4 Corners Annual Service
A reconciliation service to begin the last day of the festival with contributions from Steve Stockman, Martin Magill, Jim Deeds, Sara Cook and Elizabeth Hanna. A calm but strong call for a different future for our city. I could tell you what was in the service but why not listen for yourself. The service will be available here in the next 24 hours on this page as it was broadcast live on Radio Ulster.
Suffice to say that Steve talked about the vision of 4 Corners and Jeremiah’s call to bring peace and prosperity to the city. Martin Magill preached a powerful service of Jesus call to be reconciled and how it needs to go beyond the law. Fitzroy praise band were wonderful in guiding the worship. Sara and Jim shared some of the highlights of this year’s festival – How we have hosted hope in a dark time and Steve and Elizabeth prayed around the 4 corners of the city. Martin ended his homily with the phrase – “Go and be reconciled!” Steve ended the service with this benediction
God, give us faith to believe the truth
And the right to ask why
Give us joy in life’s fulfilment
And the right to cry
God give us the strength to carry others
And the right to wilt
Give us grace towards holiness
And the right to confess our guilt
Father show us a bigger picture
Jesus put grace notes in our song
Holy Spirit put us on a road that’s deeper
And more eternal than the one we’re on.
And the people of Belfast said AMEN.
The Celtic saints would talk about thin places – where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to glimpse the divine. Last night the Agape centre in South Belfast became a thin place as we listened in on a conversation between journalist Brian Rowan and artist Colin Davidson. Much of the night would involve discussion of ‘Silent Testimony’, Davidsons portraits of the forgotten victims of the troubles and Rowan set the scene from the start by describing his own reaction. “For the little I knew about art I immediately realised I was in a special place, a sacred space. So many have been forgotten by the troubles but with this exhibition you remembered.” Throughout the night the 18 portraits were projected on a loop on the screens behind the stage adding their silent presence to the conversation.
Davidson described how after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement he had thought about all those who had suffered loss and how there was nothing for them there. The thought stayed with him, percolating for years and eventually leading to this project. As well as the Queen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Davidson has also painted many of the greats of the Ireland including Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Michael Longley and Kenneth Branagh. “From the start I wanted to paint the forgotten victims as equals – as important as Heaney or Friel.”
With the help of WAVE Trauma centre a number of people who were connected by their experience of loss were approached and agreed to be painted. Those painted had lost loved ones to violence from loyalist, republicans and the security forces. But the explanations merely described what had happened, not who had done it. “I didn’t take sides and I didn’t want the audience to take sides. I painted human loss and left room for people to react to what they saw.” And react they did. Kim Mawhinney from the Ulster Museum was in the audience and she described how they were overwhelmed both with numbers (more than 80,000 visitors) and the way people reacted. People were stunned, silenced, reduced to tears. They even brought in WAVE trauma to train the Museum Guides in how to support people who were being affected by what they saw.
Davidson recalled that one person asked him why he was dragging us all back into the past. He told them that, “Nothing could be further from the truth. This is current art. It’s about today and how what happened in the past is still affecting thousands of people today. It’s about recognising that loss is not just in the past.” Brian Rowan picked up on this point asking if it was really acknowledgement that was the key to moving on?
“That and compassion,” Davidson agreed. “Not one person I met talked about justice or answers, perhaps because they knew they would never get them. Everyone though wanted to make sure their loved ones were not forgotten. My feeling is that the forgotten victims are daily paying the price for the peace we all enjoy today. The least we can do is find a way to acknowledge that.”
Tim Mair from the PSNI who was in the audience picked up this theme saying listening to Davidson and the exhibition made him realise that the past is part of the future and not just an inhibitor to it. “There is a possibility of a broken, honest but vibrant future. This gives hope that we can carve tomorrow not from a tombstone but from something different.”
