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.
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.