Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blog Listing of Talk Given by Reverend Harold Good on Peace in Northern Ireland

Blog Listing of the Entire Talk Given by Reverend Harold Good on Monday 10 May 2010 at the Forthspring Community Center which resides in the Springfield Road Methodist Church:

Defining Moments

Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict

The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet

A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage

Indigenous and Settler People in Ireland

First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons

The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons

Prayer at IRA Weapon Decommissioning

Finishing the Reconciliation

The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation

The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation

On a Monday, May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the eleventh in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, we learned how some of the victims families have been the most ardent pursuers of peace. Next, he related to us:

Reverend Good said some people will want to talk about the agreement as the Belfast Agreement, but it is always known as the Good Friday Agreement. He believes in calling it the Good Friday Agreement because Good Friday comes before the resurrection. That agreement represents so much of the pain and anguish of the Irish community, but it has led them into a whole new way. For the Irish, the humbling thing is that people come from around the world to hear of their experiences with this agreement.

Reverend Good has made this presentation to a group of people from Iraq who wanted to come and hear the Northern Irish story. He said that's all the Northern Irish peacemakers can do is share their story. He believes they cannot tell other people how to solve their problems, but they can share their story. Hopefully, people will find some kind of pointer which will help them, just as the Irish peacemakers learned from others, particularly South Africa.

A question came from the audience: Did the Irish come together together to fight the Nazi and Fascist threat during World War II? Was that a useful teaching tool in the years since? It would seem the differences in Ireland would appear minimal compared to true evil.

He responded the Battle of the Somme is often cited as an example where many, many Irish of both traditions died side by side in World War I. Similarly, Irish volunteers died throughout World War II.

Reverend Good was thinking of this in church the other day. The Church was having their Christian Aid Sunday, where they try to determine how they will approach their war on poverty in the world. He asked himself why aren't we concentrating more on the thirty thousand children a day who are dying out of hunger and poverty? That's the evil we should be fighting.

Maybe we think the women in Afghanistan are not being treated the way we would like, but let's not make that a cause for war. He's more concerned about the 30,000 children who have no choice about anything except dying. He said if we can get our young people around the world to become involved in changing and in getting incited about, those are the causes we must get behind.

He said we must help our young people to travel more to see these things. He heard a young woman speak in church whose life is turned around because she's been to see some of this for herself. Some of the young people who think the world begins and ends on the Springfield Road or the Shankill Road, they need to discover the wider world. It's not just in Ireland. In the United States people need to see the world beyond their state boundary.

An audience question was about the stepping stones on a slide Reverend Good showed. He was asked if he could explain how “confidence” helps to create peace and reconciliation.

He thought its interesting because he's been away from the election in Ireland. But in the few days he's been back he sensed the people of Northern Ireland are confident. He said there is a remarkable result for the election. The people in Northern Ireland have voted hugely for the politicians and parties who want to move forward.

There was one politician named Jim Alister who represented the people who wanted to take them back. Not to violence, but to the days when there weren't any Nationalists or Republicans around the place. Mr. Alister wanted to take everyone back to the days when Unionists would rule everything, exclude everybody else. He totally opposed Unionists and Sinn Fein working together. He wanted to dismantle all of that. For awhile, he was feared. He's a highly skilled and trained lawyer. He's an advocate, what is called a Queen's Counsel in Northern Ireland. He was very persuasive.

But Mr. Alister got nowhere. He put up candidates in every constituency and they were all sunk without trace.

The people have voted their future overwhelmingly and that has given them confidence in each other. Also, it's showing there is confidence in the process.

Already, Reverend Good said, the language is changing. He heard a political show the day before, where usually the politicians and others are aggressive, and people were different towards each other in light of the election results. That's confidence.

The healing and the forgiveness – if the faith community doesn't have something to offer about these, then he doesn't know what the faith community is about. He was taught quite a bit about this in the United States when he was asked to speak at a Roman Catholic University down in Houston. They asked him to talk about dealing with the hurt of the past and has faith something distinctive to offer? That was the theme of the conference. He was focusing on words like Grace, Truth, and Forgiveness. Those are three very key words in believers vocabulary. If you think those three words are too preachy and you are not a conscious believer, there are other words that are common to us all, like Generosity, and Honesty. Those are words everyone needs to begin to think about. Being honest about what we have done or not done is important. Our contribution to conflict, our contribution to what has brought this and such situations about, our failures have to be openly discussed. What the sides have done to each other must be publicly acknowledged.

Next comes Forgiveness. What is meant by forgiveness? That is a hugely significant question. The Methodist's and other denominations use it every Sunday in their liturgies. But what does it actually mean in their practice?

He said the word Grace is such an important word. It seems to embrace so much. He remembered talking about the early release of prisoners. Back when he was helping face this issue, he was a member of an organization which deals with prisoners during and following imprisonment. A group including Reverend Good was involved in a group concerned with the early release of prisoners as a result of the Good Friday agreement. The group that had maybe the most or at least among the most difficulty with the early release of prisoners were the churches.

He invited representatives of the churches to come together one evening. He asked Brian Currin, who had been involved in the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa, to address the people from the churches. When Mr. Currin finished speaking, the first question was, “That's all right Mr. Currin, but what about justice? Where does justice come into this?”

Mr. Currin said, “This isn't about justice. You cannot go to a widow and say, 'In the interest of justice we are going to release the person who killed your loved one.' No one could do that. It's not about justice. I'll tell you what it's about. It's about all parties to a conflict being extended an opportunity to share a new beginning whether you believe they deserve it or not.”