Journalist Eamon Mallie said the exhibition took him back to his boyhood because going through the gallery was like doing the Stations of the Cross. He asked the artist what he had learned from the process. Davidsons answer was as short as it was profound. “I learnt compassion.” Peter Osborne for the Community Relations Council asked a question of whether dealing with the past has become such a political football that it needs to be taken away from the politicians. Both Davidson and Rowan agreed with Rowan strongly believing that we need outside help to achieve this as we are all to stitched into the fabric of the last 40 years and it has become a blame process rather than a healing process. “We need to stop lying about the truth. More focus on compassion, acknowledgement and remembering would do us all good.”
The Thin Places beloved of the Celtic saints were places that jolt us out of old ways of seeing the world. We lose our old bearings but find new ones. Tonight’s event has kick-started a conversation among the audience and the 4 Corners team that has the potential to find a way of remembering the many victims of the troubles with compassion and acknowledgement. Watch this space. Our deep thanks to all those who were present with us tonight and especially to Colin Davidson and Brian Rowan.
Harmony and Healing
“God of harmony,/Your song for us is peace./Come with healing music,/Embrace us with your love.”
I have never been to an event quite like this in Northern Ireland as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i and Buddhists gathered together to celebrate the role of music in their faith. Harmony and Healing in association with The Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum was a beautiful mix of music and engagement between faith groups. Ed Petersen from Clonard Monastery wove the night together and the tone was set early on as Jubilate Chamber Choir, conducted by David Stewart sang Ubi Caritas and Psalm 23.
Next up was Chaim Moscovitch, the former Cantor from Belfast Synagogue who now teaches in England. As well as giving us the beautiful Hebrew chants of Psalm 104 and 23 he also spoke about the work he does with children where they learn how to create Biblical Scrolls using the ancient techniques. He showed us a scroll with the Exodus story on it that the children had made last week and talked of the delight of using the ancient in the modern setting. Tamer Khalil and Hesham Mohammad talked about the structure of the Qur’an and how the recitation is practiced. In such a time as this to hear a beautiful melodious recitation of the call to prayer was an act of healing in itself.
Members of the Baha’i community explained the role of music in their practice and sang a number of different songs including one set to the ancient Irish tune also used for My Lagan Love.Paul Fitzsimmons and Rachel McCarthy shared some of the Shakyamuni Buddha’s Lotus Sutra building up into a powerful recitation of the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo which literally filled the hall with power and filled the audience with awe. Nirmal Munir from the 4 Corners organising committee shared 2 poems of unity she had written.
Norman Richardson from the Northern Ireland Interfaith forum concluded the evening with some thoughts on the relationship between music and faith and his belief that music is part of the divine plan. For the 180 people in the hall it was a moving night and in a time of fear, Trump and Brexit a strong symbol of unity of humanity – of the image of God that is in everyone.
Committee Member Jim Deeds was blown away by the event and wrote this reflection.
We cannot create harmony if we all sing the same note.
Tonight, we had an inter-faith evening of musical harmony. Contributions from Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i, Jews and Christians held a packed hall spell bound. I looked around the room as I listened to all these different types of music (all expressions of the participants’ faith) and saw people of different skin colour and faith, wearing different traditional and modern clothing. And all were listening. Sitting together and listening. Smiling and sitting together and listening. Respecting each other and smiling and sitting together and listening.
Different notes- musically and otherwise- tonight created great harmony. This was awesome!
Our Muslim friends tonight sang, ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is great. Nirmal Munir read a poem telling us that beneath our bodies, lie souls without differential identity- we are one.
I agree. God IS great, we ARE one.
Santosh Chowdery from our Hindu community playing his tabla. Just a flavour of what we saw and heard tonight.
The Image of God
“From the moment we walked up those stairs it was amazing,” said one of our carers, giggling with some friends as they had their photo taken with the Lord Mayor. And to be fair Belfast City Hall has as fine a set of Marble Stairs as you’ll find anywhere in the country. As our guests arrived into the Rotunda they were greeted by live music and a drinks reception. Behind the scenes the lovely people from Root Soup were preparing a fabulous meal and the atmosphere was amazing.
Every year as part of the festival we organise a banquet at City Hall in honour of the people who are on the margins and often overlooked. Previously we have honoured the homeless and refugees and asylum seekers. This year we wanted to take a moment to appreciate those who spend their time caring for others. Caring for Carers was entirely funded by the generosity of dozens of small donors and Cliftonville FC who raised £1000 through a shirt auction and matching gift.
