Monday, 13 May 2013


May 13, 2013 Embrace difference, heal division, enable reconciliation

        I am once again writing backwards. It is now Monday morning, and Trish and I are on our way back to Halifax. Once again, it’s been an amazing week, filled with deep learnings and spirit filled encounters. What follows is an account of the last three days of our trip, with lots of pictures interspersed.

        After Thursday afternoon’s break, and what Rachel called a “soft” time of reflection Thursday evening, we were ready for another big day. We all were extremely grateful for her sensitivity and care of us as a group, helping us work through our feelings of being overwhelmed by “information overload.” We left early Friday morning on the Corrymeela bus for a day in Belfast. Long time community member and former staff person Peter was our driver. Alistair Kilgour, also long time Corrymeela community member, joined us on the drive to point out places of interest along the way, such as the “lazy beds” in the hills - fields that had once held rotten potatoes in the famine, and have been fallow ever since, but were visible even today.

        Our first stop was at Belfast City Hall, where we had an appointment to see David Robinson, another Corrymeela community member who is with the Good Relations Unit, Belfast City Council, a unit of the city council that is tasked with promoting good relations. David took us into one of the meeting rooms (pictured below) where we spent an hour in conversations. He explained the current flag protests to us.



According to the Good Friday Agreement, all current policies have to be reviewed and screened. Sinn Fein reviewed the policy of flying the Union Jack flag outside of city hall for 365 days of the year, and determined that it was detrimental to do that for the majority of Belfast’s Catholic citizens. They recommended that the flag not be flown at all. The Alliance Party, who hold the balance of power on City Council, came up with a compromise solution to only fly the Union Jack on 18 designated days, a policy that is used in most other cities throughout the Commonwealth. Sinn Fein agreed to the compromise, and the vote was carried. Even though the Equality Commission recommends the policy of flying the flag 18 days, the Democratic Union Party (DUP) reacted strongly against it, and began the protests after the vote was taken, which have led to some violence, loss of tourism dollars, and more anger and mistrust on both sides.

David also stated in his presentation (as Inderjit had the day before) that reconciliation is not an event. It is not something that just happens, or will happen in the future. It is an ongoing process. There is still a big difference in how both sides view the Good Friday Agreement. The nationalists view the agreement as part of a journey (towards a united Ireland), whereas the unionists view the agreement as a settlement.

After our conversation with David, we had a tour of City Hall - quite an amazing building, but as Frank remarked later in the evening, the flag seems like a very small symbol when the whole building is steeped in British and Loyalist memorabilia, portraits of kings and queens everywhere.




 After our tour we jumped on the bus to tour the East Belfast Methodist Mission, (http://ebm.org.uk/,  http://www.skainos.org/),  a mission of the Methodist church for 25 years. Sara Cook, a staff member for 12 years, and Corrymeela member, gave us a “Talk and Tour.” Every member of the group was astounded (more like gob-smacked actually) by this brand new building and the programs it offers to the people of east Belfast, a typically working class area of Belfast, with high rates of poverty and unemployment.

The architecture of the building is inviting, “green”, and most importantly, built for people. There is a cafe (with affordable prices), a quiet chapel-like space, a living wall with greenery all down its side, and an adaptable worship space for the weekly worship service for the faith community. Also, they have 93 people on staff, another figure that astounded us.

There are three different types of housing in the building, including a homeless shelter. One of the really inspiring stories was about the Irish language classes that are now offered almost on a daily basis. They started with 6 interested women and a high school teacher, and the classes have now grown to include almost 100, mostly protestants, who are interested in learning the Irish language. There is also some “cross pollination”, in that some protestants have journeyed to the Catholic areas in West Belfast, and some catholics have come to the EBM – a fact that Sara says would have been unheard of until not that long ago.




After our visit to the EBM, Alistair took us on a tour of the murals of Belfast, both in the Shankill (loyalist/protestant) and Falls Road (nationalist/catholic) areas, and we stopped along the largest peace wall. Since the Good Friday agreement, the number of “peace walls” in Belfast have doubled. David Robinson told us there are 88 barriers in all – a number that surprised our group. We have repeatedly heard this week that until people feel safe in their communities, the peace walls will not come down. Below is Rachel beside the Corrymeela bus, and the quote on the peace wall from the Dalai Llama. The words on the side of the Corrymeela bus, which Inderjit reminded us summed up the work of Corrymeela, are "embrace difference, heal division, enable reconcilation."





Once again, we returned “home” to Corrymeela with heads full of information. In our reflections that evening most people expressed how inspired they were from visiting the East Belfast Mission. Although we were tired from a long day, we began to integrate our information and insights, and were already starting to imagine how to take these new learnings into our own contexts.

Friday night we headed off to “Wee Tom’s”, (actually McCarroll’s) one of the 19 pubs in Ballycastle, a tiny place with a back room that we just about filled. The musicians began to arrive, one by one, sat down at a table, and began to play. When we left at 11 (Peter was picking us up in the van!), there were not only about 8 musicians spread out around several tables, the pub was so jam packed it took us about 10 minutes to walk through ... someone heard one of the locals say “the Canadians are coming through, and they just keep coming!”



