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Terry Waite: 'Warrington Male Voice Choir has done the town proud'
MUSIC has the power to unite.
But one of the oldest choirs in the country has proved that singing together can do much more than that.
It has been two decades since Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball were killed and 56 were injured by an IRA bomb in Bridge Street.
Following the tragedy, Warrington Male Voice Choir (WMVC) decided to promote peace in Northern Ireland.
Links were forged with peace groups and concerts were held for more than a decade aimed at breaking down divisions.
Humanitarian campaigner Terry Waite said: “I accompanied them on many of their trips to Ireland and one of the great things about it was they were able to work right across the community with Catholic, Protestant and mixed groups.
“Somehow the choir was able to link people from different perspectives through the medium of music.”
Terry, who grew up in Lymm, spoke to Weekend to share his experiences as patron of the choir.
The former Lebanon hostage said the choir’s ‘splendid contribution’ has ‘done Warrington proud’.
WMVC’s first benefit concert at Parr Hall in 1993 raised £11,500 for the victims’ appeal fund.
By 1998 they had brought together 540 Catholic and Protestant children for a joint choir concert at Belfast Waterfront Hall.
Terry, who used to work for grocer Henry Milling’s, added: “Many felt so badly about the damage that had been done, not only to the families of the boys but also the people of Warrington.
“It was a total injustice and many people in Ireland felt that and therefore were doubly gratified that the choir should stretch out a hand to them.”
Terry said he still feels ‘deeply upset’ by what happened in Warrington on March 20, 1993, but thinks the town responded in the right way.
The 74-year-old said: “It was a senseless act of violence and like all these things it’s the innocent who suffer.
“Two young lads out shopping for Mothers’ Day being blown up by a bomb placed in a litter bin.
It’s just dreadful.
“I felt deeply upset by it and still am upset that in this world people can engage in senseless violence and think that they’re going to change the world.
“The worst thing you can do is destroy the lives of children.
That’s a terrible crime and I salute the people of Warrington for the way that they reacted.
“They refused to be bitter, they refused to let this be a dividing point for them and went about working towards reconciliation, the correct and right attitude.”
WMVC’s contribution to that was recognised by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Irish presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese and even former US President Bill Clinton.
Terry, whose sister Diana still lives in Lymm, added: “The choir did everything they could within their power to turn this tragedy into something that was optimistic and hopeful.
“While we shall never forget the harm done and the damage done, especially to the two families, at least we can say it gave people of Warrington renewed energy to work for that which is civilised and right.”
Terry’s most enduring memory of WMVC was their historic concert at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison in 1999 when they became the first British choir to perform in an Irish jail.
“The prisoners were so enthusiastic,” said the former Stockton Heath Secondary Modern School student.
“They were shouting and singing along. It was far better than an old time music hall.”
Terry also returned to Beirut in 2012 – 25 years since he was held hostage in the city.
He endured 1,763 days in captivity after negotiating for the release of hostages in Lebanon.
Terry added: “I went back to see Hezbollah, my former captors, because I believe you have to put the past in the past.
“It’s no good me saying that to other people unless I’m prepared to do it myself.”
He also negotiated for heating oil for Syrian refugees.
“It’s a small thing,” said Terry.
“I’m not suggesting for one moment that my individual action will bring about great political change. But I do believe if thousands of people stretched out a hand then that would make a change. That’s what begun to happen in Ireland.
“People have stretched out a hand across the divide and with the help of a host of other agencies, including the choir, they have begun to make a difference.
“I can understand people being disheartened and life is like that.
But you always have to keep hope alive. That’s what I had to do when I was in captivity.
“I was in a dark room and there were shutters across the window and sometimes in this darkness I’d see a beam of light and it would illuminate the cell and used to say to myself: ‘Remember, light is stronger than darkness’.
“No matter how bad things are, somehow light is stronger than darkness, so hold to the light.”
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