Podium: Ulster is an inspiration to the world

President Clinton Taken from the President's speech to `A Gathering for Peace' in Armagh last week
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The Independent Culture
HILLARY AND I are proud to be in a place that is a spiritual home to Irish people of both religious traditions and to millions of Irish Americans as well. Armagh is a city on a hill in every sense. Your faith and tolerance are making a new era of peace possible. For yourselves and all the world, in every act of genuine reconciliation you renew confidence that decency can triumph over hatred. You have inspired the rest of us to aim a little higher.

I am tempted in this city of saints and cathedrals to call the peace of 1998 a miracle. Nonetheless, I think you would all agree that at least in the normal sense in which we use the word, the peace of Good Friday was not a miracle. You did it yourselves.

It rose from the public's passionate demand to take a different course. It came about from the hard work of leaders like David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, from the leaders of the other parties, from Tony Blair and the Irish Prime Minister as well.It came from honest debate. And again, it came loud and clear from an overwhelming vote of the people for peace.

It is you who have told your leaders that you long for peace as never before. You gave them the confidence to move forward, to give up the past, and speak the language of the future. Armagh has stood for these better aspirations throughout its long history.

Today, the two cathedrals that dominate the landscape stand for the idea that communion is better than destructive competition. Two proud traditions can exist side by side, bringing people closer to God and closer to each other.

Here, there have been difficulties, as elsewhere. But the historic streets of this old town remind us of a fundamental fact about your community: Armagh literally encircles its many traditions in a single community. That is what Northern Ireland must do if you want the future of peace and prosperity that belongs to the children in this crowd tonight.

As you look ahead, to be sure, in this peace process there will be false steps and disappointments. The question is not if the peace will be challenged - you know it will. The question is, how will you respond when it is challenged. You don't have to look too far.

The bomb that tore at the heart of Omagh was a blatant attack on all of Northern Ireland's people who support peace. But it backfired.

Out of the unimaginably horrible agony of Omagh, the people said, it is high time somebody told these people that we are through with hate, through with war, through with destruction. It will not work any more.

When I go now to other troubled places I point to you as proof that peace is not an idle daydream, for your peace is real, and it resonates around the world. It echoes in the ears of people hungry for the end of strife in their own country. Never underestimate the impact you can have on the world.

The great English poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote, "No man is an island. We are all a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Tonight we might even say in this inter-connected island that not even Ireland is fully an island.On this island, Northern Ireland obviously is connected in ways to the Republic, as well as to England, Scotland, and Wales - and, in ways, the Republic of Ireland is connected to them also.

All of you on this island increasingly are connected to Europe and to the rest of the world, as ideas and information and people fly across the globe at record speeds. We are tied ever closer together, and we have obligations now that we cannot shirk, to stand for the cause of human dignity everywhere.

We Americans will do what we can to support the peace - to support economic projects, to support education projects. We know we have an obligation to you because your ancestors were such a source of strength in America's early history. Because their descendants are building America's future today, because of all that, we have not forgotten our debt to Ulster.

Thank you for reminding us of one of life's most important lessons, that it is never too late for a new beginning. You will be tested again and again, but a God of grace has given you a new beginning. Now you must make the most of it, mindful of President Kennedy's adage that here on Earth God's work must truly be our own. Your work is the world's work.

Everywhere, in every corner, there are people who long to believe in our better selves, who want to be able to say for the rest of their lives, in the face of any act of madness born of hatred over religious or racial or ethnic or tribal differences - they want to be able to shake their fists in defiance and say, do not tell me it has to be this way, look at Northern Ireland.