Saturday morning was spent in final reflections and furthering the process of integration. It’s safe to say that everyone in the group was not only surprised by the amount of content and information that they have acquired over the five days, but also at the transformation that each participant could feel happening within. Whether it is a new idea about how to approach a difficult situation at home, or a small intuitive “nudging” in a new direction, we each have something to continue to think about as we leave Corrymeela. It was especially meaningful to our group to hear long term volunteer Maria, who has been at Corrymeela since Sept. 1, say that this has been the best group she has worked with since she has been here. Perhaps she says this to all the groups, but she seemed absolutely genuine when she spoke about how much she has learned this week, and how much she has especially appreciated being welcomed into our nightly reflection times. Below is the whole group, with volunteers Maria and Josue, and our facilitator Rachel.




After pictures, gratitudes, gift giving, lunch, and evaluations, we were back on the bus to Farset. Although it was optional, everyone chose to meet at Robinson’s for dinner. Sunday morning we spent an hour doing our own evaluation of the trip from a Tatamagouche Centre perspective, and then folks went their own ways. Some chose to go to worship with the American group that we met earlier in the week at Corrymeela (who were also at Farset), some went to the Titanic Museum. Kathi and I went to Culturlann on the Falls Road for a look around the Irish bookstore and lunch in the cafe, and then on to St. George’s Market.  Once again, all chose to have one last meal together at The Bird Cage, (think chicken in its many forms – kabobs, buttermilk, satay, fingers or “gouchons” as they are called over here –all local and organic, plus an amazing array of salads and side dishes) - a fun and funky restaurant that the students and I found in February.

Although the outward part of our pilgrimage, the trip to Northern Ireland, is over, I know that the inward part continues for each one of us. I offer buckets of gratitude to my fellow pilgrims on this journey – Wilf, Kathryn, Rachel, Trish, Frank, Anne, Nan, Bruce, Kathi, Margaret and Betty ... plus all those we met on the way. It’s been amazing!! Slainte!





Saturday, 11 May 2013


May 11, 2013 Radical Hospitality

        Thursday morning was spent with Rachel processing the incredible volume of information we have accumulated in the previous three days. By Wednesday night, most of us were feeling quite overwhelmed from both the complexity of the content and the emotional intensity of what we had heard. Rachel led us through several activities that led to reflection and conversation, and a deepening understanding of the of the Northern Ireland context, and of ourselves.

We also spent time in conversation with the leader of the Corrymeela
Community, Inderjit Bhogal. Several things stand out from our conversation
... one, he spoke about reconciliation as a process, not as a one time event.
Even though he admitted that many folks who are working actively for peace
and reconciliation are tired, and even discouraged, he said that Corrymeela
needs the encouragement that comes from groups like ours who are
interested in what is happening, and the work of Corrymeela. It is then our
responsibility to tell their story when we get home. It reminded me of when
I was in Gutatemala years ago, and after we heard the stories of their pain,
their struggle and resistance, they told us to tell their stories to folks at
home.

        The twice daily reflection and worship times in the Croi this week have been lively, meaningful, and conversational. These times are usually led by volunteers or community members, and the format is informal. Another group at Corrymeela this week is a group called Volunteers in Mission, so attendance has been high. Yvonne Naylor, a long time community member, has been leading worship in the evenings, and has been able to get everyone singing – even in three parts!

        What started as separate groups in the dining room on Monday has morphed into blended groups of 6 at each table by Thursday morning. That’s the pattern at Corrymeela – volunteers and participants are encouraged to mix themselves up, meet new people, and engage in conversations with folks they haven’t met. Some of my most meaningful encounters at Corrymeela have occurred over mealtimes. We tell our stories, share our experiences, and make new friends.

From the moment I arrived as a mid-term volunteer in June 2011, providing radical hospitality was stressed as one of the most important aspects of participants’ experience at Corrymeela – and our group certainly experienced that in a big way this week. Whether it was in creating a safe space to learn and grow throughout the week, to providing a welcome sign on our arrival ... or making porridge, as Yvonne and Maria did every morning for us, to toast and hot chocolate at night, we felt welcomed.

        Thursday afternoon was free – a much needed break of a few hours. Some went to the Giant’s Causeway, some went for a walk, some took a nap. We came to the evening session refreshed and ready for another reflection session with Rachel, and then prepared for another jam packed day in Belfast on Friday.




Thursday, 9 May 2013


May 9, 2013  My Brain Hurts ...

There is a corner of the dining room set aside for us with many creative materials. Mostly in the evenings before our nightly reflection, we are encouraged to use the materials to express how we are feeling at this point in our journey. This was mine from last night ...




Kind of reminds me of the Monty Python skit “my brain hurts ...” I think that many felt the same way. We had another full day yesterday in Derry. First, we went to the Verbal Arts Centre, an amazing cultural centre and publishing house that supports verbal arts in its many forms – drama, writing, poetry, recording studio, magazine ... and how its work supports peace and reconciliation. We were reminded of reflections we had with Paul the other day about the long history of poets, authors, artists and musicians throughout Irish history, and how they have been supported in their work.

We had an impromptu tour of the Tower Museum in Derry with a wonderful tour guide named Gerry. He began with the oak grove (the ancient word for Derry was oak grove), through the Irish kings and their quest for power of the island, through the Vikings, the Normans, the British monarchs, right up to the present day. It was history animated, and with bits of humour thrown in. We were totally engaged. Slightly overwhelmed, but engaged.

Then we went to the Peace and Reconciliation Group to meet with Michael Doherty and hear about his work. The Dalhousie students and I met with Michael when we were here in February, and our time with him was one of the highlights of the trip. He did not disappoint. Once again, he started off by saying how frustrated he gets when he hears folks referring to Northern Ireland as being in a “post-conflict situation”, and that really the situation is more correctly described as a transformed conflict.

