the last to be presented and were for the table tennis.

Volunteer team rehearse medal presentation Photo: © Michael Fisher

Volunteer team rehearse medal presentation Photo: © Michael Fisher

At each medal ceremony a team of volunteers was ready to help. They appeared at the Odyssey for the first medals in the novice section of the ice hockey on Tuesday 30th July, two days before the official start of the games. Then a team turned up at the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey for the table tennis medals presentations, two on Friday and two yesterday. Newtownabbey Mayor Fraser Agnew and Alastair Ross MLA were the guests on Friday. Yesterday the first ceremony at lunchtime featured the deputy Mayor Dineen Walker and for the last presentation we were joined by the Justice Minister David Ford MLA.

Womens Doubles bronze medallist Garda Louise Long & NI Justice Minister David Ford

Womens Doubles bronze medallist Garda Louise Long & NI Justice Minister David Ford Photo: © Michael Fisher

Although the USA topped the medals table (well they had the most competitors, over 900 of them), Norn Iron in eighth position (120 medals) performed quite well considering the number of participants from the PSNI. NIFRS and Prison Service of NI. Team Ireland did one better, finishing seventh and going home with 137 medals (40 gold 44 silver and 43 bronze). Four of them came in table tennis, thanks to Garda Louise long (a native of Cork, now based at Blackrock in County Dublin) taking bronze in the womens doubles with Susanne Eckholdt from Germany and also in the mixed doubles with a partner from the Fire Department in New York.

Garda Louise Long & Susanne Eckholdt (bronze medallists)

Garda Louise Long & Susanne Eckholdt (bronze medallists) Photo: © Michael Fisher

Northern Ireland had a gold medal success thanks to jay McAllister (NIFRS) who partnered a player from Kazakhstan Vladimir Markin (Almaty FTHS) in the Grand Master doubles final.

Grand Master gold medallists Jay McAllister (NIFRS) & Vladimir Markin, Kazakhstan Photo: Michael Fisher

Grand Master gold medallists Jay McAllister (NIFRS) & Vladimir Markin, Kazakhstan Photo:© Michael Fisher


Removal of Security Gates: Photo Lorcan Doherty

Removal of Security Gates: Photo Lorcan Doherty

Derry’s walls are an integral part of the city and have survived for nearly four centuries. It’s the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. With the progression of the peace process over the past fifteen years, the walls have become a tourist attraction, with guided walks daily. But the heavy metal security gates at sixteen locations  were a reminder of a troubled past. Now eleven of them are being removed.

Speaking during a visit to the walls, the NI Minister For Justice David Ford said he hoped the move would be welcomed by residents, businesses and visitors alike. He said in the year of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture, the walls would play a central role in the festivities and are a must see for any tourist visiting the city.  Derry has a real opportunity to show what the city has to offer.

He welcomed the removal of the gates for residents and tourists alike and described them as a blight on the historic walls.  The walls can now be enjoyed without the imposing structures that point to our past rather than our future, he added. Mr Ford thanked the local community, the PSNI and Derry City Council for their support and cooperation and said his department had invested £28,000 in providing additional CCTV coverage around the walls.

According to BBC Northern Ireland, Mr Ford said he hoped confidence could be built in the community so that people could feel safe and secure without the need for interface structures. “We obviously have to take account of the fact that there are small numbers of people in this city as there are elsewhere in Northern Ireland who are trying to drag us back,” he said, “but what I sense when I visit Derry is a very positive feel of people wanting to see movement forward, of the benefits of the City of Culture, of the Fleadh and all that coming forward and that is engaging with communities across Derry in a very positive way.”

Cannon from 1642 on Derry's Walls

Cannon from 1642 on Derry’s Walls

The mayor of Derry, Councillor Kevin Campbell, said the decision to remove the gates was about normalising the city. “It is about taking down symbols that have been here over thirty years,” he said. “There will still be a number of gates that are there to protect the Fountain, and you would obviously have to keep them there at the moment. But I think we have to be looking in the long term at having all those gates and barriers removed.”

DUP security spokesman Gregory Campbell also welcomed the removal of the gates, but warned against taking out the remainder. “It’s not just people in Londonderry, but tourists and visitors alike don’t like to see the aesthetics, the culture and history of the walls being encumbered by those gates which are a throwback to a previous era thankfully now past and I think everyone will welcome that,” he said.

Bishop's Gate, Derry

Bishop’s Gate, Derry

Five security gates overlooking the loyalist Fountain Estate in the Bishop Street area including one at Bishop’s Gate will remain in place. Restoration work has been continuing along the walls and at several important buildings in the city centre, including the Guildhall and St Columb’s Cathedral. I saw some of these sights during a visit in March and I hope to travel to the city again by train next week to see the difference, now that the security gates are coming down.

Derry's Walls at the Guildhall

Derry’s Walls at the Guildhall


Irish Army Trumpeters

Garden Party

Another historic week in Northern Ireland. Two days after Queen Elizabeth stayed at Hillsborough Castle during her diamond jubilee celebrations, the Defence Forces (Irish Army) No. 1 Band appeared at an official engagement in the North for the first time. Two trumpeters sounded a fanfare as the Lord Lieutenant for Belfast Dame Mary Peters arrived at the front entrance. A location that has been the setting for several important events during the peace process. Under the baton of Lt Colonel Mark Armstrong, Director of the School of Music, the band entertained guests at Hillsborough at a garden party. The event was the climax in a year of celebrations for Belfast Rotary Club, marking its centenary. The band combined at one stage with the Abbey Singers from Newtownabbey in a good example of North/South co-operation. The North’s Justice Minister David Ford was among the guests. He took the opportunity to congratulate the band on their appearance.

Lt Col Mark Armstrong & David Ford

Lt Col Mark Armstrong & David Ford

Over 600 guests attended the charity event, with 75% of the takings going towards Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign and the balance going to local charities. The band played a selection of tunes including marches and they delighted the large attendance. Guests were also able to enjoy a stroll in the Castle grounds as the entertainment took place. Happily the sun shone as the band played. The Rotarians included the current Belfast President Dr Adrian Kerr and the incoming President Alan Rundle, whose father was President fifty years ago. Alan is an optician and I should declare an interest as he is the person I get my glasses from! I passed on the congratulations of Belfast Lions Club on this special occasion. I was also pleased to meet my former neighbour from Ardilea in Dublin, Mark Doyle, who is President of Dublin Rotary Club.

Michael Fisher and Mark Doyle

Like the Lions, both Dublin and Belfast have long-standing ties and the event at Hillsborough has served to strengthen North/South ties.  It was nice to meet several Rotarians from the Republic. The District Governor for Ireland Barney Callaghan is from Limerick and there were also members there from Wexford and Dun Laoghaire.

Michael Fisher and Dr Adrian Kerr