Our Festival is about reconciliation and also about the wellbeing of the city. That extends into education and this morning more than 60 year 10 pupils from across Belfast came to the Ulster University. The morning was introduced by Conan Meehan the Vice President of the Student Union who admitted that when growing up in Derry he didn’t want to go to university. His real dream was to be a rock star, but when that didn’t pan out he gave higher education a chance. 4 Corners Committee member Kayla Rush picked up on that theme talking about her friend Steve who was educated at the School of Hard Knocks but is one of the most creative people she knows. She also encouraged the pupils to take the chance to make friends during the day with their counterparts from other schools.
Different Dreams is not saying that everyone has to go university but it is saying – don’t rule it out without thinking about it. The session then moved into a game of human bingo which allowed the pupils to meet others from across the city, followed by a tour of the new UU campus in York Street. Next came the practical part of the day as participants got the chance to attend workshops. In the photography workshop, we got to see the work of some UU graduates who now create graphics for the music industry and rock concerts. Aspiring creatives were told that Art, Physics and Math is the perfect combination for this kind of work. There was also a forensics class where everyone got fingerprinted. In the marketing class, there were prizes for the best ideas and in ceramics there was literally the chance to get your hands dirty and make some art. All of these sessions show what a degree here or elsewhere might look like and give people the chance to live a different dream in the future.
After Lunch the Lord Mayor of Belfast Brian Kingston spoke about how vital our universities are for the future of Belfast. “It is important for the future of our young people and our city that we remove as many obstacles to higher education as possible. We want the only criteria to be your own ability, drive and aspirations.”
The final workshop was led by Roisin McAvoy the Head of International Student Experience who talked about the skills and values we need to live well with diversity. Finally, we had a light-hearted competition to see what is the collective noun for Stormont politicians – I’m not saying there is an election on but we have had the DUP Education Minister Peter Weir, the Sinn Fein Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, SDLP Veteran Alex Attwood and even the new leader of Sinn Fein in the North, the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill drop by. So far entries include, A swarm, A Flush, A herd, A Rake and a Ween! Whatever your preferred description we are grateful for the interest shown in the event and in the future of our young people and our city.
Father Martin Magill was the 4 Corners lead for this event and he was thrilled with how it went.
“It has been great to work in partnership with the University as both staff and students have been fabulously helpful. They helped plan a great event and it was wonderful to see the pupils trying new things and maybe thinking about the future differently. And certainly new friendships were being formed across the city – I saw one girl writing her contact details on the arm of a boy from a different school!”
St Patrick’s Church Attack Condemned.
4 Corners Press Release.
Just days before the start of this year’s 4 Corners festival we are dismayed to hear of the arson attack on St Patrick’s Church. The Festival seeks to inspire people from across Belfast to transform the city for the peace and prosperity of all. As a society seeking a way out of our sectarian past it is vital that we condemn in the strongest terms such attacks whether on Catholic Churches, Protestant Churches, Jewish synagogues or indeed Orange Halls. We must declare that this is not being done in our name.
St Patrick’s is also closely involved in the origins of 4 Corners Festival. In the first four years of the Festival we have held events in St. Patrick’s twice. Last year we used it for “Captured By a Vision,” when Rev Dr Ken Newell came to read from his memoir of that name. On this occasion, we chose the venue carefully. In his book Ken speaks of being sectarian in his early life and that it was during an Orange Lodge march that stopped outside St Patrick’s that was one of the moments that started to change his mind. He glanced into the Church as he walked past and saw Catholics in prayer. It sparked thoughts within his soul.
Festival Co-Founder Rev Steve Stockman also has personal connections to St Patrick’s.
“It is the first Catholic Church that I ever took part in a service in. In 1998 at the Jesus In the City Conference I was involved in the closing act of worship and asked if I would pray. I decided that I would write a prayer for the entire city. I therefore imagined standing at City Hall and looking out… north, south, east and west. I was uneasy praying in a Catholic Church that evening, but actually it was a helpful event in shifting my heart, that was hardened by peer pressure to never pray or read or preach in Catholic Churches. That evening in St. Patrick’s was a significant moment in my journey of faith.”
The Prayer for Belfast also eventually inspired the 4 Corners Festival
As Steve remembers
“When Fr Martin Magill asked me to pray at the “In Joyful Hope” service in his then Church St Oliver Plunkett’s in Lenadoon I pulled it out. The prayer was very well received and just a short time later when Fr Martin and I came up with the idea of a festival to get people across their corners of Belfast, Martin suggested that we called it after the prayer. So, the 4 Corners Festival was born.”