When asked to explain why a parade can be so contentious, Michael offered a metaphor ... “Imagine that you live in a house, on a street, and someone from a community that historically you don’t trust comes by and says ‘we just want you to open your front door, and your back door, and we are all just going to walk through your house playing loud music’ ... how would you feel?” Something that astounded every one of us was the fact that there were 3,962 parades in Northern Ireland. One of our members remarked “I’ve never thought of a parade as a weapon before.”

It’s safe to say that we were all a bit overwhelmed by information overload. Our reflections in the evening focussed around the hard work of peace and reconciliation, and profound gratitude for those who keep at it, like Corrymeela, over the long haul, despite setbacks and a small minority who would want to derail the peace process. Each night after reflection Rachel collects a word from each of us as a poem for the day. Below is today’s, on the theme of pilgrimage, and where we each feel we are on our pilgrimage.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013


May 7, 2013

Who is remembering what? And about Up Standers ...

Another full day which began with a spectacular sunrise and view from my bedroom window (first picture). Mysteriously, Rathlin Island had disappeared in the mist, even though the sun was shining. Our morning was spent in conversation with Colin Craig, former Centre Director, co-creator of the Dialogue for Peaceful Change (http://www.dialogueforpeacefulchange.net/), which has been used to train over 900 folks around the world in conflict mediation, an a program which runs often at Tatamagouche Centre. Since then, Colin founded the organizations TIDES (http://www.tidestraining.org/) and Framework for Sustainable Change.

With Colin we got a history lesson, social analysis, and storytelling about Corrymeela and Northern Ireland all rolled into one. He started with the “Decade of Centenaries”, a decade that remembers some watershed moments in Ireland’s history from 1912-1922. He said that there is a concerted effort to ask the question “how do we do ethical remembering?” and “who’s remembering what?”, stressing that all too often folks are only interested in celebrating one part of the story. For example, when the story of the Irish participation (both unionists and nationalists) in World War I is told with facts instead of from just one perspective, it leads to greater understanding for both sides.

In the afternoon, Sean Pettis, program staff for the Corrymeela program Facing Our History, Shaping Our Future, came to talk about his work with teachers, student teachers and students. The model combines history with citizenship education. Using the history of the holocaust, students look at events leading up to the holocaust in Nazi Germany and explore what questions that raises. He explained that one of the main goals is to explore the fact that people have difficult choices to make, and to examine why they make those choices. Sean explained that there are basically five types of people in a case of injustice – the victims, the perpetrators, the up standers, the bystanders, and the rescuers.

We were privileged to watch a film just produced by Sean called Up Standing, Stories of Courage from Northern Ireland. The materials produced for schools will include a video, a book with many stories of “upstanders”, and an educational guide. The film documents 10 stories of ordinary people who stood up to “do the right thing” during the time of the Troubles. All of these stories were of “ordinary” folks who stood up against bullies, systemic violence, and paramilitaries, often at great cost to themselves and their families. But they were stories of inspiration and courage, and they moved us all.

Our days at Corrymeela are also filled with meeting many others – in the hallways, in the lounges, at worship, breaks, and at meal times. There is another group of folks from upstate New York visiting Corrymeela for the first time this week. They have done mission work with a church in one of the interface areas in Belfast for nine years, raising money to help them repair an aging church into a centre for the community. There is also a boisterous youth group staying up at the Davey Village.

Below is the view from my bedroom window this morning looking towards the Giant’s Causeway. The next picture is Rachel and Colin Craig, Kathryn Anderson and Wilf Bean in conversation. Next is Paul (Centre Director) in conversation with Margaret at dinner. The next picture is Betty, Wilf, Anne and Frank in conversation with Inderjit Bhogal, the leader of the Corrymeela Community. And in the final picture, long term volunteer Josue from El Salvador entertains us during our “supper” of hot chocolate and toast.








Monday, 6 May 2013


May 6, 2013

Third Things

The Pilgrimage to Corrymeela has three objectives – to increase our awareness of peacemaking in a faith-based Christian context; to learn the history and practice of the Corrymeela community in the context of Northern Ireland and around the world; and to consider how we might live out our learnings back in our home context.

It was a keen and excited group that climbed onto the bus, which arrived 20 minutes early, this morning. After about an hour and fifteen minutes of watching the rolling green hills filled with sheep and baby lambs, we arrived at Corrymeela. Rachel Craig, the person assigned to be our accompanier on our Corrymeela journey, greeted everyone personally as they stepped off the bus. Rachel is a community member, former staff person at Corrymeela, and married to Colin Craig, a former Centre Director. Rachel and Colin have both visited Tatamagouche Centre to facilitate programs.

After getting settled into our rooms and experiencing our first meal in the dining room, we spent the afternoon with Paul Hutchinson – poet, artist, musician, conflict mediator, therapist, and the Corrymeela Centre director. Through a mixture of personal storytelling, poetry, and conversation, Paul helped us understand some of the complexities of the conflict in Northern Ireland. It was engaging, informational, and inspiring. What I began to understand during our nightly reflection is that Paul’s presentation was particularly meaningful to me because of the way that he did it.

