Victims' group bid to banish Xmas blues

Victims' group bid to banish Xmas blues

'Tis the season of goodwill and a south Armagh victims' group is ensuring that no-one will feel lonely this Christmas. Volunteers at the Crossfire Trust are opening the doors of their headquarters in Darkley to one and all to enjoy the festivities on the big day.

Morning coffee, a traditional Christmas dinner and afternoon mince pies are all on the menu as well as good old fashioned chit-chat around a log fire.

Although the event has been running for a number of years, principal organiser Ian Bothwell from the Crossfire Trust has been heartened by the response, with 25 people already signalling their intention to attend.

"We don't want anyone to be on their own at Christmas and it seems to have touched a chord," he told the News Letter. Describing the annual festive gathering as "low key yet quite special", Mr Bothwell revealed people this year are even coming from as far as Castleblaney across the border.

Stressing the cross-community nature of the day, he said: "People appreciate having the option of being able to choose to do something that they want to do. We have attracted people who normally go to family but want to do something different this year. Some people, who have had bereavement during the year, don't want to do a family dinner. The chair is vacant, they are dealing with grief and they just want to take the pressure out of their situation and do something in the wider community."

Many who attend have lost loved ones as a result of the Troubles in an area of the Province synonymous with the conflict.

Terror was brought to the small rural community in 1983 when republican gunmen stormed a gospel hall on the outskirts of the village, killing three church elders during regular Sunday worship in front of men, women and young children.

Parishoners at the Pentecostal Church are expected to drop in at Darkley House for some morning coffee next week.

Mr Bothwell described this time of year as a "very trying and demanding time" for those who lost relatives in the conflict. "People are going through different levels of emotion - but we want to be a support to them when they need to be supported. To be there is to be cheerful and positive but also to give people the space to reflect on the past."

"It is lovely for the people of Darkley to be able to walk down and visit somewhere on Christmas Day and sometimes kids who've got a new bicycle will ride down to show it off to us," he added.

Ian, who will be hands-on in the kitchen and will have the important job of carving the turkey for his guests before the traditional Queen's speech, says the goodwill gesture has significance for his own family.

"My wife and I decided we wanted to take 'hold' of Christmas and put some meaning behind the season, rather than being caught up in the whole selfishness, shopping and pressure," he said. "We also wanted to impart to our own two children there was more to Christmas than just receiving and there was an opportunity to give of our time and happiness to maybe make the pressure that other people feel a little bit easier. It's a good day in the year to celebrate life and yet it is the one day that a lot of people dread."

The Crossfire Trust can be contacted on 028 3753 1636.

Article published in The News Letter, 14 December 2009