During this year’s festival, we will be doing events across denominations, seeking that many will cross new Church thresholds for the first time and have their own prejudices provoked! Surely, the future and well-being of the city, that Jeremiah calls us to pray for, will be improved by events like the 4 Corners Festival rather than futile attack that happened last night.
We are sorry to announce due to circumstances beyond our control, Father Brendan McConvery will no longer be able to join us for the annual theological lecture. However we are delighted that Brian McKee has agreed to take his place. Born and brought up in the Ardoyne community, Brian is both a qualified teacher of Religious Studies and youth worker. He has over 30 years experience of working in youth ministry and adult faith development. He was formerly Diocesan Director of youth ministry in Down and Connor for 10 years with a particular commitment to building peace and reconciliation. Brian is currently self-employed and works mainly in the field of peace and reconciliation with the Passionists in Ardoyne and as a director of retreats in Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre, Crossgar. Brian is a regular speaker at both national and international conferences for both adults and young people.
Healing a Wounded City with former Presbyterian Moderator Dr Trevor Morrow and Brian McKee will take place on Sunday 5th February, 7:00pm at St Theresa’s Church, 135 Glen Road, Belfast.
Jim Deeds is a poet and a wanderer. On Saturday he will be leading a Wonderful Wander through the West of the City. To give you a taste here are some of his thoughts from this week on life, dogs and wandering.
New Dogs Please!
I met a man this morning whilst walking my three dogs. He was walking his dog and as we spoke our four dogs sniffed each other and pattered about happily. We had a nice conversation and then we moved on.
As I was walking away I remembered that our meetings had not always gone so well in the past. Let me explain.
A few years ago, we both had different dogs. He had a Rottweiler and I had my big Great Dane, Madadh (pronounced Mah-doo, it’s an Irish word that means dog!). Now his Rottweiler was an angry, snappy dog. He didn’t like people or dogs to come near to him and his owner. When we would approach, the Rottweiler would rear up and bark loudly. His owner found it difficult to contain the anger of this big dog who was straining on the leash. If he had broken free, he’d have done real damage.
For our part, Madadh was a very nervous dog- had been since a wee pup. He didn’t like to see the Rottweiler coming. He got nervous and barked and also strained on the leash. Given that he was 10 stone in weight I often found it difficult to contain him too.
So, when we would meet on the road our conversation was usually a short one shouted from opposite sides of the street- a quick hello, but no real meeting.
Even though we were neighbours (he lived just round the corner from my house) and had both grown up in this neighbourhood, I have to admit that I began to dread seeing him coming. I even found myself resenting and avoiding him. He might have felt similar.
But time marched on and, sadly, within a couple of weeks of each other both our dogs died. I remember the first real conversation I had with him was actually soon after the dogs had died. We spoke of the loss of our four legged friends and lamented their passing even with all of their problems.
Doggy people love dogs and, in time, we both got new dogs. I got Charley the pug cross and Mac the Dane. He got Nero, a black terrier. And of course, I still have Jenny the black Labrador cross. Our dogs now have no such issues as the previous two. The anger and nervous distrust of the past have died along with our dogs. What has taken their place? Well, the anger and fear have been replaced with a genuine curiosity about the others and an eagerness to meet up. They have been replaced with lightness and an ease of meeting. For the other owner and I the days of avoidance and resentment are gone. We can meet each other, say hello, discuss the goings on in the world and then move on ready to meet again. We live together in peace.
Anger, fear, distrust, resentment, avoidance. These old dogs live within our hearts at times. They live in our families and in our politics and communities. And where they live, they bring division, war and ending of relationships.
Here in Northern Ireland we are facing into an election (again). We see the old dogs of fear and anger alive and well I think. Can we allow these old dogs to die? Can we let them go? Can we allow them to be replaced with curiosity, eagerness to meet and reconciliation?
Next Saturday, 4th Feb, as part of the 4 Corners Festival, I’ll be leading a ‘Wonderful Wander’ down the Falls Road and up the Shankill Road. Often times in the past people from these roads would not have met and would have avoided each other. There are stories of wounds all along these two roads. But there are stories of wonderful things as well. On the walk, we will be stopping off to meet some folks who will tell us of their wounded and wonderful lives. People like John Mallon and Glenn Bradley for example- two men with incredibly inspiring stories to tell. We’ll also hear from a woman called Nirmal- a Muslim woman living and studying in Belfast. With visits to Clonard Monastery and the Shankill Garden of Remembrance this is sure to be a fantastic opportunity to hear about those old dogs I wrote about above and to walk in a different way- no fear or anger, just eagerness to come together and a curiosity about each other’s wounded and wonderful lives.
New dogs please!
