“Looking back now, I think that the community living near the school -- we’ll call them the unionist community -- had reached a desperation point, where they felt that nobody really cared, and that there was nobody to defend their rights against their fears,” Troy told CNA.
“Their fears were very, very real: they were afraid that their houses would be attacked and taken over. There was a big shortage of housing. They had very little leadership.”
“Therefore when they ran out of options, they said, ‘The only way we can do this is that the perceived enemy is the nationalist community in Ardoyne, and they are bringing their children up and down to school. If we can disrupt that then we’re going to at least get some attention, and we may be able to do something about it.’ So they blocked the road.”
As the new local pastor, Troy had been appointed chair of the board of governors of Holy Cross Girls’ School. Tensions had flared around the school in June, before his arrival. As pupils prepared to return after the summer vacation, the priest had asked parents what they wanted to do. They told him they wished to bring their children to school via the front gate, and he agreed to lead them.
On the second day, there were more ugly scenes. On the third, protesters threw a blast bomb -- an improvised explosive device -- towards the children and their parents. The children scattered in all directions while Troy held up his arms, urging parents not to panic.
Troy recalled that he was prepared to die rather than abandon the children.
“When I went back to Dublin, people used to say to me: ‘You’re mad. What in the name of God are you doing going up and down that road with those children?’ And they were throwing urine, this and that, and all sorts of terrible things. But you believed that those children were going to grow up and they were either going to know that they were as good as the next or they weren’t,” he said.
He added: “The bishop gave me a terrible tough time. He wanted me to tell the parents to bring them in through the back gate. And I said, ‘Well, if you’re telling me to do that, I’m taking the train back to Dublin tomorrow.’”
Troy feared most that if he backed down, then paramilitary groups would step in.
He said: “No one will ever know, thank God, but some of the paramilitaries might have taken it over and then it would have ended in bloodshed. And that’s what kept me walking, because I said: ‘This can be solved.’”
With the situation deteriorating, Troy realized that the two communities needed to find a communication channel. But reaching out might be regarded as an act of betrayal and, besides, it wasn’t clear who to talk to among the protesters.
Nevertheless, the priest began speaking to unionist leaders.
(Story cotinues below)
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“And then some of the protesters were invited in, and they were terrible meetings. They were so bad, because the animosity, particularly against me as a Catholic priest, was horrendous,” he said.
“We stuck at it, and eventually, I remember handing over my mobile number to them and saying: ‘This is ridiculous. We keep meeting every two weeks. The children are suffering. You’re suffering.’”
The two sides met separately with politicians at Stormont, the Parliament Buildings in Northern Ireland. Slowly, a plan was formulated that would end the protests.
“On Nov. 23, 2001, the local community in Glenbryn had a meeting and by a very narrow majority, I believe, they agreed to suspend the action of blockade,” he said.
It would take two years to iron out the protocols enabling the girls to walk the route to school.
“Bit by bit by bit, it died down,” Troy recalled. “There was the occasional flare-up. Maybe at the beginning of the school year in September there would be a pipe bomb at the school gate. I know it sounds blasé, but that was minor in comparison to what we’d come through.”