On the Eve of Reunion

Friday, February 10, 2006
Posted by Peter Clark at 01:28 AM

I am posting this on the eve of our reunion. This is a poem I wrote at Corrymeela about our experiences in Belfast entitled “Leaving Belfast”

Leaving Belfast   by Peter Clark

The city fades out
Driving past the towering buildings
And Albert’s Clock in the City Centre
Moving North into the estates.
Colours mark the land here.
Red, White, & Blue;
Green, White, & Gold;
They define you,
Who you are,
Where you live,
Leaving the city
It all fades
Into greens
And browns.
This land bears no visible markers,
No signs of the recent past.
It is unchanging here
Just sheep and grass and rock
As it has been
For time untold.
There is a sense of tranquility,
False though it maybe,
That fills the soul
With hope and joy.
There is the thought
That one day
People of certain creeds and faiths
Will not need to be
Leaving Belfast.

(c) Peter J. Clark 2006


Monday, January 30, 2006
Posted by Bethany at 09:33 PM

I confess that I was not eager to leave Corrymeela for one last night back in Belfast. As mentioned in previous posts, our experiences at Corrymeela were incredible and there was something very peaceful in just being at the beautiful and comfortable retreat center. So yes, I confess I was not excited to go back to Paddy’s Palace (our infamous hostel) even for just one more night. However, I found that evening in Belfast to be one of the most meaningful of the entire trip. That evening many of us went to see the play 1974 on its opening night which was brilliantly written by Northern Irish playwright Damien Gorman.
Our experience at the Lyric Theatre began wonderfully as we met with Ronnie (a director from Corrymeela) who arranged for us to see the show and meet the playwright. Ronnie was the epitome of hospitality offering several times to buy us sodas or treats at the concession area. Upon entering the theatre we witnessed a deeply moving presentation. The play was set over the course of the last six days of 1974 which was year that saw horrific violence in Northern Ireland. The setting for the play was in alcohol treatment facility and it looked specifically at the life of four very different men struggling through this treatment program. It was a splendid way to participate in the local artistic culture though there were several jokes that we didn’t quite get. The play had a dark comedic tone.  However, at the end of the play the characters exit full of hope. At this point I thought the play was over and I honestly felt good seeing the characters I had grown attached to make progress and start a new life. However, just after the characters exit in rejoicing,  slides go up that show each of them individually bloodied and dead as the result of an apparent bombing. The lights go up. Internally I’m sad and very annoyed. I was just starting to feel good about life and now everyone is dead. I was ready to leave the theatre in mild disgust at what seemed an unnecessary and pessimistic ending. However, I was graciously given the opportunity to hear the playwright’s thoughts which completely defined my experience with the play 1974. 
It was an honor to meet Damien Gorman and quite frankly ask him skeptical questions. Damien responded to all of my questions before I had the chance to ask even one. In a nutshell he said he ended the play this way because it very much reflects the story of Northern Ireland. Just as things seem to be getting better and just as hope begins to emerge horrific tragedy and death prevail. We also learned that his own brother was treated in a similar facility for alcoholism but died before Damien finished the script. Sadly, we were swept out of the theatre very quickly though I would have loved to talk to this intriguing artist much more. I am grateful for every question and answer raised by 1974.