At the heart of the 4 Corners festival is the belief that everyone in our city is made in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We also enjoy bringing people out of their comfort zones to meet others from across the city. Tonight, was a perfect example of us all meeting each other and seeing each other as human across our inevitable differences. In the interests of privacy, we won’t name any names but the stories heard tonight at different tables were both heart breaking and beautiful. Two older carers from opposite ends of the city found comfort in each other, as they shared their fears about what would happen to their children with disabilities, when they themselves died. Another lady spoke of the strain of looking after a child with severe epilepsy and a man who looked after his elderly parents admitted he had not been on a night out like this for almost a year. At tables, all around the room, there were small moments of Grace, as carers looked at each other and recognised they were with friends who truly understood. We were humbled and privileged to watch those encounters and to see people visibly relax and enjoy each other and the fabulous food.
Root Soup grew out of the L’Arche community in Belfast, and they work with people with learning disabilities and those transitioning out of homelessness. They cooked up an amazing three course feast last night and with the help of volunteers from Clonard and beyond, served the tables with grace and humour. The evening was hosted by Lord Mayor Brian Kingston who admitted to being outshone by his 84-year-old mother who was his guest at the dinner. He spoke passionately about the city of Belfast, pointing out that at the minute there are 19 Cranes in the city centre working on various developments, that tourism is growing and the economy is healthy. “But we also want to be a caring city – we have to go beyond being friendly and make sure that we care for each other.” He then went on to share his own experience of watching his parents getting older, his father having dementia and eventually moving in to sheltered accommodation. And the reason he brought his mother was to recognise her role as a carer. Even though she was 84 she was still the main point of care for his father, and that took a daily toll on her. The Lord Mayor’s story very obviously struck a chord with many in the room who shared similar experiences.
Ed Petersen from Clonard was the main organiser from the 4 Corners Committee and he ended the evening by thanking the long list of people who had made the night possible including the Lord Mayors Office, various Carers organisations, Root Soup and of course the many donors and Cliftonville FC who paid for the evening. Thank you for bringing together and honouring the unsung heroes who spend their life caring for others.
PS the pavlova was fabulous ……
Annual Theological Lecture Report
On a frosty February night, more than 100 people gathered in the beautiful St Teresa’s Church on the Glen Road in West Belfast. In his warm welcome Father Brendan referred to the mystery and mysticism of St Teresa and how that fed into the healing of wounds. Gladys Ganiel hosted the night for 4 Corners and began by checking where people had come from and reassuringly found a fairly even spread of the compass points. She noted the appropriateness of the lectionary reading of the day which was Isaiah 58.
“…share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”
Worship was led by Chris Blake from Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and then Brian McKee came to share his thoughts. Brian is the former Director of Youth Ministry in the Down and Conor Diocese and a qualified Religious Studies Teacher. Much of his working live has had a focus on peace and reconciliation work.
Brian set the scene by taking us back to his 10-year-old year old self in August 1969 and the fear in the neighbourhood as barriers were built and the family had to sleep downstairs. It was a sobering beginning and yet also hopeful as it reminded us how much things had changed for the better. Brian outlined a theology of hope that gives dignity to all, beginning with the story of a fancy Gin advert which showed a beautiful beach background with the bottle rising out of the azure water – the tagline was “It came out of the Blue!”
Reconciliation is not like that – it does not come out of the blue and takes years of hard work and courageous leaders not afraid to build new relationships. He broke down the meaning of reconciliation from the Greek – saying it literally means to come back into eyelash contact with someone – this is not just friendship – this is getting right up close and personal with someone. He also referred to TS Elliot’s 4 Quartets poem as a way of saying that last year’s words are gone and we need new words to move forward. He also references Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with the observation that even though we wish it had never happened, the only choice we have is what to do with the time we have been given.