Interested in going to the Wonderful Wander? We meet at 2 pm on Saturday 4th Feb in the car park of Clonard Monastery, 1 Clonard Gardens, Belfast, BT13 2RL. The event is free and will involve walking at a gentle pace for 2-3 hours.
Cliftonville Caring for Carers
At the core of 4 Corners is the desire to see small acts of grace and generosity all over the city of Belfast. This morning we are celebrating a huge act of caring from Cliftonville FC. Every year as part of the festival we host a Banquet at the City Hall in conjunction with the Lord Mayor. In previous years we have hosted the homeless and refugees and asylum seekers. This year we are celebrating the unsung heroes who provide full time care for friends or relatives. Our Caring for Carers Banquet costs around £1500 to run and we started a Just giving page to raise the money.
We were thrilled when Cliftonville FC found about the fundraiser and offered to not only auction a shirt but to match whatever amount of money was raised. The shirt sold for £500 so yesterday Joe Gormley and Gerard Lawlor from Cliftonville came to City Hall to hand over £1000 to the appeal. That will pay for more than 50 meals at the Banquet. Thanks again for your kind support and for epitomising the spirit of 4 Corners Festival.
In the midst of an unexpected election that threatens to be brutal and sectarian there are moments of hope and grace. As supporters arrived for this morning’s prayer breakfast many were talking about Ian Paisley Jr’s performance on the BBC last night . In the early stages of what had threatened to be a brutal sectarian campaign the son of Rev Ian Paisley very publicly thanked Martin McGuinness for his contribution to peace. Mr. Paisley said his “remarkable journey not only saved lives but made the lives of countless people better”. Added to that the news that Peter Robinson was praying for Martin McGuinness to recover from illness, and even some of the veteran peacemaker’s present admitted to being pleasantly surprised.
And yet that Grace is exactly what 4 Corners Festival is all about. We are hosting hope in the midst of darkness – we are celebrating “Our Wounded and Wonderful City,”- and we believe that we can help transform Belfast. Almost 100 supporters gathered at 8:00am to pray for our city and to commit to making it a better place for all. Poet Jim Deeds (who will be leading a Wonderful Wander through the West) welcomed everyone and gave an overview of some highlights of the festival. More importantly he shared his belief that Belfast needed what he called, “a 4 Corners mentality and spirituality, or as Steve Stockman said earlier in the week – Reconciliation is not rolling down the hill from Stormont, so we have to roll it up!”
This theme was picked up by the Chair of the Community Relations Council Peter Osborne, who said that civil society was a beacon of hope during the worst of the troubles and civil society now needs to show leadership and demand that our politicians focus on reconciliation and building a shared future. He noted the irony of the assembly collapsing on Martin Luther King Day – “MLK the man who set the standard for hope and aspiration in a divided society,” and went on to talk about the famous ‘I have a Dream’ Speech. “Most people remember the mountaintop, the dream of children someday playing side by side, but I remember an earlier part of the speech where MLK looks at the 250,000 people in the crowd – about a quarter of whom were white. And he asks the question – ‘Why have our white brothers and sisters joined us here today? It’s because they realise that their freedom is tied to our freedom, that their future is tied to our future – that none of us can do this alone.’ 4 Corners exemplifies that spirit, that vision of being in this together. We cannot walk alone in this city and how we respond to the current challenge – how we dialogue and act towards each other is exactly how we will move forward together.”
The launch was closed by our host Rev Ann Tolland who prayed for our city and for the work of the festival within it – recognising the fear of the present but asking that we all seek to become, “that tiny light, that spark that will give people hope as we go forward in Jesus’ name.”
And as a festival we say Amen to that. We hope that you can join us at some of our events over the next few weeks.
We are very excited about this years Festival Programme – dare we say it’s the best yet! We are also conscious of the unexpected context, with our festival happening in the middle of campaigning for a snap Assembly Election. At such a time as this we will be talking about reconciliation and respect and hope. Our prayer is that reconciliation can filter up to Stormont rather than wait for it to filter down from the hill. Join us in calling for a respectful campaign that recognises that all are made in the image of God, that all of our people are important and that all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Every year as part of the 4 Corners Festival we partner with the Lord Mayor’s Office to provide a Banquet at Belfast City Hall. In previous years we have provided meals for the Homeless and for refugees. This year we are focusing on those who provide full time care for others. These unsung heroes spend their time looking after the needs of friends or family members, who are to ill or frail to look after themselves. This year’s Caring for Carers banquet is a way of saying thank you to those who give so much. The Banquet costs around £20 per head so we would love to get as much sponsorship for the meals as possible. Sponsor a meal or a table and say thank you those whose sacrifice is often overlooked. You can sponsor a meal on our Justgiving page or find a more creative way to support the event.