Reverend Good said, “Brian, will you repeat that?” Mr. Currin said, “Its about giving an opportunity to all parties to the conflict to share a new beginning whether you think they deserve it or not.”

Reverend Good said, “Brian, I don't know where you are in terms of faith, but you have given the most perfect definition of grace that I have ever heard in all my studies. You have just given the most clear definition of grace.”

Reverend Good keeps telling that story because he thinks isn't that what the Christian gospel is about? He believes God gives everyone opportunities to begin again and again and again.


The VIM team then presented Reverend Good with a prayer blanket that had been made and blessed in the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church in the United States.

This talk is the final blog posting in this speech by Reverend Good. Other aspects of the VIM trip will be posted in future blog postings. You can read the prior blog posting here.

Finishing the Reconciliation

On a Monday, May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Goode who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the tenth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, Reverend Goode explained how prayer affected the hearts of those involved in the decommissioning. Next, he related to us:

Decommissioning opened the way for a devolved or independent government formation on May 8, 2007.

Ian Paisley, the fundamentalist preacher who said, “Never!” and Martin McGuinness, former Chief of Staff of the IRA, going in together, First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The younger man with respect, leading the older man. Both of them, had rejected the mere idea. Martin McGuinness has said, “We will never enter Stormont! That's a British institution and we'll never put our foot in that place.” And Ian Paisley who said, “We will never, never, never sit down with the Republicans.”

Reverend Goode and some others sat there in the gallery, looking down, and they just can't believe what they were seeing. Their expressions showed the amazement. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister, Father Alec Reid, and Reverend Goode himself, as well as others, were looking down with amazement. He remembers coming into his mind one of Charles Wesley's hymns “Let Earth and Heaven Combine” with its line, “Widest extremes to join . . . that we the life of God might know.” He thought to himself, that's what Charles Wesley was writing about, this very moment of time!

And there it was.

The other song that came to his mind was “Amazing Grace.”

He said the agreement to move all policing into Northern Ireland was just signed, and this is the last transition contained in the Good Friday Agreement.

He said they've come a long way. The citizens of Northern Ireland have to take some further steps, to build confidence, to try and understand what it means to forgive each other, and to be reconciled to each other. Those are steps. That's the challenge for the people of Ireland.

He was asked by an audience member if he had experiences ministering to the direct victims of the violence. He said he absolutely has and in his experience, the people who have been affected have been mostly the ones who have shown everyone grace, and have challenged others to find a better way. Some of them are filled with bitterness and love retribution, but by in large it's the victims who have said, “Whatever it means, do whatever it takes to ensure no other family has to go through what we have gone through.”

He was involved in the whole question of the early release of prisoners. This was a difficult thing for people. Imagine if the people who had murdered your loved one were to be released from prison after three or four years as part of the Good Friday Agreement. And yet, some of the relatives of victims said, if that release of prisoners means an end to this violence, we can live with that.

People have helped like Gordon Wilson, one of the Methodist Laymen, who moved the world by his forgiveness. He and his daughter were buried under a building which had collapsed (in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day Bombing), and she died holding his hand. Her last words were, “I love you Daddy.” That was it, she was gone. Gordon Wilson, after he was rescued, went publicly saying this is not a time for bitterness, this is not a time for bad talk. His whole spirit moved the country's opinion.

Some people found it more difficult than others to come to that kind of place. Reverend Goode wouldn't want to stand in any kind of judgment over any one in these positions. He said he wouldn't know how he'd react in that situation.

But in a general way, victims have challenged them.

A question from the audience was asked regarding that the audience had been told by two earlier speakers, that a lot of the young Irish people today don't know much about this history. They might participate in recreational riots. They might hurl insults at one another, but they don't know what an H-block is, they don't know the sequence of events. How do we pass the lesson the families that have reconciled know to the next generation, without passing along the prejuidice?”

Reverend Goode said it is a huge problem. There are many working on this. He was away about a month ago on an overnight, at an event which was called, “From Prison to Peace”. Former Republican prisoners and former Loyalist prisoners, who together are trying to find ways of helping young people in their communities to realize there is no romance in war.

He found it an incredibly moving experience to be with these men for 36 hours where they were talking about an interface (a wall between the two traditions in the City of Belfast). He said they resolved that instead of us working on this side and you working on the other side, let's see how we all can work together to help these young people. He said they want to protect the young from going through what they themselves went through. He said they realize there was no one there years ago to help they themselves to see how futile the violence was.

He said this is so powerful because they are the best people to do this, because they lived it, they've been there, done that, come through it.

They are trying to get access to the churches and the schools and are finding these very difficult. They are often treated with suspicion in both these places.

An audience member said when she heard such people speak, they said what led them was the idea of forgiveness. Reverend Goode said forgiveness is very powerful.

Editor's Note: William Ury recounted in his 1999 book “The Third Side”:

In an interview with the BBC, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers: "She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, 'Daddy, I love you very much.' Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say." To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, "But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She's dead. She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night." As historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, "No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact."

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation".

But you can see the prior blog about how prayer had a delayed effect on those involved in the decommissioning here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prayer at IRA Weapon Decommissioning

On a Monday, May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the ninth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, Reverend Good explained how the decommissioning was super secret and incredibly moving. Next, he related to us :

Before the process of weapons being turned in was over, Reverend Good pulled out the cards with the prayer of Saint Francis. He went around quietly and one by one, he approached some of the folks around and said, “I hope you won't think I'm one of those Protty preachers going around handing out tracts. That is not my way. But this is a prayer I pray often. I think we all need to pray it from now on.”