Giants Causeway

Posted by Jordan at 09:06 PM

After waiting for Aaron to send me my pictures that were on his computer, I decided it was finally time to post—even without the pictures.  After leaving Belfast, our group headed for Corrymeela.  However, we made some stops to see the gorgeous Irish countryside.  The most memorable place we visited was the majestic natural phenomena known as Giants Causeway.  Steep cliffs drop into the water, and jutting out into the sea are thousands of hexagonal shaped stones.  The local legend is that a giant from Ireland and a giant from Scotland built a pathway connecting the two countries.  When the giant from Ireland saw the much larger giant from Scotland walking down the path, he got scared and dressed as a baby.  Upon arriving in Ireland, the Scottish giant saw how big the baby was, and grew scared at the thought of how big the babies father must be.  In great haste, the Scottish giant turned around and ran home tearing apart the causeway as he went so the Irish giant could not follow him and attack his home.  Today, no one really believes in the legend. (duh).  Scientists speculate that lava from the sea cooled in such a way to form the perfect hexagonal tubes and rocks.  Again, without pictures, true justice cannot be served.  The landmark and surrounding areas were among the most beautiful sites I have ever seen.  Hopefully everyone will get a chance to see it someday in their lives.  We spent a couple of hours there, but I could have spent an entire day.  Someday, when I actually get the pictures, I will post them on this blog.  The pictures will only be a small consolation, but at least it will give whoever is reading this an idea of this natural beauty.  Until then, God’s peace.


Saturday, January 28, 2006
Posted by Christine at 08:37 PM

On January 17th, after spending 12 days in Belfast, our group left the city and headed for the countryside.  Our destination was Corrymeela, an institute that focuses on peace and reconciliation.  Although it seemed as though we were never going to get there, eventually our bus pulled into a parking lot outside a dimly lit building and three enthusiastic Corrymeela staff members greeted us.  When we arrived at the institute, they already had a fire going with tea, coffee, and biscuits just waiting to be consumed-that initial hospitality was an indicator of how the rest of the week would go.  Our time at Corrymeela was by far the most restful part of our trip.  Most of our time was spent listening to a man named Colin share his wisdom on peace and reconciliation.  He told us stories on how he had seen the beginnings of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, even if it was just between school-aged boys playing group games on the grounds of Corrymeela.  Although our time at Corrymeela was focused on lectures from Colin, the four days were not all work; one night the staff took us into Ballycastle for a night off the grounds and when we returned the entire group sat down and talked late into the night.  Another day we put on waterproofs and jellies and headed down to the beach, and although all of us ended up getting severely wet, it was astounding to see God’s power and beauty in the crashing waves and serene shoreline.  Overall, our time at Corrymeela was not only the most relaxing and comfortable of our trip, but also the most thought provoking and eye opening.  There is no way that I could forget those four days.

Interactions with Derryvolgie students

Friday, January 27, 2006
Posted by Rob Jelsema at 08:31 PM

    Our time in Northern Ireland was great and has now come to an end.  As I have been getting back to reality in Grand Rapids I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the past three weeks.  One of the many great things that has come to mind was the relationships I have built with some of the students at Derryvolgie Hall.  Since we first arrived in Belfast they were very inviting and interested in talking with us.  They never complained about us coming into their residence hall and hanging around there for a few hours everyday.  There were some times where they would come with us to see a movie or even just to catch dessert.  They would also show us around town and help us brush up on our Irish lingo.  These events gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the students on a more personal level.  I found it fascinating how we had traveled part way around the world and found students who are just like ourselves and share many common interests.  I valued our time in Northern Ireland and also the many relationships that were built there.  I hope to stay in contact with those I have met there.

