2014-03-14 / Front Page

Trip marks 30th year of Maine Irish program

A group of students from Ireland will spend four weeks in Maine in July
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


For 12 days in late-February, five students from Kennebunk High School traveled to Northern Ireland as part of the Maine Irish Children’s Program. From left, Erin Snow, Mia Noble (front), Gabrielle Brown, Emily Brown and Lucas Deely. The students stayed with families in and around Belfast and explored day-today life as well as the religious divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants. In turn, 10 youth from Northern Ireland will venture to Kennebunk in July to stay with individual families for four weeks. 
(Courtesy photo) For 12 days in late-February, five students from Kennebunk High School traveled to Northern Ireland as part of the Maine Irish Children’s Program. From left, Erin Snow, Mia Noble (front), Gabrielle Brown, Emily Brown and Lucas Deely. The students stayed with families in and around Belfast and explored day-today life as well as the religious divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants. In turn, 10 youth from Northern Ireland will venture to Kennebunk in July to stay with individual families for four weeks. (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNK – In late February select students from Kennebunk High School joined the Maine Irish Children’s Program for a 12-day trip to Northern Ireland. The program was founded in 1984 and is led by volunteers and Northern Ireland youth workers.

This year, teachers Robin Gratiot Vaughan and Mary Beth Brown took five students on the sojourn abroad: Gabrielle Brown, Emily Brown, Erin Snow, Lucas Deely and Mia Noble.


Leaning from Dunluce Castle in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, from left, are Mia Noble, Emily Brown, Erin Snow and Lucas Deely. The four students, along with Gabrielle Brown, spent nearly two weeks abroad in Northern Ireland in February through the Maine Irish Children’s Program. High school teachers Robin Gratiot Vaughan and Mary Beth Brown joined the students. The program was founded in 1984 as a means of granting reprieve to children during bouts of religious tumult. The objective of the program is cross-cultural exposure with the intention of diplomacy and understanding. (Courtesy photo) Leaning from Dunluce Castle in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, from left, are Mia Noble, Emily Brown, Erin Snow and Lucas Deely. The four students, along with Gabrielle Brown, spent nearly two weeks abroad in Northern Ireland in February through the Maine Irish Children’s Program. High school teachers Robin Gratiot Vaughan and Mary Beth Brown joined the students. The program was founded in 1984 as a means of granting reprieve to children during bouts of religious tumult. The objective of the program is cross-cultural exposure with the intention of diplomacy and understanding. (Courtesy photo) Twice a year, through the program, the gap between countries is bridged: students from the high school travel to Northern Ireland in the winter, and in turn, students from Northern Ireland will journey here in the summer for approximately four weeks (usually the month of July).

The purpose of the program, said Gratiot-Vaughan, who has been with the program since the beginning, is diplomacy and understanding.

Historically, Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have been segregated. Today, public areas such as neighborhoods and schools are self-segregated. Even the taxis are segregated, recalled Gabrielle Brown.

“Some taxis will only take you to certain areas of town – Catholic or Protestant,” Brown said. “You just have to know how to recognize them.”

In the 1980s, during the height of political turmoil in the two countries, parents began bringing their children to the United States for a reprieve from the tumult.

“When the program was starting out, parents would bring their kids here to be safe and to get them out of the unrest,” said Mary Beth Brown.

“Kids came here and realized that we do have problems, but not that type of segregation,” said Gratiot-Vaughan. By talking about their differences, “they realized it’s OK to get along with each other.”

“Our generation doesn’t understand political unrest, or that Catholic schools teach one way and Protestant schools teach another way,” Gabrielle Brown said. “The older generation is using teenagers as puppets to stage riots.”

Oftentimes, said Gabrielle Brown, teenagers adopt certain ideologies because it’s what they’ve been inculcated to believe from a young age.

“They just know, for example, ‘My family has always disliked this family,’ but they don’t know why,” Garbrielle Brown said.

While in Northern Ireland, the students from Kennebunk High School explored Belfast and the surrounding countryside. In the city, students explored the organization of the government through visits to city hall and Stormont, where the Parliament of Northern Ireland is located.

“We went there not only to learn about their culture, but to learn about the differences in their culture,” said Gabrielle Brown. “So that when they come here in the summer, we can reconcile those differences.”

For these students, the differences are reconciled through friendship and approachability.

“These visits open up cross-cultural connections and the kids become family,” said Mary Beth Brown.

Ten students are from Northern Ireland are coming to stay for the month of July. Group activities such as visits to the beach, camping trips and volunteer sessions at various places around town are planned.

The program is still in need of six more host families.

“The peace (in both countries) is going to come through the child,” Gratiot Vaughan said. “The bottom line is, if these kids aren’t receiving education on both sides of the issue, they’re not going to know where they stand.”

Said Gabrielle Brown: “You have to learn how to communicate with someone you barely know, and it makes you realize you can get along with pretty much everyone.” Her sister, Emily Brown, agreed: “You really connect with them. It’s definitely worth the experience ... there’s no judgment there. It just works so well.”

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