He remembered one guy who looked at the card someone else had been handed and said, “Are those tickets to the All Ireland Final?”

Of course, the All Ireland Final was a BIG thing, and it was about to take place in week or so in Croke Park. Reverend Good said, “No. No, it's not that. But when the All Ireland Finals have been forgotten, we'll still be praying this prayer.”

Reverend Good had forgotten about those cards, but a few months ago when he was speaking about something at a site in Ireland, a man came up to him and said, “I am glad of this opportunity to tell you, I recently met a man to whom you gave a card with a prayer. He asked me if I ever met you, to tell you how much that meant to him and how important that was to him. It's the prayer he now prays regularly. He had to be in the top brass of the IRA, though there's no way of knowing which of them it was.

The prior posting of Reverend Good's talk is here.

Prayer of Saint Francis (English version):

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


This talk continues at the blog posting entitled Finishing the Reconciliation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the eighth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, Reverend Good disclosed he and Father Alec Reid, a Roman Catholic Priest, were the two witnesses invited to the decommissioning of weapons. Next, he related to us :

For Reverend Good, it was an amazing experience, to be there, to share in that journey with the leadership of the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, and to witness and to physically take part in the decommissioning of the weapons of the IRA.

Remember that in Republicanism, in the constitution of the Irish Republican Army, there are two things which are punishable by death:

1. One of them is a member to betray a colleague or comrade. Many people have died in this conflict because they were agents or double agents.

2. Another is for a member to surrender his weapon.

A formula had to be found that was agreed to by the British government, the Irish government, and by the IRA for the decommissioning of the IRA weapons that was not surrender yet was clearly an end to access to the weapons. So the definition of decommissioning is the putting of all weapons and munitions beyond reach and beyond use. For the IRA to engage in that in a way that was seen as not to be surrender, was really quite remarkable. The whole process was designed to remove any possible stigma of surrender. It was a very important step in the peace process.

Reverend Good couldn't tell the group, or anyone for that matter, a lot of details. He remembers the very first night. They didn't know where they were during the week long exercise. He's actually glad he and Father Reid didn't know where they were because he wouldn't want someone to be able to force that out of either of them. He remembers the first night he brought his devotions. He said, “What was the reading the very first night? It was of the whole armor of God”

{Ephesians 6:11 - Put on God's whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil.12For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.13Therefore put on God's complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place]. Source: Amplified Bible}

He was struck by how when they were setting off to accomplish the decommissioning of these physical weapons, he thought they really must equip themselves with the whole armor of God. That to him was an extraordinary coincidence, although he doesn't use the word coincidence any longer. It was an extraordinary happening.

He remembered before he set off, he went into a religious bookshop. He was browsing around and there he saw a rack in which there were a whole lot of prayer cards with the prayer of Saint Francis: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. He bought a bundle of them and put them in his pocket to bring on their journey.

And when we came to the very end of the decommissioning, he could remember the last moment when General de Chastelain thought they'd dealt with the last weapon.

Way out from the corner came a man with a gun over his shoulder. They'd seen him all week and who he was protecting them from, they never knew. What he could have done with his one weapon had anybody come with ill intent, he didn't know, but symbolically he was kind of standing guard over them. He was clearly a member of the IRA.

Nobody knew what was happening. The security forces did not know. The politicians did not know. The media did not know. They'd have found them if they'd known. They would have rented every helicopter in the country. Nobody knew where they were or that this was happening. The only person close to Reverend Good who would know anything was his wife, because they were on a tour of China leading a group of 40 people when the summons came. He had to leave the tour half way through China, and come home to Ireland. Everyone except the tour thought Reverend Good was in China that week, but actually he was in Ireland, witnessing the decommissioning of the IRA weapons.

But the lone guard with the gun walked over and when he handed it over, Reverend Good could still recall the look on the General's face, because the General had forgotten about this weapon. The lone guard handed the General himself the gun. He didn't salute. But he took it off his shoulder, and handed it over with military formality.

Reverend Good remembered Father Reid turned to him and said, “There goes the last gun out from Irish politics.”

This talk continues at the blog posting entitled: Prayer at IRA Weapon Decommissioning.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the seventh in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of how reality itself was a stepping stone that forced both sides to turn toward peace. Next, he relates to us the pivotal Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 and the role of US leaders in it:

After the initial meetings of the IRA leaders with the British state, there were a whole series of political meetings: Sunnydale being one of the main ones. People said all these meetings failed.

But did these agreements fail? There is no question they did not succeed in bringing peace, but they did help to lead on to the next step. Each one showed why something would not work and caused people to change their perception. Taken together, these failed attempts brought the process forward.

Most important they brought about international facilitation, and this lead to the involvement of the United States. The United States made an immense contribution to the peace process. There were some Irish-Americans who reached out to young people. President Clinton, for one, took an amazingly personal interest in Ireland. President Clinton wasn't really an Irish-American. Someone claimed on his behalf a connection to someone from County Armagh, but it was very tenuous.

Clinton gave the Irish the gift of Senator George Mitchell, who is now better known for his work in the middle east. George Mitchell sat all the parties down except Mr. Paisley's party, as Mr. Paisley's party would not come into it.

After slogging through days, and literally through nights, George Mitchell said to them on the Thursday before Good Friday 1998, if you all are not ready to agree tomorrow, I'm off. They worked through that night and on Good Friday, April, 1998, the parties involved, of course except for Mr. Paisley's party, had agreed. Some of the points of the agreement were aspirational, and some were to be realized more quickly than others.