Thus, we should use our time to reach out and welcome the stranger as a way of healing our own wounds. He noted that often those most involved in peace making are those who have been most affected by the troubles. He warned that what we did to each other in the past we are at risk of doing to Muslims today. He finished with a vision of the future – “God will reign in Belfast when we recognise the eternal value of ourselves and others. When we reach out to those who are in fear and poverty. When everyone can fulfil their God-given potential.
Former Presbyterian Moderator Trevor Morrow began by talking about how someone born in Lambeg had ended up living and working just outside Dublin for 30 years. His vision for reconciliation was based on three things – Kenosis, Servanthood and Sacrifice. Trevor explained that we learn from the Greek word Kenosis where just as Jesus did not cease to be God in order to become one with us, we do not have to abandon our identities as Republican or Unionist but to see healing we need to embrace and be willing to practice and become part of the culture of those from whom we are alienated. Servanthood, as Jesus became a servant, humbly seeking what was best for those who misunderstood and maligned him, we too are called to pursue justice, peace and the summum bonum for those whose historic, cultural and political identities seems a threat to us. Sacrifice: To be at peace with his enemies, Jesus laid down his life. He died for us. To achieve healing is costly. Forgiveness is hellish, as we see it on the cross. There will be moments of pain, frustration, disappointment in the healing process. It is costly but the result is worth it. Shalom and true healing in Belfast is when every tongue, in Ulster Scots, in Irish and English will express their delight in being the children of the age which is to come!
Chris Blake then concluded the evening with the song ‘Christ be our Light,” which calls us all to be servants to one another.
Reflection from 4 Corners Committee Member Jim Deeds.
Tonight as part of our festival we had Trevor Morrow and Brian McKee join us in the beautiful St Teresa’s Church in West Belfast. A crowd of 110 (wow!) people came to listen. They came from all corners of Belfast and beyond. They came from a variety of faith traditions. But they listened as one people as Trevor and Brian spoke to us about how we can understand healing in a wounded society and how we can paint a peaceful future in this ‘blank canvas Belfast’. They drew us to consider that it will involve,
Meeting others in genuine and non judgemental encounter, where we leave our own identity aside for a while in order to understand the other.
Serving the interests of the other, even or especially, if it does not meet my own priorities.
Making the sacrifice of suffering the pain of forgiveness.
Chris Blake led us in musical prayer throughout the evening and the hospitality team of St Teresa’s parish filled us with hot tea and coffee and good things to eat afterwards. All in all it was a tremendous evening. We were blessed indeed. We left with a real sense of the possibility and challenge of painting anew on ‘blank canvas Belfast’.
What would you paint?
Derek and Dave – In search of a Bench
Imagine that Jesus has made his triumphal entry into the city – except it’s not Jerusalem but Belfast. The whole city is in uproar and two crotchety old men, Derek and Dave are out for their usual walk through Botanic Gardens, but their favourite bench has moved. They go on an epic journey to find it, waxing lyrical about the state of the city and the shortcomings of young people these days!
That’s the premise for the Youth Drama which was performed by Play It By Ear – a Christian Drama company that seeks to help local churches use drama in worship. Chris Neilands and Ross Jonas are the multi-talented actors and writers behind tonight’s performance. With a cast of three actors’ all playing multiple roles the play fly’s through space and time with relentless energy. Quick costume changes are carried off by changing a Cap or a shirt and within minutes the 2 main protagonists had played grumpy pensioners, drunken students and even gossipy church ladies. There were many laugh out loud moments to please the audience of more than 100 packed into St Colmcille’s Church hall.
And it was drama with a message – “Play It By Ear,” are known for their ability to make the Bible accessible to a wide audience. In this play the skilful weaving in of characters from the gospel to modern day Belfast was seamless and even to those with little traditional teaching the characters came alive. Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, Judas and even Jesus himself all took a seat on the park bench at some point to interact with Derek or Dave. Like all good drama they were able to move from hilarity to deep silence and grief in a heartbeat. At one moment, we moved from laughter to finding out that the reason Derek is so angry with the world is because his wife died 5 years before and he is lonely. In the end the epic quest is successful and Derek and Dave find their park bench and we all learned a few life lessons along the way.