Through the eyes of John McCourt

Posted by Jennifer Conrad and Jeff De Jong at 01:54 PM

After leaving Corrymeela we went on a day tour to Derry.  It is also known as Londonderry because the London Guilds paid for the establishment of the city’s industry.  Most people still refer to it as Derry.  This is one of the last walled cities in the world.  The city within the walls was designed to hold around two thousand people, but the city held over twenty thousand during the Siege of Derry.  We met a man named John McCourt who is Catholic and has a vast knowledge of the rich history of the city.  He started out with a tour of the city walls and general information of the city.  We walked around the walls around the city and saw the original cannons that defended the city against King James during the Siege of Derry, these cannons were also paid for by the London Guilds; John said that the name of the guild that bought the cannon used to be engraved upon it.  From each of the four main city gates you can see straight into the city square.  John talked about how common it used to be to have bombs go off around 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon near the city square.  From the wall you could also look at the surrounding neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods seemed very defined with respect to their religion; the curbstones in the neighborhoods were painted in their respective colors and there were many murals to identify the neighborhood.  We stopped on the part of the wall that overlooked the “Bogside” a predominantly Catholic neighborhood.  This is where John grew up and he was able to point out different buildings and areas and tell personal stories about them.  We also learned more about John here; he told us about what it was like for him to grow up and the oppression and discrimination that was part of his childhood.  From here we went down into the “Bogside” and walked around the site where Bloody Sunday occurred.  John told us about how people in his neighborhood protested every weekend because they really had no other community activities.  As we walked he pointed out where people that he knew had died on that day.  He lead us along the path that he followed that day when running from the British troops while retelling the day’s events.  This gave a much more tangible feel to the events of Bloody Sunday, he helped us to understand what went on that day.  John also point out the changes of the landscape, the bullet holes in the building, where the troops had stood while firing, and how the crowd reacted to the event.  As we were walking through the square some of John’s friend invited us into the brand new Bloody Sunday center.  The center was brand new and the plaster on the walls had not fully dried yet.  It was due to open on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Kilmainham Jail

Thursday, January 26, 2006
Posted by Kate Bierma at 05:50 PM

    On Sunday seven of us found the Kimainham jail after a long, enjoyable, post lunch trek.  We were able to go on a guided tour through the jail built in 1792.  We learned that it was decommisioned in 1924 after many years of being a part of Ireland’s troubled history.  Early in the tour we sat in the old chapel where our guide gave us an overview of the jail’s history.  His lovely Irish accent, knowledge, and passion for the subject allowed the stories to become very real.  At one point in his presesntation he explained how one of the men involved in the 1916 Easter rising got married in the very chapel we were sitting in.  He and his bride were married, had ten minutes together, and then he was executed.  We were able to see the jail cells where many historic figures in Irish history were held before their executions.  The prisoners spent twenty-two hours in their cells, one hour exercising, and one hour in the chapel.  The jail was originally intended to have one person in each of its 100ish jail cells but during the potato famine the prison population increased into the thousands as a result of theft crimes.  Reports from that time reported inches of human feces coating the prison floors.  Children as young as six years old made up much of the work force during this time so they were punished right along with adults.  The sentences were often inappropriately harsh for petty crimes such as stealing a potato. Sadly, these conditions were better than the conditions outside of the jail walls because at least here the prisoners were fed regularly. 
    As I walked in places where so much sadness, fear, and brutality happened, I was floored by how different my life has been.  I am thankful for the opportunities I have had, for my health, for the people in my life, for our Saviour but I realized anew the need for me to fight hard against being to comfortable.  My priveledged life does not have to lead to apathy.

A personal connection

Saturday, January 21, 2006
Posted by Christine Bensfield at 06:58 AM

About a week and a half ago a group of us used our free afternoon to go to the Ulster Museum.  We decided to go because it just so happened that they had an exhibit on the history of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, dating back to almost one thousand years ago (what perfect timing!).  As I began to explore the exhibit, I read each panel of information and looked at each display, but as I was finishing one area of a display, a small panel in the corner caught my attention.  It was a newspaper article and it was clear that it was not a significant part of the exhibit because it was set off in a corner and most people just walked right by it.  The reason that I was drawn to it was the date of the article; October 21, 2003; a date significant to me because it was my 18th birthday.  I can remember that day as though it was yesterday.  It was my first birthday away from home and I was still struggling to adjust to my new life at Calvin, I spent most of the day alone in my room, just feeling overwhelmingly sad and lonely.  As I was reading the article I realized that I am not the only one in the world who has such vivid memories of this day, for a family in Northern Ireland it was a day that they had been waiting for thirty years.  The article explained that during the first few years of the Troubles a woman was murdered and the details behind her murder were never quite figured out and her body was never found.  Her family was left to wonder, “Why?” and on October 21, 2003; they were given the answers.  She was murdered simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent victim to a troubled time.  As they interviewed the family members it was obvious that although it was a very difficult day for them, they were also glad that they finally had closure.  Reading the article brought the whole subject of the conflict here to a personal level, in a small way I felt connected to it. It is incredible to me just how small this world actually is, that a day memorable in my life could also be so memorable in a small country an ocean away. 

