Monday 09 April 2018


Northern Ireland school pupil Elena Gourley has been chosen to read at tomorrow’s (Tuesday, April 10) Freedom of the City event for President Clinton and Senator George Mitchell.

The first form pupil at Strathearn will take part in the event’s cultural programme after coming second in a British Council global peace-writing competition. 

Elena was runner-up in in the 11-14 year-old category in the Commonwealth Class Short Story Writing Competition - an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and British Council, which offers children aged 7-14 years, a unique opportunity to celebrate the values of the Commonwealth through creative writing.

Her winning entry, ‘Peace’ was a strange and hypnotic tale about inner peace and the comforts of reading.

Elena will read to nearly one thousand people at the ceremony at Belfast’s Ulster Hall.

Speaking ahead of the opportunity, she said: "It’s a great privilege to be able to attend an event to honour some of those who have been involved in the peace process. I know that it is largely due to their hard work and commitment that people my age have been able to grow up in a peaceful Northern Ireland. 

“When I entered the Commonwealth Class Competition, I never expected that it would lead to this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“From a very young age, I have been able to find peace and comfort in books, and that was the inspiration for my story."

Elena will read her story later again that evening at a civic reception at Belfast City Hall marking the official opening of the British Council’s international Peace and Beyond conference in front of an audience with delegates and peace practitioners from over 26 countries.

Speaking about her success, Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland said:

“We’re delighted that Elena will be able to participate in this momentous occasion at Belfast’s Ulster Hall. The theme of her winning essay eloquently illustrates that the word peace has a very different meaning here in Northern Ireland now compared to 20 years ago - and this can only symbolise how far we’ve come. We wish Elena every success in the future and have no doubt that her creative writing will continue.”

The Commonwealth Class initiative enables schools to take part in online competitions and work on projects with the aim of giving young people a hands-on international learning experience based around the Commonwealth family of countries.

Elena’s winning story, illustrated by Tarsila Kruse, Children’s Book Illustrator, can be seen on the British Council’s Commonwealth Class website:

The Freedom of the City Event will be held on April 10, on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Former US President Bill Clinton and Senator George J. Mitchell will attend a special ceremony to receive the honour of Freedom of the City of Belfast.

British Council’s Peace and Beyond conference will take place from April 10-12 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and will bring an exciting and diverse line-up of speakers to Northern Ireland in a bid to create international dialogue around peacebuilding.

For more information on the Peace and Beyond visit You can follow the conversation on Twitter through #peaceandbeyond or through following @BCouncil_NI.

Notes to Editor

Peace, by Elena Gourley

The Earth held its breath. Silent. Still. Waiting. Curiosity compelled me to peer out through my window. Darkness cloaked the frosted landscape. With gentle grace the moon smiled sleepily down upon the glistening ground beneath her. She danced with the shadows. The glittering sky, shimmering with stars, glowed majestically. All was quiet. All was still.

 It was then that I saw Peace. Half-hidden in the shadows, she stood in silent splendour. She radiated calmness and serenity. Though she drew no attention to herself, I could not help but be drawn by the warmth and comfort of her presence.

 Then, a whisper swept through the night. A warning. Wide-eyed in trepidation I watched the trees begin to shiver. Dark clouds choked the moon. Even the very stars seem to shrink back in fear.

 Suddenly, a white scar shattered the Earth. In a torrent of fury, the wind tore savagely through the trees. Like a ravenous beast, it snarled in rage as it shook the window with mighty hands. Thunder joined in with a furious roar to reach a deafening crescendo. High above, the sky burst. Great tears spilled from the clouds, rolling down their frozen cheeks and splashing upon the ground.

 In my distress, I searched for Peace but I could no longer see her there. I turned from the scene and fled, seeking comfort from my bed. But there was no escape from the anger of the storm. The haunting cry of the wind's lament echoed through throughout the house. The deathly cold crept through the sheets to freeze me to the core. 

 So I picked up a book from my bookcase and opened it.

 And in spite of the chaos that raged around me, I found Peace there; nestled between the pages. She whispered to me through the words penned long ago by the author's hand. Words that calmed me, words that filled with the warm glow of hope and inspiration, words that carried me from the boundaries of my room into lands without limits. Peace comforted me with the scent of the paper that reminded me of happier times. Peace soothed me with the gentle rustle of the pages and as my fingers felt the familiar creases and bends and tears that are found in only the most treasured of books, I rediscovered the forgotten adventures we had shared together. Into the inky depths of the night I read and, as I did, I found myself becoming part of the story.

 And somehow through it all, it seemed as though the wind blew less coldly, and that the night felt less lonely.

 For Peace can be found even in the midst of the storm, if only you look between the pages of a book.


About the British Council

For further information please contact: 

Claire McAuley, Communications Manager, British Council Northern Ireland

T +44 (0) 28 9019 2224 | M +44 07856524504 Twitter: @BCouncil_NI  Facebook:


About the British Council

British Council Northern Ireland creates international opportunities for the people of Northern Ireland and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide. We are a Royal Charter charity, established as the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. Our 7000 staff in over 100 countries work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year through English, arts, education and society programmes.  A quarter of our funding comes from a UK government grant, and we earn the rest from services which customers pay for, education and development contracts we bid for, and from partnerships. For more information, please visit:

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