Rather than just a straight “talk” about Corrymeela, he invited us into conversation through a variety of “third things”, as Parker Palmer would call them – poems, a song called “Listen” by Christy Moore, some personal stories, some yarn pulled taut to demonstrate a line, polarized views, and tension.  Each one built on the other, and each one opened up a place inside of me for new ideas, understandings and reflection. For me personally, it was a joy to experience his passion and creativity as a teaching methodology, and reminded me (at a time when I need to be reminded ....) what can happen when one does what one truly loves to do.

After dinner, Rachel led us through an activity using creative materials to help us reflect on the day, and ourselves. As usual at Corrymeela, we ended the day with worship in the Croi and then hot chocolate and toast in the lounge. It was a long, full day, but one of energy and awe. To be once again in this beautiful setting, connecting with old friends and new, is something for which I am extremely grateful. I pinch myself that I have been given this opportunity for more learning and another experience in this amazing place.




Sunday, 5 May 2013


May 5, 2013

Pilgrim or tourist?

Although our trip has been advertised for over 18 months as a “Pilgrimage to Corrymeela”, its leadership (Kathryn Anderson, Wilf Bean, and I) hadn’t given the idea of pilgrimage too much “official” thought until Nan, one of our participants, said at the orientation meeting that for her, the idea of pilgrimage was what first attracted her to the trip. She nudged the group to think about the idea of pilgrimage, and how we might explore the idea of pilgrimage as we prepared for our trip, and during our time together. In what ways might this short 8 day trip be a pilgrimage?
It was an animated and joyful group that gathered in person for the first time at 4 pm today. We had already participated in an introductory conference call in February, and 10 of us had met when we gathered in person for orientation and team building for a day in March at Tatamagouche Centre. Our 11th member, Kathi from Ontario, bravely joined us on Skype for part of that time. But today was the first time we were all together, in person. After sharing the stories of our busy lives and our travel, Wilf shared a reading on pilgrimage that invited us to think more deeply about our personal journeys.
The reading, from http://onpilgrimage.com/id2.html, says:
“Our working definition of pilgrimage is a transformative journey to a sacred centre. That’s what makes being a pilgrim different from being a tourist. For a tourist travel is an end in itself. For a pilgrim, travel is a means to an end. Pilgrims travel with a clear intention, to draw closer to God. They make their journey with a heightened expectation ... Our travel to historical and scenic sites is the outward part, our drawing closer to God is the inward part. ... And thus we expect to return transformed or changed or converted from the person we were when we began our journey. We will not return the same as we were when we left. ... Pilgrims ... will experience life differently upon returning.”
Today, these 11 pilgrims began their journey together – three arrived into Belfast from Canada today, two yesterday, two earlier in the week. Four arrived yesterday into Dublin, spent the day in Dublin, and traveled to Belfast today. Included in this group is the granddaughter of one of the participants who traveled with her grandmother, and is traveling around Ireland on her own this week and then they will meet up again when our trip is over. It’s a diverse group – many have never met before two months ago. But already we have discovered that we have common questions, and are eager to learn from our hosts, and from each other. And, it looks like we know how to tell our own stories, have fun together, and enjoy each others' company.
Below is the group as we gathered at Robinson’s for dinner tonight ... from left, Frank Sommerville, Anne Sommerville, Wilf Bean, Kathryn Anderson, Kailey (Betty’s granddaughter), Betty Curry, Kathi Phillips, Margaret Greene, Trish Betts, Nan Corrigan, and Bruce Corrigan. Tomorrow – Corrymeela!!




Saturday, 4 May 2013


May 4, 2013

Back again: Frank Martin, Sister Fidelma and me

Today is the first Saturday in May. Five years ago, on the first Saturday in May, my father in law, Frank Martin, died. I am thinking of him today as I arrive in Belfast for the fourth time in two years. With everything that I have experienced and learned about Ireland these past two years, I often wonder what Frank would have made of my adventures. And here I am, arriving again to co-lead a group of people in an exploration of the peace and reconciliation process as it is lived out at the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. The trip is a program out of Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia, who has a long history with the Corrymeela Centre.
Frank Martin was raised by his Irish speaking grandmother in Halifax when his mother, widowed with three young sons, had to work outside the home to support the family. He finally made it to Ireland once, a number of years back when he went on a tour hosted by Tommy Makem. It was a lifelong dream of his, and the highlight was when he found his great- grandmother’s birth certificate in the parish records in the village of Lisdorgan.
        Frank also introduced me to Sister Fidelma. Sister Fidelma is the heroine of a series of mystery novels and short stories written by Peter Tremayne. Set in 7th Century Ireland, Fidelma is all at the same time a lawyer, or dalaigh, who administers the ancient laws of Ireland, a member of a Celtic religious order, and sister to the High King. She is very often seconded to travel around the country, and sometimes beyond, to solve murders, usually in the company of her partner and eventual husband, Brother Eadulf, a Saxon.
I have learned a lot about Ireland from reading the Sister Fidelma mysteries. The stories interweave historical information and political intrigue, issues of class and hierarchy, and offer insights into the struggles between the Celtic and Roman church at the time. After reading several books a few years back, I was hopelessly hooked on Sister Fidelma.
        There are twenty three Sister Fidelma novels, and I was delighted to see that there have been a few more written since I read the last one in 2011.  I downloaded one onto my kindle this week. I’ve also discovered that there is an International Sister Fidelma Society, (http://www.sisterfidelma.com), with all kinds of fun facts, discussion groups, and information about the locations of some of the books. I imagine them all getting together, like at Star Trek conventions, in period costume, wild flowing red hair and long capes.
        Sometimes I even imagine myself as Sister Fidelma ... riding around the countryside on horseback with long red hair and enormous cape flying behind me, fighting for justice, challenging the hierarchy of the church in all its silliness. Very wise and insightful, yet sometimes hotheaded and quick to anger.  Uncovering the truth slowly and methodically.
        Well, that’s the world I will escape to in all my spare time this week, which won’t be much. This Peace and Reconciliation Pilgrimage to Corrymeela will be jam packed for seven days beginning tomorrow at 4 pm when the rest of the group arrives. Nine others will join Trish Betts and I, who traveled together last night and arrived at Farset this afternoon. They know me here now ... I am greeted with a “Hi Martha” when I walk in the door.
        I’m sad that I never got to talk to Frank about my Irish adventures, and to listen more closely to the many stories he told. But I am grateful that I think of him every time I come to this beautiful land, and every time I read a new Sister Fidelma mystery.
        Below you will see two church ladies getting ready to enjoy a pint at the Voodoo pub near City Centre tonight. Enough said. Even Sister Fidelma enjoyed a draught of ale or some mulled wine now and then.