Peace in Northern Ireland

Thursday, January 19, 2006
Posted by Jennifer Conrad at 05:52 PM

Progression forward
The reward not yet in sight
Baby steps make change

a morning at mornington community project

Posted by elisabeth heffner at 01:46 PM

many of us associate group traveling with mission projects but we have been doing something much different. our interim class provided us a unique opportunity to interact with local heroes who are making great strides to bring about reconcilation and community. we have talked about being advocates for peace in northern ireland and were hoping to be able to leave our support of the long process by painting a small mural on the peace wall. but when that looked like it may not be a good idea we were offered the opportunity to go into one of the catholic “estates” (neighborhoods) and do work around the Mornington Community Project which consisted mostly of scrubbing, sweeping, painting, picking up, and organizing children’s books. the directors of the center, ken and claire humphrey, came to talk to our group and were an inspiration for true community building. they are a protestant family that made the challenging decision to move into mornington, a struggling catholic neighborhood where the center is located. it has been a challenge for them to raise their family where their children feel both a sense of belonging to their protestant background and to the catholic community where they live. they are building bridges for unemployed men, struggling mothers and youth to find a sense of hope in the midst of a divided society. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Posted by Ken Heffner at 06:08 AM

Alistar Kilgore from Corrymeela spoke with us last week about the cycle of conflict and we’ve been talking about it since. He summarized the work of French cultural anthropologist Rene Girard. He observes that there is a consistent cycle in human history of peace in the community then a conflict emerges that disrupts the peace. It is assumed that the conflict has come from the gods or another external source and has taken up residence in one of the members of the community. The “scape goat” must be identified and then either eliminated (killed ) or exiled from the community. The community then returns to peace and begins the process over again. Alistar pointed out that this cycle still exists and can help explain events in Northern Ireland as well as other parts of the world. From a Christian perspective it would seem that there are several problems. Evil is externalized or objectified. It is not something that all of us are responsible for or possess rather it is one member of the community that is the focus of evil. Also the solution is violence either through death in the form of execution or war or the violence of exile out of the community into isolation.
A uniquely Christian vision would place evil inside each of us in the community not just a scape goat. In other words the problem of evil is even worse than we imagined. Death or exile will not resolve it. We are the problem not the solution, the solution comes from outside of us in the form of God who comes to us and offers himself as the sacrifice. Christ ends the sacrifice cycle and then takes up residence in us to change us or make us into new people. Reconciliation not sacrifice becomes the new model for how to live in community.


One Police Officer’s Experience

Sunday, January 15, 2006
Posted by Jennifer Conrad at 07:42 PM

There was an evening were I got hungry after most of the local restaurants are closed in Belfast except a Chinese place right near our hostel. Once inside after ordering, a local Northern Ireland cop came in and placed an order. We had only been in Belfast a few days at this point and had heard a lot about the cops and how much they are disliked by everyone. Since I was still waiting for my order I decided to go over and talk to him. I went up and asked him if I could ask him a question. He responded saying that I could. I asked, “why would you want to become a cop since everyone hates them?” His response was “well I wanted to have a job of authority without becoming a para military. In becoming a cop I was then also disowned by my family.”  His response was rather interesting and from that I could even tell that he was a Catholic because he said that his family disowned him for joining the police force. I thought that his response was an excellent answer. After thanking him for answering my question we headed home and had some delicious food.