Although it was a youth event the audience had a great mix of ages, but like a good parable the play worked at different levels and was well received by all. Thanks to St Colmcille’s Church for hosting and providing refreshments afterwards. One Methodist was heard to remark on how wonderful the selection of food was but noted that there were no tray bakes and was told – “That would be an ecumenical matter!”
Perspective from Jim Deeds who led the day and wondered as he wandered ……
The idea behind the wander is actually the same idea behind the whole festival- to promote peace, understanding and reconciliation through inviting people to explore themselves and others in often unexplored corners of our city. And so, we arranged an event that would see us walk from Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road across to Woodvale Methodist Church at the top of the Shankill Road, stopping off along the way to meet interesting people at interesting places. And we kept the theme of our festival close to our hearts as well; Our Wounded and Wonderful City.
Most folks who came- and there was a whopping 70 or so who came- had been to some of the places we walked to, but not all of them. In this way, there was something new for us all. In fact, the most common comment I heard today was, ‘I’ve never been here before’. A day of discovery indeed.
We met and set off from the beautiful Clonard Monastery where we heard Fr Ciaran O’Callaghan of the Redemptorist Community tell us of the history of the monastery and its pivotal role in laying the ground work for the peace process. We heard that there had been many a midnight meeting between politicians who would never had met before; and all within the safety and confidentiality of this holy place. I read a poem encouraging us to step across unfamiliar bridges (a good image for our walk today I hope) before we had a group photo taken outside. We set off walking.
Now we must have been a quare sight as we walked down from Clonard and onto the Falls Road. We were Catholic and Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican, Buddhist and Muslim, man and woman, ordained and lay, young and…. more experienced! We took up 50 yards of the footpath as we went. Thankfully, the officers from West Belfast PSNI Community Team were on hand to help us negotiate roads and traffic and to join with us on our walk as well.
Our next stop was at the convent of the Sisters of Adoration . There we squeezed into the small Chapel in the convent and heard Sister Delores tell us of the oasis of silent prayer that the convent has been since opening its doors on 1981. All through the last years of our Troubles, people came here to pray and to grieve. They came to feel despair and to hope once more. It was truly a blessed visit. But there were many more miles to go and we said goodbye to the Sisters and set off.
Onwards down the Falls and we found ourselves at Conway Mill; one of the many mills that would have punctuated the city in days gone by. Most of them demolished or fallen into disrepair, Conway Mill though has been resurrected and restored. It now stands as home to creative types- artists, craftspeople and photographers. And it was to a photographer’s studio that we wandered. John Mallon is a man who has seen the wounds of mental ill health and suicide. He shared this story powerfully today. He told us of a journey from desolation to the ability to see the beauty on our doorstep through his love of photography and through the help of inspirational counsellors. He shares his wonderful photographs from his stall in the Kennedy Centre on the Andersonstown Road. He was a real inspiration for us today.
Any journey from one place to another involves as crossing over. And so it was for us today. Fr as we neared the bottom of the Falls Road, it was time to cross to the Shankill Road. In order to do so , we had to pass though the ‘No Man’s Land’ that is the beginning Northumberland Street. We paused here to hear some poetry from (I read my poem entitled ‘No Man’s Land’ and Nirmal Munir ‘s, ‘I am Belfast’). We had a chance to hear from Nirmal, who is from Pakistan. She is studying here and is a Muslim. She told us of seeing a Belfast that is alive and at peace with itself- certainly in comparison with her homeland. What an interesting perspective. She also recounted that she had suffered none of the discrimination that she had been warned of before coming. We all had a chance to show her that she is welcome her and that we love her.
On to the Shankill! After stopping at a mural (or Muriel as we call them in these parts!) honouring the wonderful artist William Conor, we moved up the bustling road to the Shankill Memorial Garden. Here, Glenn Bradley (a son of the Shankill) told us of some of the history of this place in relation to those who served in the World Wars. We heard tales of courage and of loss as well. Glenn read us some of his wonderful poetry before the Rev David Clawson drew our memories back to the horror that was the Shankill bombing and the rebuilding that has had to take place in the local community. He encouraged us to see each person we meet as someone full of glory and full of potential- not just a label. He spoke with passion and love for his flock on the Shankill Road.