Sunday, 3 March 2013

Farset, and home


Day 9 and 10
          Saturday was actually a day off for folks – they were free to choose whatever they wanted to do. Caitlyn, understandably, wanted to spend more time with her relatives. The rest of the group chose to take a bus to Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, where some would choose to do a long hike, others would walk the beach and spend time in a local cafe. Most came back to Belfast mid-afternoon and either came back to Farset for a rest, others still kept going and took in another museum.
          Ruth at Farset was already cooking for a crowd of 45 youth, and offered to give us dinner (chicken curry, rice, lasagna, roast potatoes, salad) for 6 pounds. Who could turn down an offer like that? It was a wonderful meal, and an opportunity to gather casually in the Farset dining room. Farset is quite an amazing place ... a combination between a motel and a hostel. Every Sunday night there is an evangelical Christian church service, with much fervour and loud music. This morning during our reflection and evaluation session in the dining room, there was a large Buddhist group chanting in the room. All weekend long there were about 45 youth from a local church youth group with their leaders on a weekend retreat. During the week, there are high powered business meetings and community groups. It’s an amazing place to just sit in the middle of the small bistro and people watch. (plus, it’s the only place where you can be assured internet access!)
          As I write this Finton Ryan comes by to ask if I’ve enjoyed my stay. I saw him all last week but we hadn’t talked other than to greet each other in the halls. He’s a young man from Dublin who comes up every Sunday night for a week of training with an organization called Springboard. Six Catholics, six Protestants, getting skills in business management, communications, peace and reconciliation. He wants to be a youth worker, and work with youth around the world.
          It’s been our home for 8 nights, and we have come to feel quite at home here. Whether we are bantering with Ruth or asking Lynn or Joe on the desk to call us a cab, we have been made to feel welcome. Below are two pictures of the group with Ruth. Today, after our evaluation, we went to St. George’s Market for lunch, then split up into the museum group and the shopping group. We met for dinner, (at the Alley Cat, below) and as I write this folks are finishing their packing for our early flight to London, then Halifax tomorrow.
          It’s been an amazing journey – and I know we will be continuing to process all that we have experienced for a long time to come. Trish came to say goodbye to us tonight, and said “I hope to see some of you next year.” I hope so too.




Two Tapas


Day 7 and 8
          After a successful day at Boys Model on Thursday, we had a scheduled appointment to visit a group in East Belfast, a Unionist area, at the Andy Tyrie Interpretive Centre. The Centre is a group associated with Charter for Northern Ireland (http://www.charterni.com) whom we visited last year and wanted to connect with again this year. We were invited to meet folks at the Centre to talk about the peace process from the perspective of the UDA, the Ulster Defense Association. We were met by William (Billy) Rowan, Jackie McBurney, and Bobby Oshcroft, all volunteers, and two of them former UDA prisoners (pictured with the group, below).
          It’s impossible to encapsulate the two hours that we spent with these three men, who told their stories passionately and in great detail. The Interpretive Centre is filled with newsclippings, artifacts from prison days, weapons, and flags. Of course, we talked about the current flag protests and their understanding of what was happening. As they walked us around the centre, several of us made the connection to what Michael had said in Derry about the importance of people being able to tell their stories, and to feel that they have been heard. All three are dedicated to the peace process, and admit to mistakes they have made individually, and collectively as the UDA. Jackie is currently studying Peace and Reconciliation, and all are commited to the peace process. One thing that amazed us was when they said that Sinn Fein was teaching them how to document their stories, and how to organize politically, because they are years ahead of them in both of those areas.
          On Friday afternoon after the school sessions, we visited Tar Anall, the republican organization that works with ex prisoners and their families. Last year we met with Pat Sheehan, Sinn Fein MLA and former hunger striker, but because he was on his way to Palestine and unable to meet with us, we met with Eibhlin Glenholmes. The SMU group met with Eibhlin last week and Bridget said it was a wonderful session. For some of Eibhlin’s story, try http://eamonnmallie.com/2012/06/eibhlin-glenholmes-her-story-of-war-and-peace-brian-rowan-reports.
          It’s safe to say that the two hours we spent with Eibhlin was riveting. Her story over the past 40 years brought herself, and many of us, to tears. She apologized at the end for taking so long, but none of us seemed to mind. Presenting a very different interpretation of the flag protests, it was clear that she too was commited to the peace process. The complexities of the issues became very real to us through hearing these two personalized stories.
          On Thursday night Trish from Bernardo’s took us out to dinner. We went to a wonderful Spanish tapas restaurant called The Two Taps, and had an amazing meal together. Tapas are appetizers ... the prelude to the meal. However, folks often make meals of many different tapas, which is exactly what we did. We had many different dishes, meat, vegetarian, fish, potatoes ... As I reflect on our visits to East Belfast and Tar Anall, presenting very different histories and very different points of view, I thought perhaps they were like tapas – they certainly left us wanting more, hungering for a deeper understanding to the complex history of this country.



