Side By Side project takes flight at Ballymac Centre Launch

Links between Poland and Northern Ireland have been celebrated at a special event today (Saturday, August 20) in east Belfast.

Side by Side, a project revealing these links, particularly during World War Two, received support from the Housing Executive.

The project was launched as part of the official opening of the Ballymac Friendship Centre on the Lower Newtownards Road.

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Poland’s Honorary Consul for Northern Ireland, Jerome Mullen, was in attendance and gave wings to the Side By Side Project with Jennifer Hawthorne, Head of Communities at the Housing Executive.

Organiser Maciek Bator explained; “During World War Two, men from Northern Ireland and Poland fought side-by-side to defeat the Nazis, particularly as part of their respective air forces.

“15 airmen from Poland lie in quiet graveyards around Northern Ireland and their resting places have always been treated with respect.

“Projects like this help illuminate this shared history – to bring it to life and showcase these links to the wider community as a way of educating everyone about the past and creating new partnerships for the future.”

As part of the launch of the Side By Side Project, the Ulster Aviation Society brought along a replica Spitfire and tours of the aircraft took place throughout the day.

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Polish dancers provided a spirited display and London-based singer songwriter Katy Car, who is of Polish extraction, provided a wonderful musical backdrop for the occasion, along with the Shankill Road Defenders Flute Band.

The Ballymac Centre itself has been revamped with help from the Urban Villages Initiative and the Department for Communities, Northern Ireland.

Roz Small, from the Ballymac Friendship Trust said; “We were delighted to have the Side By Side Project here place today as part of the launch of our centre.

“It was incredible to see so many people here, particularly from local families.

“It’s the end of an exciting week for the centre as we had a range of events taking place – thanks to everyone for getting involved!”

BT NEWS - For info:  We were invited to bring our replica Spitfire (?ÄúDown?Äù ?Äì replicating a WW2 Spitfire of the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund) to the ?ÄúSide by Side?Äù community event in East Belfast Saturday afternoon.  The event featured a picnic, bouncy castle, facepainting, live band music, etc. including a chance to sit in the Spitfire cockpit for a photo.  The ?ÄúSide by Side?Äù reference celebrated the heritage connections between the Polish and Northern Irish communities.   Spitfires were based with two Polish squadrons of the Royal Air Force at Ballyhalbert during World War Two.  The Ballymac Centre, a community facility off the lower Newtownards Road, was the site of the event and it was officially opened this afternoon.   A few hardy souls took advantage during a brief break in the downpour Saturday to enjoy a flight of fancy in the ground-bound replica Spitfire of the Ulster Aviation Society.  The aircraft was there at the Ballymac Centre in East Belfast as part of a community event to mark the opening of the centre.  It was also a celebration of connections between Northern Irish and Polish communities.  Many Polish pilots flew from their Northern Ireland base at Ballyhalbert during World War Two.  Image supplied to Newsdesk by Stephen Riley, Ulster Aviation Society, Press Officer 20 Aug 2016

Jennifer Hawthorne from the Housing Executive said; “Initiatives like this go a long way to producing more cohesive communities across Northern Ireland as it gives us a chance to reflect on what we think are new communities here.

“Often, well established links already exist and it’s up to all of us to embrace the ties that bind us as we build stronger communities.”

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