The next two stops on the Shankill Road took us to a mural honouring High Smyth a local politician and uncle of Glenn our poet and on to the ancient graveyard just beyond Lanark Way. Glenn read us more poetry and spoke about his youth in the streets all around this graveyard. He recounted some of the story of his life- from a young boy caught up in an IRA bomb, to serving in the British Army, to becoming a ‘warrior at peace for peace’. Riveting stuff!
A short distance from the graveyard lies the street where the politician Hugh Smyth lived. It was also where Glenn grew up and we paused here for more poetry and more of Glenn’s life story. Here we were brought up to date with modern politics and with some of the more recent difficulties we’ve seen in this place. However, Glenn also read us a poem encouraging all to reject any sort of ‘eye for an eye’ politics or a standpoint in life that declares that in order to defeat the bully we must become like the bully. It was a stirring and hope-filled stop off point on our walk.
Back to my new shoes. By now, my feet were sore. We’d walked and talked for three hours. We were making new friends and we were visiting the city like never before. But we were tired! Thankfully, the Rev Colin Duncan’s Woodvale Methodist Church was across the road and he had arranged for us to finish our walk there with a cup of tea and coffee. 70 weary but happy wanderers traipsed into the Church to drink hot drinks and eat a welcome piece of pancake. Finishing, I read a poem about the city we live in learning to breathe again. The poem goes,
‘Beginning to breathe
Involves a certain effort
To teach the muscles how to heave
To teach the lungs how to convert
Breathe with humility, love and grace.’
70 wanderers put on new shoes today. They walked into the unknown parts. They found new friends there. They found inspiration there. They found new corners of this city. They prayed for a city that could learn to breathe again. And to breathe with humility, love and grace.
Perspective One – From a Wanderer.
Today’s Wonderful Wander began in the beautiful Clonard Monastery as sunlight poured through the stain glass windows on the 60 people gathered for the walk. The group was welcomed by Jim Deeds, the host of the wander, with some poetry and context setting—this was not to be a guided tour, as much as a walk down and up the spine of West Belfast, hearing stories from locals along with way. Fr. Ciaran O’Callaghan, who helps lead Clonard’s peace and reconciliation work, shared a bit about the history of Clonard Monastery and noted that today’s walk was a wonderful antidote to the historical division of West Belfast.
The group meandered the short distance between Clonard Monastery and the convent of the Sisters of Adoration on the Falls Road. Our large group filled the chapel of the convent, with Catholic and Protestant people from all parts of the city squeezing into the beautiful space together. One of the older sisters who had arrived at the convent during the Hunger Strikes spoke of how, at the time, the chapel was often filled with crying people, alcoholics and children. She said that now the chapel was a much quieter place, but was still filled with people praying both day and night. Jim described the convent as a “hidden gem” and those participating in the wander seemed to agree—at least one person was overheard making plans to return to the chapel for prayer.
Conway Mill was our next stop, and many in the group were clearly delighted with the new discovery of this beautifully renovated community resource. While in the Mill, the group was treated to more poetry from Jim and also from Glen Bradley who joined Jim in hosting the second half of our wander. The group was also treated to a trip right up to the top of the Mill to visit the photography studio of John Mallon. John shared his beautiful photography, as well as the lovely view of Clonard and the West from his studio windows. He also, movingly, shared his story of struggling with issues of mental health and the loss of family and friends to suicide. His work and words were a powerful reminder of the possibility of healing with the deep support of community.
On the way to the Shankill Road, we passed the famous International Wall containing the Falls Road’s constantly changing sets of murals. We then stopped in the former “No Man’s Land” between the gates that can still close off the Falls and Shankill Road from each other. There, we heard beautiful poetry from Jim and from Nirmal, a visitor from Pakistan, who shared her appreciation of the city and her gratitude at being welcomed by the people of Belfast. Crossing onto the Shankill Road, we stopped briefly at Conor’s Corner, the corner of the road dedicated to famous painter and former resident, William Conor.