The agreement was put to the people in a referendum. The vote was 73 percent in Northern Ireland in favor of the agreement. That was hugely important. Reverend Good asked what politician could ever get 73 percent agreement on something.

Across the entire island, something like 90 percent were in favor. People were saying there's got to be a way forward and this is the way forward. A commitment to exclusively peaceful means is the way.

Two parts of the agreement took longer than the rest. One was decommissioning of the weapons. That meant the weapons had to go. The other was devolution of policing and justice.

The parties said, they couldn't sit at a table where there were weapons under the table.

On the 26th of September, the International Commission on Decommissioning led by General John de Chastelain, former head of the Canadian Army, and his two colleagues, were responsible for bringing this accord forward. People were saying, “How do we believe this will be done?” There had been one or two attempts to complete this decommissioning that hadn't worked. So people were not ready to believe it would be done.

Then two clergymen were selected, one from each tradition to witness the decommissioning and to come back and tell their people, “I've seen it with my own eyes.”

Father Alec Reid, a Redemptorist Priest from Clonard Monastery, nearby to the Forthspring Community Center, and Reverend Good, himself were asked to be those two witnesses.

Reverend Good said he could talk to us a bit about that, without violating the confidentiality aspect, and trust to which he was sworn.

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "The Super Secret Decommissioning of IRA Weapons".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the sixth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of indigenous and settler people in Ireland, who they were, and how they came into conflict. Next, he relates to us some of the stepping stones that led toward peace:

Two states were established in Ireland. The indigenous people, who historically were Catholic, formed a an independent republic in the south, and the settler people, who historically were Protestant, formed a government loyal to Great Britain in the north.

Over the years, an idealogical conflict broke out into cycles of violence, in the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s, and very seriously in the 1960s in these Irish states.

Republicans who were committed to a united Ireland felt unity could only be achieved through force. The Loyalists, who wanted to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, felt justified in responding to the violence of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) with violence of their own kind.

Over the years these actions and events, these stumbling blocks: fear, mistrust, suspicion, separation, injustice, denial, violence, counter-violence, and the weapons that go along with these, had built walls.

He pointed out we were sitting right next to a wall, which was located outside the meeting room and at the far side of the passageway next to the community center. (This portion of the wall is at least ten feet high with a metal fence with sharp spikes atop it. Some walls near known trouble spots are 50 or 60 feet high. Reverend Good said the walls are symbolic of the divisions of the community and symbolic of all the stumbling blocks keeping the communities apart.

He turned to examining the stepping stones which help the communities come together.

First, there is reality. Reality helped various people enter wake up time, because they had lived in denial. He calls reality the first stepping stone.

As Protestants and Unionists, these people asked themselves “Why isn't everybody happy with the way things are? This is a good society. If people would just settle down, behave themselves, stop complaining, be happy.” Then, on the other hand, there were those on the Nationalist, Republican side who wanted to force everyone to their side, to a united Ireland, against the will of many others. There had to be a moment of reality for each of these groups.

There were two important realities.

There were years of violence and counter-violence. One of the realities was violence could not achieve the unity of the island. That was a very important reality for the Republican community and for the leaders of the Republican community to accept. An armed struggle was not going to achieve what they wanted to achieve. The loss of life, the letting of blood, the destruction of community, wasn't going to achieve unity.

The second reality was the one on the part of the British government in particular that there could not be a military solution to this problem. They were not going to solve the problem with all the might of the British Army and all the power available to it. This might be similar to the efforts of the a British Army in Afghanistan. This small island could not have its problems solved by an army. This is something which may have application to the world. There is something the world's peoples can learn from this. Are we ever going to solve Iraq or Afghanistan with a military solution? The answer was certainly a stepping stone of reality in Ireland.

The next stepping stone was what Reverend Good calls backstage and formal initiatives.

People who said, “We can't allow this to go on. Is there something from those in civil society or from the faith community, have to contribute?” And so began extraordinary behind the curtain meetings. Among these backstage and formal initiatives, notice some of them look large and some look smaller. Sometimes the small ones and even the large ones can seem inconsequential, but he thinks they have all contributed to this journey.

When you go to the theater, the curtain is pulled, the leading man and the leading lady come out, it looks all very simple. Yet, when you think about it, somebody has shifted the furniture, somebody helped to re-write the script, somebody adjusted the lighting to bring different perspectives to different corners of the stage, and it couldn't happen without all those people who you never see.

When he goes to the cinema, he likes to watch the credits at the end. You know, the second tea maker, the third tea maker. The first clapper board. Clapper board assistant. The credits go on and on. The interesting thing is all those people were necessary. You never remember their names. You only remember the stars who were center stage. But it took all of that behind the scenes effort to make the film.

In the same way, the peace process depends on a lot of unsung heroes talking and doing things behind the scenes.

Then we had offstage initiatives. These were very often state initiatives. For example the British government would not talk to the IRA. In 1993 a helicopter happened to land outside the Maze prison into which were ushered Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. That helicopter took off across the Irish sea and landed in some unknown location where they met with very high ranking British officials. Nobody was to know that. It wasn't Prime Ministers or known people coming up, yet it was the first step in the state, the government, saying, “We've got to talk.”

This talk is continued in the blog posting entitled "The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons ".

