A local group representing the main Christian churches gathered in Shanvaus, North Leitrim on Saturday, May 20 to hold a simple but very significant prayer service and tree planting ceremony in memory of the late Senator and peace campaigner, Gordon Wilson, who was born in the rural community just outside Manorhamilton in 1927.

The cross-community group gathered to remember Mr. Wilson 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement was delivered, and 30 years since his nomination to Seanad Éireann.

The prayer service, which included members of Mr. Wilson’s family circle and members of the local community, was opened by Rev. Gerry Comiskey, who welcomed all in attendance.

He continued by quoting Mr. Wilson and the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, saying: “I think the words of Gordon are an appropriate way to begin,: ‘I ask myself the question, who is my neighbour, and the answer I get is that my neighbour is not just my Protestant neighbour, nor is it just my Catholic neighbour.

“‘I must include my terrorist neighbour if I believe what I am trying to say.

“‘It is true to say that Jesus Christ died for them too, and they are the children of God, just as I am, and they must repent if they are going to get God’s forgiveness. Just as I must’.

“‘That is why I like these words of John Greenleaf Whittier: ‘Follow with reverent steps the great example of Him whose holy work was ‘doing good’; So shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple, each loving life a psalm of gratitude. Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangour of wild war music o’er the earth shall cease; love shall thread out the baleful fire of anger, and in its ashes plant the tree of peace!’’”

Following Rev. Comiskey’s opening, the service was led by Rev. David Nixon, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Rev. Nixon drew on the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, recognising that these were the hallmarks of Mr. Wilson’s response to the killing of his daughter, Marie, in the 1987 Enniskillen Bombing.

“When Gordon’s name is mentioned, we cannot help but think of his words of mercy and forgiveness when his daughter Marie was murdered in their home town of Enniskillen,” said Rev. Nixon, adding: “His words, built on his faith and attitude, became eternally linked with the horror of the Enniskillen Bomb.

“His forgiveness may even have immediately saved someone from being killed in retaliation, which was all too common at that time.

“But more than that, his forgiveness reminded the world – and especially those of us on this island – that there is another way to deal with evil and any wrong done to us.”

The gathering was also addressed by Rev. Noel Regan, Church of Ireland, and the Cathaoirleach of Leitrim County Council, Councillor Ita Reynolds.

“I think we can all remember where we were on that day when those tragic events began to emerge from Enniskillen. The words of forgiveness by Gordon Wilson were broadcast not just here but around the world, and their powerful and emotional impact inspired those working for peace in our communities,” said Councillor Reynolds, adding: “And it is timely that 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, that Gordon’s contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland is acknowledged by planting this tree in his memory at the place of his birth.”

Bringing the service to a close, Mr. Wilson’s daughter, Julie Anne Hassard, spoke on behalf of the family circle.

She said that she was deeply moved by the gathering in Leitrim to honour her father, and she naturally found it emotional.

Ms. Hassard concluded by expressing her deep gratitude to all those who were involved in the prayer service and tree planting ceremony.

After the service, a reception was held for all those who attended and following that, Mr. Wilson’s family circle were given a tour of the places around Manorhamilton associated with their ancestors, led by Rev. Comiskey, Harold Thompson and Frances Martin.