Saturday, 2 March 2013

Giants and small boys


Day 6 & 7
Wednesday was an emotionally challenging day for me. It started well enough, with a worship led by Alana, Caitlyn and I in the Croi. At the request of volunteer Martha from Maine, who was at Corrymeela for several weeks when I was there in the summer of 2011, and who is now the Director’s assistant, we agreed to lead the morning reflection time. It was a nice, gentle opening to the day, and left me with warm memories of the privilege of being able to have that gift on a daily basis.
We then headed off for a quick trip to the Giant’s Causeway in the Corrymeela bus, with Peter driving. Further down in this blog you can find the origins of the Causeway, and the legend of Finn McCool. “What do you mean legend?” said Peter when I asked Steph to explain the story ... “What do you mean story?” said Peter ... “ok” I said, “the history of Finn McCool.” As I said earlier in this blog, you don’t get too far in Northern Ireland, and Corrymeela, without knowing about Finn McCool, the giant who “built” the Causeway. Although we didn’t have a lot of time, the group got to the bottom to see the rocks and I was able to poke around the new, very impressive Interpretation Centre of this World Heritage Site. And yes, I shopped in the gift shop.
Back at Corrymeela we had an evaluation and then lunch, and we were on our way back to Belfast. During these past three days, I have been truly moved by the number of staff who seemed genuinely happy to see me, and interested in the group and what we were doing. I had several deep conversations with folks who will help me continue to shape this program. As we climbed on the bus, Paul advised “keep writing the blog, and remember Derek from Brazil.” I left Corrymeela for the second time, again richly blessed by my experience.
Peter drove back to Belfast along the Antrim Coast road, which took a bit longer, but is much more picturesque. He was lively and informational all along the journey – full of facts and anecdotes about everything from who owned the small castle on the side of the road, to the salmon that are helicoptered to the salmon farm in the bay.
When we arrived back at Farset, the mood immediately changed. We were all anxious about going into Boys Model School in the morning. Boys Model is a huge, protestant boys school. We found out several weeks ago that Trish from Bernardo’s had placed us there for the last two days of the week, working with boys at the youngest end of the high school spectrum, the year 8s ... aged 11 and 12. It was unclear to us what exactly was expected, and what the topics were that the teachers hoped to have covered. All around, it was just making everyone a little jumpy and worried. We were supposed to meet Trish late afternoon, but because of work commitments we weren’t able to meet with her until about 7. She reassured the group that whatever was planned was going to be great, but the group wasn’t so sure. After Trish left, they split into their two teams for several hours to finalize their sessions. I realized that as much as I wanted to control things, to swoop in and make a plan, I had to just let go and trust the group. I had to let go. It’s hard when you think you have the answers ... which as it turns out, I probably didn’t.
Thursday morning, a very tense group met Craig Carlisle, the teacher who arranged our visit, who picked us up in a mini bus to travel to the school. The bus was noticeably silent on the trip over. It was explained that over the next two days the group would facilitate sessions with about 150 boys aged 11-12, in classes of about 30, so each group of 4 would have about 15 pupils each session. And the first group was the special needs group with all boys in that group having some form of learning disability, ADD, or autism. “I’m glad I didn’t know that last night!” said Ariane.
I was an observer, alternating between groups. After 10 minutes, I knew all would be well. Each of the young women have much experience leading camps and working with children, and in working with teams. We had worked on the guiding principles of the sessions weeks ago, which were that they were to be conversational rather than content-oriented, and in order to facilitate that, they would try to break into smaller groups as much as they could. In between the conversations, they would insert fun and silly ice breakers and games to keep the boys’ attention. 
The teachers made a point to tell the Dal group at the end of the session how amazed they were that the boys stayed attentive for the whole session. Both groups of leaders had amazing conversations with the boys over the course of the two days. My observation of both groups over the two days was that there was deep listening going on, between leaders and students, and even between the students. Needless to say, Craig mentioned to me on Friday morning that the bus was much more animated on the trip over. Below is Craig with the Dal students, several pictures of the small group discussions, one group singing "Waddle-ee-atchy", one group pretending to be sizzling Canadian bacon, and one of the group drawings. A wonderful success all around!