Economics in Belfast

Posted by Jeff De Jong at 07:41 PM

When we visit neighborhoods to see conflict we always go to the lower class neighborhoods.  The conflict really doesn’t exist in higher middle class and upper class neighborhoods.  Most of the students here at Derryvolgie hall are from the high middle to upper class, and most of them don’t really know much or concern themselves with the conflict too much.  By going into some neighborhoods and talking with people there is the general consensus that the more violent parts of this conflict occur in lower class areas.
Lower class areas are where all the murals are and where the paramilitaries are located.  People in these lower class areas have a greater tendency to violence and to joining a paramilitary group for a number of reasons.  There is an extremely large lower class here in Belfast because it has lost all of its heavy industry.  Parts of Belfast have become somewhat of a welfare state due to the unemployment of families that used to work in the shipyards and linen industry have been without jobs for two or three generations.  Males from unemployed families will have a tendency to join a paramilitary group because they are not able to fulfill their commission as the primary wage earner in the family.  Because each side, Protestants and Catholics, are both poor they feel like they are oppressed victims.
This conflict and instability only hurts both sides, Catholic and Protestant, by hurting local economy and bringing everyone down.  Businesses will not invest in the local economy because it is not profitable in an area of conflict and instability.  The businesses would lose profit due to the fact that they would have to pay the local paramilitary group for proper “protection.”  The business also runs the risk of losing potential customers or loss of capital through paramilitary activity.
The stability in Belfast right now is good because more businesses are starting to invest in the area due to the increased stability and ready workforce.  If this stability increases it will bring all the economic classes up.  This will create less tension and ill feeling in many neighborhoods as people will be doing better economically and will not feel victimized and oppressed.  With this lowered tensioned and the fact that everyone will be doing better economically the conflict will decrease and violent conflict will be nonexistent.  At that point once everyone is doing better people will be more willing to work things out and compromise.

Out to Lunch Artist Series

Posted by Kelly and Karin at 07:09 PM

This past Saturday we decided to participate in an event in the Out to Lunch artist series.  This series involves hour long performances by different artists from various parts of Ireland.  Performances are held inside the “Theater Truck,” which is a semi-truck transformed into a stage/theater/lunch venue that holds 40 people.  Saturday’s performance featured vocalist Hilary Bow from Cork in the Republic of Ireland.  Bow covers popular songs that have been translated from their original language into traditional Irish.  Her genre is considered bella nova, which is similar to a sultry feeling jazz.  She had a great stage presence and was a heartfelt performer. 

The traditional Irish language is rarely spoken, especially in Northern Ireland, due to the presence of the British.  We have only encountered the Irish language on signs and in reading material.  Irish language is used on signs in the Catholic areas because their Irish roots are a significant aspect to their sense of identity.  For us to hear her use traditional Irish language seemed to give hope for unification of Ireland in a constructive way.  We think it was really neat to hear this singer who has taken music we may or may not have heard of, and sing it in the Irish language. It was amazing, and a wonderful way to spend our Saturday afternoon!

Film in the Troubles

Posted by Peter Clark at 04:56 PM

This past Tuesday, Gareth Higgins spoke to us on the Role of Film in our studies. I was personally quite excited about this, being a Mass Media major. His talk was quite personal, with plenty of room for questions that we have. He emphasized the work of Neil Jordan as a great Irish screenwriter. His credits include Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, Angel, and Breakfast on Pluto. He also works with Zero28, a group of people who “believe that faith, life and work need to connect with each other.” Higgins has often put himself out on the line in terms of his opinions, running against the flow of mainstream Protestantism in Northern Ireland to make a stand for peace, equality, and support for the arts. As many of the people that we have talked to, he laments the fact that, in terms of visual arts, the Protestants lag sorely behind the Catholics, with most of the filmmakers coming from a Catholic background, meaning that the representation of this conflict in the media is mostly one-sided. Unfortunately, it seems to me that this will remain the standard, as many Protestants resist participation in the media arts, seeing them as a primarily Catholic institution that they want no part of.

Movies suggested:
The Field
Michael Collins
Breakfast on Pluto
The Butcher Boy
The Boxer
In America

For more information search for these titles at:

Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >