A choir will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Warrington bombing at an international festival dedicated to world peace and harmony.
The renowned Warrington Male Voice Choir (pictured right) will be competing at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in the picturesque North Wales town.
In the years after the bomb outrage in the Cheshire town, which claimed the lives of two children – 12-year-old Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, aged three - and left another 54 badly injured, the choir made numerous trips to sing in Ireland – both north and south of the border – in an attempt to aid the healing process.
Accompanying them on many of those momentous occasions was the choir’s Patron, the iconic peace champion Terry Waite, who is also President of the Llangollen Eisteddfod.
After the IRA bomb ripped through the centre of Warrington on March 20, 1993, the choir, which was established in 1898 and is one of the oldest and most highly acclaimed in England, readily answered the call to become involved in the Concerts for Reconciliation programme.
The choir performed on numerous occasions over the following years, both in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and rapidly became known as the Choir for Peace.
Mr Waite said: “When the Warrington bombing occurred I saw for myself the devastating impact it had upon a community unaccustomed to that level of violence.
“I was invited to become a Patron of the choir and gladly accepted.
“I have never been the sort of person to be content with simply having my name on headed notepaper. If I was to be Patron then I needed to contribute.
“A series of visits to Ireland was arranged by the choir and I accompanied them, taking the opportunity to promote the message of peace through the spoken word whilst the choir did the same through music.
“At the public concerts held right across Northern Ireland and in the Republic, in Roman Catholic Cathedrals and Orange Halls, the same message was delivered.
“People from all the different sections of society attended and found comfort and inspiration from the events.
“Many were deeply impressed that the people of Warrington showed no bitterness. They felt pain and made no secret of that fact but they were determined to turn the experience of acute suffering into something positive.
“Llangollen is a powerful example of how ordinary men and women - for the Eisteddfod is still organised in the main by volunteers - can make a positive difference in this war-torn world.”
Choir secretary Dave Knight, who was himself in the choir’s line-up throughout at the time of the bombing, period, said: “We sang in major venues on either side of the border, such as the National Opera House in Dublin and the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, but we also performed in many smaller venues, including churches of all denominations.
“One of the occasions I remember most was in 1996 when the choir was invited to take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Armagh, Ireland’s ecclesiastical centre.
“We became the first English group to receive such an honour and we enjoyed an unprecedented welcome on the street of Armagh. The choristers were presented with sprigs of shamrock by Cardinal Cahal Daly, Primate of All Ireland, which was a powerfully symbolic gesture.
“The choir also sang at Omagh in Northern Ireland in 1998, not long after the bombing there in which 29 people were killed and 220 were injured.
“That was an unforgettable experience because the streets were still badly damaged as a result of the bomb and we performed a song called Across the Bridge of Hope.
“Whenever and wherever we have sung in Ireland we have been received with open arms by the local people and it has been a phenomenal experience.
“We have always felt it was the right thing to do to hold out the hand of peace and choir members still wear the badge of peace in the lapel of their uniforms.
“To mark the 20thanniversary of the Warrington bombing the choir will be singing in the commemorative service to be held in the town’s Bridge Street –where it actually took place – on Saturday, March 16. On that day we will again sing Across the Bridge of Hope, as we did in Omagh.”
Dave added: “The choir has competed at Llangollen International Eisteddfod on many occasions over the years and in recent years we’ve been runners-up twice and third once in the male voice choir section.
“We are looking forward very much to competing again this year and will sing first in the male voice choir section on the Saturday afternoon and are hoping very much to get through to the Choir of the World competition later that day.
“That is a marvellous competition and features some of the very best choirs from across the globe and we’re hoping we can be amongst them.”
The festival's Musical Director, Eilir Griffiths, is delighted the Warrington Male Voice Choir will be competing again this year.
He said: “The Choir of the World competition is internationally recognised and we want to elevate dance to the same level by giving it a place on the stage on the big night.
“Dance plays a really important part in the Eisteddfod and brings huge colour, spectacle and atmosphere to the event with dancers from all over the world in their different costumes.
“We want it to really light up the weekend and have a real impact not just on the Saturday night but throughout the week and especially the weekend.”
As well as the new dance event there will also be a new Children’s Choir of the World competition; with the winning choirs from the Junior Children’s, Senior Children’s and Children’s Folk Choir competitions competing against each other,
There will also be a Conductors Prize for the most inspiring conductor from these competitions as well as a Music Directors Awardgiven by the festival’s Music Director himself, Eilir Owen Griffiths.
Another first, aimed at solo performers, will be the Voice of the Future competition, open to under-35s and with a whopping £2,000 prize.