The group was welcomed to the Garden of Remembrance for the Somme and the Shankill Bomb by the pastor of West Kirk Presbyterian Church, Rev. David Clawson. Jim and David both spoke of the history of the area and of the deep impact of the Shankill Bomb on the local community. David also spoke of the themes of his sermon at the 20th anniversary service of the bomb—the desire of the church to, like Jesus, share the tears of and be a part of the transformation of the local community. His exhortation to not just pass through the area, but to remember that the surrounding houses were full of “men and women of great glory and consequence,” was an appropriate thought for the whole of our wander.
We finished the walk with stops at the Hugh Smyth mural, the Shankill Road Cemetery and Hugh Smyth’s former home. In each stop, Glenn shared thoughts, memories, and poetry relating to his experience growing up on the Shankill and of Hugh Smyth, who was his uncle. Smyth was one of the people who helped young Loyalists move towards the political process, and Glenn spoke passionately of his own eventual movement towards politics, undoubtedly inspired, in part, by his uncle.
Finally, the group made its way to the Shankill Methodist Church where they were welcomed by the Rev. Colin Duncan and treated to tea and coffee by church members. Several of us spoke wonderingly of the fact that such a diverse group had openly and joyfully journeyed up and down the West’s interface when such a thing would have been much more difficult not long ago. The wander was wonderful, indeed—a lovely experience of temporary community and an opportunity to continue learning about our wounded and wonderful city.
Holding Back the River
Iain Archer does not disappoint and the 200-people packed into Fitzroy Church for the opening night of the festival, were treated to an intimate night of wonder. As Archer sang himself later in the show – “I want to make you feel beautiful,” and by the end of the night we all did. The evening began with conversation as Steve Stockman walked through thoughts on song writing, a sense of place and the inspiration behind some of his catalogue. We learned about growing up in Bangor, the wonder of Holywood Seapark and how an 8-year-old child was afraid of the Black Mountain quarry on the other side of the lough. “When it kicks in,” is a song on Archer’s Magnetic North album and he described how the first part is a memory of being caught up in a bomb explosion in the early 90’s while playing at a record store in Belfast city centre. Fast forward to 2005, now living in London and Northern Ireland had beaten England and he was walking around feeling such pride in the homeland which was suddenly shattered as news came through of some of the worst sectarian violence and rioting in years on the streets of Belfast. The yearning to move beyond that runs through the song culminating in …”when it kicks in, you’ll know it/ a truth drug is gonna open your weeping eyes.”
The concert itself was a mixture of nostalgia and some new songs. For a brief moment, I was taken back to my post student day 20 years ago when Archer’s first album with the eponymous single “Wishing” was a regular on the soundtrack of my life. Unusually he started with a track from that album – “Drink your Fill,” written when he moved to Glasgow and wrestles with what it’s like to be “a new stranger in this part of town.” At a time when immigrants, refugees and anyone who plays the role of the other are under attack from governments on both sides of the Atlantic it felt like a timely tune. Archer described how his children are at the stage of asking questions about everything which he now answers metaphorically, because that’s easier. That was the context to his new track “The Square Root of Love,” which again felt apt for a festival of reconciliation. And there was even time for a few requests including crowd favourite, “Crazy Bird.”
The energy was upped as electric replaced acoustic guitars reaching the high point when Nathan Connolly from Snow Patrol joined him onstage and literally rocked the old church. Bringing it back down again there was some acoustic numbers from Tired Pony – a band made up of members of Snow Patrol, REM and Archer – he grinned describing himself as the luckiest band member in the world. After the obligatory encore the venue suddenly became a church as he led the audience into that grey are between performance and worship, walking off stage to 200 people singing softly in the sanctuary. It would have been the perfect ending but the crowd wanted more and so Steve Stockman dragged him back for one more number. Mirrorball Moon from the album was the last song – a whimsical song about a disco glitterball clinging to a cold black ceiling in a lonely old dance hall. He urges the Mirrorball to find a better place “on the other side of town/ where they help each other out.” A fitting end to the opening night of 4 Corners as we head out across the city and help each other out.