What happened next?

12th May 2006 at 01:00
This term we're tracking down the latest instalment in some of the significant stories we've told in Friday magazine since 1998. Let us know if you'd like us to publish the latest twist in your tale.

This week: the embattled Belfast primary school.

In June 2001, sectarian violence erupted on the Ardoyne Road in Belfast - and this time it was children who were the targets. Loyalist protesters threw stones, urine-filled balloons and pornography at children on their way to the girls-only Holy Cross primary school, in a campaign that lasted six months.

On March 15 2002, Friday magazine's Wendy Wallace reported on a community traumatised by what had occurred but determined to protect children and their education. The protests had ended, but armoured vehicles were still parked in the road outside the school where tattered Union flags, the trigger for the violence, still fluttered from lampposts. Headteacher Anne Tanney's commitment to reconciliation was unswerving, although cross-community activities with the Protestant primary across the road had been suspended.

Since then there have been hoax bombs left in the grounds of Holy Cross, and a death threat made against a teacher. "It took a bit of time to settle down," says Betty Quinn, headteacher at the school since September 2004 and a teacher there for 13 years before that. The "protests" have remained suspended and normality has slowly been creeping back in.

One of the demands from the protesters was a financial package for the run-down neighbourhood, a Protestant enclave in a nationalist area. And the streets have had a facelift, with new housing, railings and lampposts, from which no flags currently hang. Another demand was that the Catholic Holy Cross pupils and their parents should not walk to school up the Loyalist Ardoyne Road. "Some parents very occasionally might walk up the road with a pushchair," says Miss Quinn. "It's not a case any more of 'I daren't put my foot on the Ardoyne Road'."

Pilgrimages to the school - Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited, and American tourists came in droves - have died down. Pupil numbers at the school - down from 210 five years ago to just 151 now - are beginning to recover, and should be helped by an excellent recent inspection report.

Anne Tanney retired shortly afterwards from 14 years' service. "I became so very tired," she says. "It may have been a reaction to what happened." But Mrs Tanney is still in school a couple of days a week, running activities for parents. Joint projects with neighbouring Wheatfield school, a Protestant primary, have not begun again, although staff have had joint training. Normal relations may not resume for another two years - when all the children who experienced Holy Cross's troubles at first hand will have moved on.

If you would like to update a story, email us at friday@tes.co.uk

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