We were thrilled to hear that Cliftonville FC had got on board and are auctioning a club jersey and generously matching whatever is raised themselves. To find out more or to make a bid click here. You have until 21st January to be the proud owner of the shirt above!
Thanks everyone for your support for this years festival banquet.
Jenna Wilson, a member of the 4 Corners committee, shared this poem on the last night of the 2016 festival. We are delighted to share it with you now. Enjoy.
I am an outsider –
I must start with that.
I can only see dimly, through a slanted rain,
this Belfast that I call home.
And as I look, with wonder, fascination, concern and trepidation,
I think there is so much to celebrate
and so much still I fear.
The cold here feels colder –
the dark, darker
and as I walk the streets the wounds, yes, I cannot yet call them scars –
the wounds are tangible,
visible, impossible to erase and difficult to soothe.
The unspoken seems to carry the headlines.
The questions of the future are left in a heap in order to make sense of the past.
And I wonder: Is there a salve that can heal this place? Is it more tears?
Can we find the common good, the common table to share a smile, a meal, an embrace?
Can we find a story where none are left out, ostracized, blamed and victimized,
where faces have names and names mean something different than a street?
What do we need?
More politics, rhetoric, rules of engagement and realigning of pavement?
But first, we need to listen –
To the city
to the artists
to the flute players and priests.
To the politicians and students,
the athletes and the streets.
For all voices, identities, communities, and entities need room,
Need space to breathe. To be.
To find some curiosity about difference.
And we need hope.
This sense that what you want to be, can be…
the stuff that helps dream become reality,
injecting a belief in the possibility of a togetherness that dreams big dreams.
What does a city do when the hope is hard to find?
When the present lives the past
and the past is unbearable
and the future,
the future is left out.
It must create its own hope.
Inch by inch,
dropping new narratives into the river.
Hope comes when strangers meet for prayer in Clonard
and extend a hand saying peace.
It breaks out when forgotten communities
are given a chance to speak.
It is heard in the voices of young people
overflowing with ideas and thoughts.
It seeps out when creative artists
explore the beauty of a walk.
It is heard in voices singing
to celebrate a city that’s home.
It arrives in a festival’s efforts
to encourage our feet to roam.
There’s healing on the horizon,
If we can but focus our ears
and listen to the hope being formed.
6th February 2016, Girdwood Community Hub
How often do you pause to notice what is around you? Do you travel to your destination as quickly as possible, the journey being no more than a means to an end? How much do you know about the streets of your city?
These were some of the questions posed by the panel of four during “Listening to the city” on Saturday afternoon at Girdwood Community Hub. Girdwood is not an easy place to find, due largely to the fact that, having opened only three weeks ago, it does not appear on a map. However, with modern facilities provided in a shared community space, it is a place that is worth finding.
The panel consisted of Susan Mansfield, founder of The Passion Walk in Belfast; Garrett Carr, lecturer and creator of alternative maps; Allan Leonard, managing director of community organisation, the Northern Ireland Foundation; and Kate Trenerry, traveller, photographer and writer, who joined us via Skype.
Each of these panelists had something to say about psychogeography, that is, the effect of the geographical environment on emotions or behaviour. While Susan was planning The Passion Walk, an Easter walk around Belfast with an accompanying audio guide, she made several observations: Belfast is a city that has transformed hugely in the past few years, but still has echoes of the past in high walls and a lack of green space. She noticed that it is a city of clear divisions, marked by flags and paving stones.
Garrett curated “Mapping Alternative Ulster”, an exhibition that started in the Ulster Museum, displaying a variety of maps showing unconventional ways of looking at our nation and seeing it as more than a site of conflict. Allan has seen many divided cities, having been in Berlin at the end of communism and visiting Nicosia in Cyprus, the last divided city in Europe. He made the contrast between the Mitrovica Bridge in Kosovo, the purpose of which is to divide, and the Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry, built to improve access and relations between opposing sides of the community.
Kate has made walls her business for her project, Walking Walls. She walked the walls between Israel and Palestine, walls between Greek and Turkish occupied Cyprus, and the Peace Walls between Protestant and Catholic areas throughout Northern Ireland. In comparing these places, she noted that in Israel/Palestine and Cyprus, the walls are dominating and intimidating, their physical presence keeping people apart, whereas in Northern Ireland, they are less imposing, much easier to cross, but still seem to generate a power that becomes internalised, continuing to keep people apart.
Though coming from different positions and experiences, the panel all agreed that we need to take more notice of what is around us. The physical geography of Belfast is fascinating, story-telling, history-whispering, surprising and hope-bringing, if only we take the time to see it.
Words by Pip McCracken (@pipmccracken)