The initiative was launched on May 27,1993. Participants were asked to bring along a small rock or stone (something approximately hand-size) to a site behind the Franciscan Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal in North West Ireland. These were built into a modern day 'cairn' as a permanent monument to peace. The activity symbolises the laying down of primitive weapons, turning them into building blocks of a better future.
The cairn began as a small pile of stones in an open grassy area overlooking a two mile golden beach on the Atlantic coast. Its growth has depended on people who believe in the establishment of peace in Ireland by non-violent means. The hope is that as people add to the cairn in the course of time it will eventually become visible from the beach itself as a constant reminder of people's desire for peace in Ireland and abroad.
Principles of the Cairn:
The intention is to facilitate people who wish to make a personal statement, not to form a new organisation. The initiative is about individuals and everyone is welcome to go privately to the Cairn site at any time and lay a stone to express support for the ideal.
The Cairn is intended to satisfy two distinct, though parallel functions. The physical action of placing an object in memoriam is both simple and familiar. Whenever there is an unusual loss of life we are accustomed to the sight of people placing flowers on the spot, often forming a significant mound. The image is potent but transient; hence the second function.
The cairn remains on the site in a permanent state of change. In its permanence it reminds the visitor to think of peace and consider whether there is anything they can do to help to bring it about. In its constant state of change it is a reminder that 'peace' is not something which comes about and then remains so forever but the first step in an ongoing commitment to maintenance and continuing effort.
The activity symbolises many things on many levels. On one it represents the laying down of primitive weapons - turning them into building blocks of a better future. The following are just a few of the other echoes to be found:-
The ancient cairns were burial places for significant figures of their time...
...the Peace Cairn represents a burial place for enmity and violence. It is simultaneously a memorial to those lost to violence and an aspiration for peace in the future.
Passers-by in ancient time would place a stone on the cairn in tribute to the deceased chieftain...
...visitors to Donegal are be encouraged to bring a rock from home to add to the Cairn. In this way the memorial is an organic thing - growing in time with the enthusiasm of the public.
It has been suggested that some cairns were markers of ancient battles. Before the battle an army would adjourn to a high place. There each would place a stone in a mound. When the battle was over the survivors would return to the hill and each would remove a rock. In this way, a record was kept of the number who had died which was legible even to those who couldn't count...
...while the number of rocks in the cairn does not directly relate to the number who have died through violence it will be a visible record of the number of people who are sufficiently concerned about peace to make a gesture.