Stroke City


Day 5
          Tuesday morning at 10 am we were on the bus to Derry ... a trip of about one hour and fifteen minutes.  I got used to calling the city “Derry” because that’s mostly how it’s referred to at Corrymeela, but of course it’s also known as Londonderry ... depending on whether one is loyalist, or nationalist. Our guide at the Peace and Reconciliation Group said some call it “stroke” city, because officially it’s Derry/Londonderry, or even L/Derry.
          Although she couldn’t be with us for the trip, Yvonne from Corrymeela had set up meetings with folks at the Peace and Reconciliation Group. Even though we arrived a bit earlier than our scheduled visit, we were welcomed in by Michael Doherty, Director, and before too long given coffee, and tea and snacks.
          Michael told us the story of the organization, born out of a women’s peace organization in Belfast in 1976. Quoting from some of their materials, The Peace and Reconcilation Group (PRG) was established “to address practical ways to work toards understanding and reconciliation in the context of the conflict of Northern Ireland. Throughout its history it has used a variety of diverse programmes to allow people to build bridges among communities that have been polarised by the historical and political events that have occurred in Northern Ireland.”
          Michael spoke passionately and candidly about the work in which he has been involved for many years. He said that he disagreed with folks who state that Northern Ireland is in a “post conflict situation”, and that in fact “we are in a conflict that has been transformed, and is more subtle.” The PRG’s work involves projects and programmes aimed at young people, children and families, and ex-combatants. It is also a leading training organization in the North West region of Northern Ireland in the areas of mediation and peace building.
          Our group was impressed with Michael’s ability to present several points of view, while still being clear about stating his own biases and feelings. He was a wonderfully engaging speaker, and afterwards took us on a walking tour of the walls of Derry, pointing of places of interest, the murals of the Bogside (site of the Bloody Sunday massacre), and historical facts along the way.
          After our walking tour, Yvonne had arranged for us to meet with Maureen Hetherington, Director of The Junction, a community relations resource and peace building centre also located in Derry/Londerry (http://www.thejunction-ni.org). Maureen explained that for many years people working in the area of peaace building didn't know what the other was doing. The Junction creates opportunities for folks to see each other as practitioners who could help each other, and could "re-humanize" a perceived enemy. People can get take part in an accredited training program around storytelling and forgiveness which leads to understanding and healing.
          Maureen also talked specifically about the Ethical and Shared Remembering Project, which is about the societal story we tell ourselves about our past. Using the decade 1912-1922 as a prism, the project helps folks explore significant events in their entirety and begin to understand the complexities of the past, learn from the mistakes and make choices for a better future. Maureen has done work in both the U.S. and Canada, and was interested in conversations and connections about work being done within and among aboriginal communities in North America.
          It was a very full day, and there was quiet on the bus during the return to Corrymeela – much processing and  reflection about the dedication and hard work of those who work at peace building in these times. Below are pictures from Sam's camera: a picture of the Bogside, with the dove peace mural; a picture of Michael on our tour, a picture of Emma, Alana, Caitlyn, and Michael, and a picture of the group with Steph and Matthew just before the Peace Bridge.







Gratitude


Day 9
          In the interest of transparency, I will say that it is now Saturday, March 2 ... except for an official evaluation and reflection tomorrow morning, the program part of the trip is over. I am enjoying a relaxing morning at Farset (more on Farset later ...) getting caught up on the blog, doing laundry, and enjoying some down time while the rest of the group has gone on a day trip to Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. I did this trip last year with Sarah, and it was a wonderful way to end the week, but today I felt the need for some time to myself. Later today I will wander to the City Centre for lunch, perhaps at Madden’s, a pub with my dad’s family’s namesake and one I have been meaning to visit for some time. We'll all meet back at Farset tonight for dinner.
          I am exhausted – both physically and emotionally.  This week has gone beyond even my own dreams and expectations. There have been bumps and challenges for sure, but in the end, it’s been an amazing experience. For me, it’s the culmination of three years of thinking and planning, and five months of intensive working with a team of 8 incredibly amazing young women who have taught me so much, and who I know will do great things in the future. 

So, now I will work backwards to tell the story of the last few days. Below is the group doing an art reflection Tuesday evening with Steph and Matthew.


Monday, 25 February 2013

The Team


Day 4
          It has been so much fun to watch these eight young women sink into deeper relationships with each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group that gets along so well and enjoys each other’s company so much. Yesterday we met at Benedict’s after their hike, and the energy and laughter present as they shared stories about their morning was truly infectious. After a huge “carvery” meal, we headed back to Farset for a bit of a rest and a three hour long meeting to check in, do some intentional reflection on what we have experienced so far, and make some plans for the week ahead. Then, there was even a bit of energy left to watch a movie together in the dining room.
          The Corrymeela Bus arrived right on time at 9:30 this morning, and before I knew it we were here, greeted by old friends (Richard, Yvonne, Martha, Paul, Kelsey, Mark, Desi, Shane, William ...) and new (Steph, Matthew, Tiff, and many we haven’t officially met yet). It felt slightly surreal to be back, as if no time had passed at all. The first thing Paul, the Centre Director told me was an unbelievable story – that they had recently interviewed a potential long term volunteer from Brazil who said that he had first heard about Corrymeela from a blog written by a woman named Martha. Really?? So he’s one of the 13,767? What a funny, mysterious and delightfully small world we live in.
          Before long we had a session with Yvonne on sectarianism. Yvonne, who worked in the 90s as a Corrymeela Schools Worker, has done much research on sectarianism, and has developed resources and tools to work with children and youth about the subject. Sadly, Yvonne had to leave us today to be with her family and her gravely ill mother in Belfast. We were left in the capable hands of Steph and Matthew, long term volunteers, married to each other, originally from England but most recently from teaching in the Philipines.
They put the group through some of the Adventure Learning activities, activities for which Corrymeela is well known. These are cooperative games and tests which are used as a starting point for conversations afterwards about decision making, leadership and group dynamics. Our group was familiar with many of the activities, and aced most of them, as they have any of the ones I have offered them. Even Steph and Matthew were quite impressed at how they worked together to perform the tasks. Below are two of the activities – the first one – jumping from one stump to another, never leaving more than two stumps between two people, and never having their feet touch the ground. The second one is a a race on skies, and the third a rope game where they have to form a square with the rope while blindfolded. The other picture is the group at the end of their hike yesterday.
After another evening session with Steph and Matthew on Corrymeela’s work in the schools, we tried to order taxis to go to O’Connor’s, one of the 19 bars in the town of Ballycastle (“it has more bars per capita than any other town in Northern Ireland” said Steph) for a pint ...  it would seem that the taxis aren’t running tonight. “It’s a sign” said I ... “or a mission” said Alana. .... whichever, we never did get a taxi, so it’s early to bed to get ready for a day trip to Derry tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll find a cab tomorrow night.