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Indigenous and Settler People in Ireland

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the fifth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the how Reverend Good and his congregation kept their church open for all denominations when there was a serious rumor something bad would happen in the Shankill Road neighborhood. Next we heard about stumbling blocks and stepping stones, in the history of indigenous and settler people in Ireland:

Our lives are filled with stumbling blocks and stepping stones – the stumbling blocks in Ireland are its history . The history of Ireland is a story of two peoples trying to share the same land. At this basic level, it is a fairly familiar story around the world, as well as part of the history in America. There are an indigenous people and a settler people. In the case of Ireland, the settler people coming from Scotland and England, and the indigenous people being the native people of Ireland before the settlers came. Each of these people having their respective distinctive cultures and traditions. The settler people being mainly Protestant, mainly Presbyterian and Episcopal. The indigenous people being Catholic. Those are their distinctive traditions.

It's too simple to say it is Catholic and Protestant. For many of the people involved in the conflict, and for many of the people involved in the violence, Church is far removed from their agenda, let alone their understanding of Christian faith. Someone who might state they are fiercely Protestant, perhaps hasn't been in Church since they were baptized at all. Also, there are Catholics who adhere to their Church nominally who didn't adhere to their Church or to the teachings of their Pastors about violence, and may do quite the opposite of those teachings. So it is too simple to say it is Catholic and Protestant.

What people are saying is that Catholic represents the Nationalist, indigenous, Catholic people of Ireland. And Protestant represents the settler people. When there was conflict over land, there was said to be conflict between Catholic and Protestant, in a shorthand way of referring to the sides.

That is not to say that religion has not been used. He already spoke of the Protestant clergyman who said it was okay to take tea together but not to pray together. Religion has been used by the Church leaders in the past to add to the conflict. Certainly, among the Protestants it was not considered wise to be too close to the Catholics who were so lost in their beliefs. The Catholic Church once had the position that Catholics cannot go the weddings or funerals of Protestants. They weren't to go into a Protestant Church. And it is wrong to marry a Protestant, and if you do, the children must be raised Catholic. All of that contributes to suspicion, division, and fear, and this very quickly can turn into hatred. On the other hand, a Church which has as a statement of belief that the Pope is the anti-Christ or Satan, as the Protestants once did, that doesn't do much for building good relations, does it?

It all gets mixed up. On the one hand we want to say it has much more to do with territory than theology, it has much more to do with culture than with creed. That's true! But on the other hand that religion has been used as a wedge to put suspicion and fear between people. And its gone unchallenged by the Churches, largely, and they allowed it to brew. They allowed people like Mr. Paisley to build their empires upon that kind of fear and suspicion.

Whether it's America or South Africa or Ireland, the settlers tend to have the feeling they are a chosen people. The Protestants in Ireland will tell you they have a responsibility because this is the land that God gave them. You may think that's ignorant. Reverend Good was in Texas recently he noticed on the breakfast table a little carton. It was from the Promised Land Dairy. There was a quotation from Deuteronomy (26:9), “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;”

We all have to think about how our religion, our biblical journey has impacted upon our politics. That is what has happened in Ireland. The Irish don't have a dairy called The Promised Land Dairy, but there are people who think this is the land that God gave them and that nobody can challenge that. They feel they have a right to be here and they had a right to take somebody else's land because it was God who gave it to them. (For those who don't know, the northern province of Ireland, called Ulster, was colonized, to use a neutral term, by peoples from Great Britain, mostly from Scotland, where they originally moved mostly into unoccupied areas, after the Flight of the Earls. This colonization took place in the 1600s.)

In 1922 the indigenous people wanted to become independent of Great Britain and came to be called Republicans as they were committed to a new republic. They happened to be mostly (Roman) Catholic. The settlers wanted to stay in union with Great Britain and came to be called Unionists as they wanted to stay in union. They were mostly Protestant. The simple seeming solution in 1922 was to draw a line and say those south of this line would be in an independent republic and those north would stay in a relationship with Great Britain. But the populace wasn't so neatly divided; therein lies the recipe for continued conflict.

This talk is continued at a blog posting entitled "First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland".

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the fourth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of how he and his wife were assigned to Shankill Road in Belfast and how Father Murphy and he organized a meeting of clergy in Belfast for the first time to take the first halting steps toward reconciliation. From that, Reverend Good told us about a critical time for his church in the Shankill Road neighborhood:

There was such awful violence in the streets that rumors started too. One night there was a rumor something terrible was going to happen a certain night. It happened the rumor was this event would take place on Sunday night. The church always had a service on Sunday evening. Building up to that afternoon, people were getting wood, tin, hammers, nails and anything they could get, and they were blocking up their windows.

And some people in his church said we must cancel the evening service. Reverend Good asked why would we do that? They responded they must cancel the evening service because something terrible was going to happen on their road. He said, “Well, I think that's all the more reason why we should have our service.” And they decided to go ahead. Some men said they were going to get a hammer and nails as they needed to protect the windows of the church. Reverend Good said, “I don't think we should do that. Let's leave the lights on in the church, and the door open. That way if people are frightened, then they need somewhere they can come, and we should be here for them.” The church people looked skeptical. Yet, one little lady said, “Reverend, if you're going to do that, I'll be here, cuz you'll need a cup of tea.” Another little lady said, “Well Maisy, yah couldn't be here on your own luv; I'll come with yah.” Then one of the men said, “You'll need some men around the place too to keep an eye on yah, ya know.”

The lights never went out and the doors never closed for that night or for three weeks after that. It became a place of refuge, a place of comfort, a place of safety, where people, both Protestant and Roman Catholic could come. There were Roman Catholics living in that neighborhood as well. Again, it was the church seeking to respond in these very dangerous and stressful situations.

