One of the down sides of writing a blog is the pressure to write something every day when folks at home might be expecting news. I only write this blog when I travel to Northern Ireland, which turns out to be way more times than I ever imagined. This is my sixth trip back to Belfast and Corrymeela since I spent 3 months at Corrymeela while on sabbatical in the summer of 2011. With the participants of this trip, I will have brought a total of 45 people to Corrymeela since February 2013. That feels kind of mind-boggling to me.
This year, Corrymeela asked that we come up at the beginning of the week, instead of starting on the weekend as we did last year. That meant that we had the weekend in Belfast to explore and begin to put some content and context to the learning. It’s been a whirlwind since Saturday, which is why I haven’t had the chance to post another blog entry. We began Saturday morning with the Hop On Hop Off city tour of Belfast. I have said before that I don’t know any other way than this to get an overview of the city and the big brush stroke of its history. I do know some of the scripted lines by heart now … like about the Titanic … “anyone from here will tell you that she was fine when she left here, maybe you should ask the English Captain, the Swedish Navigator or the Canadian iceberg what happened …” or about the Belfast Giants ice hockey team that is composed of Canadian, American and Russian players. But it gives folks who haven’t been here a first taste, and also gets their curiosity peaked. Saturday afternoon was spent poking around City Centre and a few gift shops before buying some food to take back to Farset to go with the pizza we planned to order while watching a movie together.
We began Sunday at the St. George’s Market – a visual and literal feast of friendly people, amazing food, and interesting local crafts. After that we broke up into several small groups according to interests. Some went to the Ulster Museum and a walk around the Botanic Gardens. Some went on a “Black Taxi Tour” – a hosted tour around the murals, memorials and remembrances of the period known as the Troubles. Then we all met up at the Crumlin Road Jail for a tour. That was something I had not done before, and although I can’t really say I enjoyed the tour, it was both provocative and disturbing, and certainly provided much to reflect upon in our nightly check-in.
This morning, some have gone to Belfast Castle for a hike around the grounds, some have gone on part two of the taxi tour, one has gone to The Titanic Museum, one is visiting a university, and a couple of us are catching up on work … like me.
This afternoon, it’s off to Corrymeela. If Belfast was the appetizer, then Corrymeela is the meat and potatoes. I love to see the look on people’s faces when we turn corner and come down the hill and see the panoramic view of the beach with Rathlin Island, Fairhead, and perhaps even Scotland in the distance. It’s still breathtaking to me … and I love to see people experience it the first time. Once again, on our arrival we will be delivered into the hands of the many staff, volunteers, and resource people at Corrymeela for four days of learning and community sharing. Anticipation and excitement is high!