Sunday, 24 February 2013

she was fine when she left here ...


Day 2
          The first two days of our trip have consisted of various activities that I would call “teambuilding” activities, and getting to know the city of Belfast. Although we have spent many hours together on Thursday evenings over the fall and winter, now we are actually living together, in a different country. We still have much to learn about each other, about Belfast, and about Northern Ireland.
          Some slept, some didn’t, the first night. We met for breakfast in the dining room at Farset International, one of the more interesting places of accommodation I’ve experienced. It’s a cross between a hostel and a hotel. Very reasonable rates, clean rooms, common spaces to gather, and an eclectic array of groups and individuals that come through the place on a daily basis, both for accommodation and meeting space. The Saint Mary’s group is still here, having just finished their week in the Belfast schools with Bernardo’s. Although many of the students have traveled to Dublin or London for the weekend, Bridget, the SMU trip leader, Judy, a Saint Mary’s professor travelling with the SMU group, and Rick, an educator from Florida who does work with Peaceful Schools International, are still here and are part of many of the morning and evening conversations.
Ruth, the director of Farset, is warm, welcoming, loud, and pretend grumpy all in one. “If she yells at you, that means she likes you” says Bridget. She makes it very clear, for the umpteenth time, that folks are not to stuff their pockets with breakfast foods (cheese, bread, fruit) for lunch. “You have to eat everything here. That’s the rule. No packed lunches.” But she has brought in fresh fruit for the Canadians, and made us croissants for breakfast. And she is always available for advice on where to eat and what to do.
We had planned to visit an East Belfast community group today, but because there is a parade of remembrance planned for soldiers killed during The Troubles today, I consult with the community representative and we decide to postpone the visit until next Thursday. It might be too difficult getting to East Belfast as the parade and our visit were around the same time. We decide to go to City Centre for some orientation and shopping, and then take the city Hop On Hop Off bus tour.
After a quick stop at Carroll’s, the Cadillac of both tacky and quality Irish souvenirs shops, and the Belfast Welcome Centre, we agreed to split up for an hour and a half. Most of the group wanted to get to Primark, a discount clothing store. It’s something I have never really understood – this obsession with getting to Primark. I do know that the young adults I knew at Corrymeela were always keen to get to Primark on their trips to the city (and for those of you in the know – is it pronounced Pree-mark, or Pry-mark?) ... an hour and a half later, 6 happy campers with very big bags full of bargain finds. When I asked some later in the afternoon what the attraction was, it was explained that it’s a unique combination of being a huge department store with a wide size range and very low prices. When we had the fashion show afterwards back at Farset, they were so happy at their finds I didn’t have the heart to insert any real social analysis about where the clothes were made ... although I couldn’t help making a light comment about it.
And, I can’t claim to be above all the shopping stuff – I made my way to my favourite shop The Wicker Man, and despite my pledge not to buy any more Celtic jewellery (I bought plenty the last two times I was here) I did seem to have a moment of weakness ... enough said. The only one who really seemed to resist well was Caitlyn, who, along with me, is not in the picture below. Alayna went for a beautiful Irish knit sweater at Carroll’s, which was actually on sale. She too was very happy at her purchase.
Caitlyn and Alayna had their own adventure while the rest were at Primark. I won’t describe it as well as they can, but they found an inflatable “room” on a side street (“kind of like a bouncy castle ...”) which was a participatory arts and culture workshop. They were welcomed in, spent time in conversation with others, and doing some hands on art activities.
We spent the next couple of hours on the city tour bus. We had a wonderful guide who made the scripted speech his own, inserting tidbits and jokes. We all thought he sounded quite seasoned and were surprised when he came to the upper level of the bus at one point and we realized he was in his early twenties. When we went to the Titanic Quarter, he observed that most folks from Belfast point out that the Titanic was “fine when she left here ... if you want to know what happened ask the English Captain, or the Scottish navigator, or even the Canadian iceberg.” Alana also got quite a kick out of his commentary about the hockey arena – the fact that after they built it they had to import the team players from Canada, the U.S. and Russia.
The tour took us all over the city and it’s outskirts, Stormont, the Parliament buildings, the Peace Walls, and the university area just to name a few. It was a great activity to get the political, cultural, and geographical lay of the land. Today, the group is doing a hike to Belfast Castle while I went to the market with Judy, and am now writing this in my favourite cafe. We will meet at Benedict’s for a late lunch, and head back to Farset for an extended check in and planning session for the week ahead, and for our three days at Corrymeela.