This talk will continues at a blog posting entitled "Indigenous and Settler People in Ireland ".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Goode who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the third in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the influences from his father's experience and from his experiences in mostly white and mostly black churches in the Midwest of the United States of America. Next we learn of his experiences upon his return to Ireland.

When he was due to return to Ireland in 1968, he asked to be placed in a “quiet” parish, perhaps a rural parish, if possible somewhere in the midlands of Ireland due to the fact his wife had grown up there. Part of his ministry had been in the Republic of Ireland. That's where he met his wife, who knew nothing about Northern Ireland. These connections to middle Ireland were part of the balance which had been produced in his life. She and he thought they needed a break from all the pressures they'd been through professionally, and the burdens of raising two little girls they'd brought into the world. They had in their minds five years in Ireland to undo the pressure of the wonderful but sometimes trying experiences they'd faced, and then they'd move back to the States.

The word came back that instead of going to the midlands of Ireland, they were going to Shankill Road (There was a stir in the crowd, probably because Shankill Road was a hotspot within the hotspot of Belfast during the Troubles). Within a year they found themselves in a very different spot. They just did their best because they believed in their hearts they must do what they were called to do. Ministerial reconciliation is part of the package.

Not everyone in those parts of Ireland sees it that way.

Reverend Goode remembers Father Murphy, who is the administrator of one of the cathedrals not far down the road from the Forth Spring Center. Father Murphy often had the same thoughts as Reverend Goode at the same time. Father Murphy and Reverend Goode thought at least a slender bridge between the two sides in the conflict should be established in the Shankill Road. They thought the people of the church should do it, as no one else appeared like they'd do it. They invited as many of the clergy as would come to meet together. It was the first time a meeting like this had been called in this type of setting. The meeting was good.

At the end of it, the clergy decided to meet again, and that they should bring some of their main people with them, non pastors and ministers. Then the discussion was, well where then would they meet? Because the meeting would have more than clergy, they couldn't meet in the Falls Road, couldn't meet in the Shankill Road. All the potential places had heavy associations with one side or the other. Those from the opposite side, literally wouldn't be safe in the opposite area from the group they were part of.

There was one Presbyterian minister who was very opposed to all things ecumenical, but he'd come to the meeting. His name was Donald Gillies, and he said in his Scottish accent, “I don't mind coming to this upcoming meetin, but I want to make one thing clear: There must be no praying. If you want to meet and have a cup of tea, that's all right, but there'll be no praying together.”

Father Murphy couldn't get his head around this, and queried, “You're saying we can't pray together?”

Reverend Gillies said, “No. No-No. No praying together. Tea is all right.”

To accommodate this man and to make sure he came with us, we agreed there would be no praying.

But there was no resolution of where to meet.

At the end of the day, Reverend Goode remembered there was a Jewish leader who had said he knew he wasn't Catholic or Protestant, but if there was any way he could help to let him know. So Reverend Goode phoned him up to ask would there be any chance of the group meeting in the synagogue?

The leader said it would be wonderful, of course. So it was agreed the meeting would be at the synagogue.

The Jews brought the Christians together.

And the Jews put on great suppers for them all so there was no question about not going back to them again, because the suppers were so wonderful!

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage".

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good (many sources spell his name “Good”) who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the second in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the influences when he was a child and young man. Next we learn of further influences from that time as well as later ones.

Reverend Good related another influence on him was his father who was the President of the Methodist Church of Ireland in his time. When the violence was just beginning in what would become known as The Troubles, the 30 year sectarian war in Ireland, the violence first flared in particular in the border areas. His father suddenly had to deal with the fact a young policeman from his congregation was murdered by sectarian assassins. His father was affected greatly from his prior history with the young policeman. His father had baptized the policeman and had known him as a child.

As a consequence, his father wrote a letter to the leaders of the other churches in Northern Ireland: Presbyterian, Church of Ireland (Related to the Episcopal Church in America), Roman Catholic, and Methodist. After his father passed away, Reverend Good found copies of the responses his father kept. His father's letter had asked the other religious leaders, “In the light of all that is happening in our land and in light of what looks like a potentially dangerous situation in this shift toward sectarian conflict, I feel we as leaders of our respective churches should meet.” Now, these leaders had never met and he suggested the four of them should meet to see if there was something they could do. All four replies are similar. They say, “It's a thoughtful idea. We appreciate your letter. But the time is not right.”

His father was shocked that the leaders of Christian communities could not bring themselves to work for peace. His father went to a Methodist Conference in 1959, and told the attendees how, in the absence of a support from the other leaders, he himself had gone to see the Republican leaders to plead with them not to engage in a campaign of violence, and to suggest to them that if they wanted to campaign for a united Ireland, they should do it in a non violent way. The “Republican leaders” phrase was probably a veiled reference to the IRA.

After telling us where he came from, Reverend Good noted his early experiences caused him to react as he transitioned into adulthood, rather than remaining unaffected.

Reverend Good decided he wanted to see the wider world, outside Ireland. He was given an opportunity of serving in Ohio. Shortly after he was married, he and his wife set off to serve on the staff in a large church in the Northeast Conference in Ohio as a youth pastor. He and his wife served for two happy years. After two years, he felt he had more to learn. He had an opportunity to go back to school, so he went to Indianapolis where he did Pastoral Education and got a Masters.

He wasn't to realize at the time the impact all this would have upon his ministry. It not only helped him to understand how you engage with people, it helped him look at a wholly different way of looking at how to engage people, and trying to understand people in situations he never would have encountered formerly. Not only did he get a Masters of Technical Education, while he was there in the mid-60s in the USA it was a difficult time. This was a defining time in history there and in the life of the churches too. He remembers extraordinary things.

