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, (,,  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

        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 (, 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 ( 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, 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, (, 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.