When he was in the church in Ohio, there were two black families who wanted to join their church. There had to be a meeting of the church board to see if these black families could be admitted into membership in the church. Of course, the church had a long history of overseas missions to bring people who were entirely black into the family of God. So Reverend Good couldn't get his head around why the color of these people's skin was an issue. Now he heard things being said like he'd heard in Ireland, but the context was different. In Ireland the remarks weren't made about the color of someone's skin, but the color of someone's politics. He began to realize some of the parallels between racism and sectarianism, particularly the subtleties.

The people of that church would not thought of themselves as racist. They were saying is it fair to these people to have them come into our congregation? Will they be comfortable with us? What about some of our young people, will they feel comfortable with their children? He thought, “Where have I heard all this before?”

Later when he went to Indianapolis, he had made it known to his management he was available for any part time work in the church and such would go along with his studies. He ended up being a pastor at a church with an entirely black congregation. He was at this church when the news came Martin Luther King was assassinated.

He remembers very clearly that week and saying to the members of this church you'll want somebody from your own community to minister to you in on Sunday. He said he wasn't sure he'd be well equipped to minister to them in this situation. There was a wave of grief across the nation. It was a grief for a person who had symbolized all the things of which the black community had dreamed. But his congregants said no, you're our pastor. You minister to us. Then he found what it was like to try to enter into the feelings of a community where he didn't know so much.

This was another defining moment which lead him to his future.

This talk continues at this post entitled, "The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Financial Crisis in Ireland

I have only been to Ireland twice and know only a handful of people there.

So, I do not have many special insights into the recent news that Ireland is facing a financial crisis of immense proportions. Sure, when Greece got really bad last spring, Ireland was mentioned, along with Spain.

What is the perspective of the average Irish person about this economic crisis:

Now keep in mind, this discussion is about the Republic of Ireland. The North is facing it's own issues, which are tied into the belt tightening of the United Kingdom.

I know in 2005, houses in Dublin, which, of course, is in the Republic, were millions of euro each. Mortgages were 50 years or more to make the payments somewhat affordable. But the streets were jammed with vehicles, the stores were packed with people, and the skyline was filled with cranes. Basics were high cost and the exchange rate made me feel like the US was a struggling nation. Lots of eastern European immigrants or foreign workers were working in Dublin.

If the Irish have to bail out the banks, the estimate for that alone is: €50 billion.

There are 4.5 million people in the Republic.

That's 11,111 euro per man, woman, and child, just to keep the banks from tanking. Or in USA dollars: $15,331 per man, woman, and child.

That's a lot of doing without to scrape up enough to pay back that amount of debt, eh?

What about the basic fairness of supporting the Irish banks?

With the government having made a commitment to the banks, all the taxpayers are keeping the bank's investors afloat, while those investors are not being asked to "take a haircut" as the phrase goes for incurring a loss on a bad investment. And the banks don't have to close down, or fire anyone as far as I've been able to determine.

This “take a haircut” concept was contemplated in a way as you can read about here.

Why would any investor do this? Reduced risk, I suppose. Getting out of a situation now rather than face disaster later, or a long period of uncertainty and stagnation. The article notes that Standard and Poors has downgraded the four big Irish banks' long term credit ratings.

But the 85 billion euro bailout package for Ireland which was approved by Europe’s finance ministers has been described as not requiring banks or bondholders to “take haircuts”.

Are the european leaders unwilling to spread the hit to any investors? Are they afraid investors would bring down the economies of Portugal and Spain in a flash?

I wonder.

Randall Parker (But Who Caused Irish Financial Crisis? 2010 November 24 Wednesday) has tracked who the bondholders are in Irelands banks:

British banks provided
German banks provided
US banks
$25bn and
French banks

Total lending of
non-Irish banks
to Irish banks is approximately

So these non-Irish banks invested in the Irish property boom, I mean bubble, and now, rather than take any loss, even when the interest rate was higher than for non-risky loans, the Irish taxpayers must pay all these other countries back because their government and now the IMF are insisting the government must make good on all these bonds.

Why don't they tell the truth? They are hoping to stave off a greater collapse

Here's a link to more about the money side of Ireland's problems:

I know last spring (May 2010) as many of the eastern European workers had left as could afford to leave - there were no new jobs in Ireland.

Apparently now, the Irish themselves are leaving to find work, reminiscent of hundreds of years of colonial rule and the majority of the period of the Free State and the Republic.

Here's a link to a story about the Irish looking elsewhere for work:

I wonder if they will send money to their former home? The Irish government better hope so!

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Aoife Clancy: Interview at Catskill Irish Arts Week

    Aoife Clancy, the outstanding Irish singer, honored me with an interview early Saturday morning near the end of the Catskill Irish Arts Week, just after a long singing session at the Wayside Inn.

    She lives in Fairhaven Massachusetts, near New Bedford, but was brought up in Ireland.

    Her father, Bobby Clancy, was in the Clancy Brothers, the famous group that brought Irish folk music to America in much of the 1960s. Consequently she was brought up listening to and playing music at an early age.

    Her father insisted his children all have their daily dose of Irish music.

    She was playing the banjo at 7 or 8 years old, which she didn't really like. She progressed to the guitar when she was about 11 or 12.

    Her mother came from an Irish speaking area, a Gaeilteach, in Ring (An Rinn, in Irish), County Waterford, Ireland.

    As a result, she was exposed to a bit of both worlds of Irish music. She heard the ballads from her father, and then she'd go down to Ring and hear the sean nos songs in the Irish language and style. She stuck mostly to her father's style of songs, but she was influenced by the sean nos (“Sean nos” means “old style” and is the style of singing where a solo performer sings unaccompanied, usually in Irish, and often in free meter).

    In fact, her mom often reminded Aoife of how she, Aoife, didn't get her Irish music heritage just from her father - her mom's traditions helped form her style as well.

    Aoife started performing in her teenage years. She remembers at the age of 13 and 14, her father took her out to country pubs in the middle of nowhere. He'd say, “Come on, we've got an afternoon gig.” And she'd go, “What!?” shocked at the lack of adequate warning. Still, he'd take her to these beautiful little pubs. Some of them didn't even have electricity in them. The pubs sold only large bottles of beer, no drafts. Patrons bought large bottles or nothing. Such experiences were her early exposure to public music, watching her father and observing him perform in a small little intimate setting. The people in these places were very supportive. She was extremely shy and he would encourage her to sing. But many times he would tease her by introducing her as “kind of shy” and she'd think, “Why did you say that?”

    Over the years, she got more confident singing in front of a crowd. She thanks her father, because of his attitude toward performing. He was very much about “enjoy yourself and sing from the heart”. He told her don't make it so much about performing for people and how they are all looking at you, as much as about how you are enjoying the song yourself and how you are bringing it across. She learned a lot from performing from that perspective.

    Aoife was a solo performer when she came to the United States. She brought a CD with her titled “It's About Time” and was published by Rego (Irish Music) Records in 1991. Aoife did a tour with Patty Noonan who ran the Rego label. Joanie Madden heard the CD, Cathie Ryan was leaving, and Joanie and Aoife met on an Irish cruise Aoife's father and uncles had put on in the Caribbean. The Cherish the Ladies group was on the cruise and Joanie had a substitute singer to cover for Cathie. Joanie didn't say anything to Aoife at that time, she just kind of observed Aoife singing at the session. A few months later Joanie called Aoife and said, “Doll, we're looking for a singer. Would you like to join the group?”

    Aoife had often looked at the group with admiration as they have so much variety, the dancers, the tunes, the instruments, the songs. Of course, Aoife jumped at the chance and the next thing she knew she was appearing with Cherish the Ladies.

    She sang with Cherish the Ladies for about five years.

    When she left, she was in bands of various configurations with her own band, the Clancy band, and Matt and Shannon Heaton. Fling played with her for awhile. She played with other musicians including Owen Marshall.

    Now she's in the Clancy Legacy with her cousins Robin O'Connel and Donal Clancy. They just brought a CD out in March titled “The Clancy Legacy” (btw, they first performed together at a workshop called "The Clancy Legacy" during the Irish Arts week in East Durham, NY in July 2006).

    Aoife came to be at the 2010 Catskill Irish Arts Week because she was there a number of years ago. Myron Bretholz, the bodhrán player, encouraged her. There was one year when he was in charge of the bookings for the event, like Paul Keating was in 2010 (and before). She met Myron at a festival in Philly and he was the MC. They started chatting. Myron asked her, “Do you ever teach?” and soon asked her to come teach in the Catskills.

    She did it and loved it. She had a fantastic bunch of people. She just had to talk about her father and her uncles, and then led the group in the songs that had been passed on to her. She found a whole slew of songs that over the years she'd forgotten about until she started looking back on them.

    She couldn't believe the number of people who wanted to learn the songs passed on to her by her father.

    Then she started getting into it. She started teaching the songs at other workshop events too.

    For the last three or four years she hasn't been to the Catskills Irish Arts Week because of a competing festival, but she was invited this year and she decided it was time to return to the Catskill Irish Arts Week.

    She said the 2010 week was a great week, and everyone worked her hard. There is so much going on, so many people she knows, she wishes it could be spread over two weeks. The evening sessions at the pubs alone are a dilemma – if you are at one, you cannot go to another.

    The students were exposed to such wonderful music that week.

    Aoife said the standard of musicians and teachers here for the week doesn't get any better. You don't get any better than the Kane sisters, Edel Fox, Joanie Madden, Cherish the Ladies, or Liz Carroll. They are the crème de la crème of Irish musicians. Anybody would be so lucky to have these people as teachers. They've been playing since they were small and now they are passing on the music to their students. That's what keeps the music alive.

    On a personal note, Aoife loves when she sits at a session and somebody comes in and sings a song that she taught them.

    Aoife said the Andy McGann Festival on the last Saturday of the Catskill Irish Arts Week would be great because even more performers come in. Bua is playing. The performers represent the standard of the musicians the place attracts.

    She hopes to be asked to return to the Catskills next year, but she hopes to arrange a night off that week to catch her rest!

    Aoife's online calendar is here: .
    More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

    - Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
    - Bernadette Nic Gabhann
    - Aoife Clancy
    - Matt and Shannon Heaton

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Defining Moments

    On Monday our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA guns.

    Reverend Harold Good started with where he comes from, his own journey. He insists his is an ordinary story of a preacher's kid, born in Derry. But, other than the first few year in Derry, he was raised in Belfast and considers it home. His youth was in a suburban part of Belfast, over in the leafy suburbs of East Belfast. His father was Minister first on the Newton Irish Road, and then in the Knock area.

    He decided to go into the ministry when he was in his teenage years. He followed the usual route for school and the ministry, all very predictable. His story was different because his father was from County Cork, as far south as you can go, before you head to America and his mother was from County Armagh. His County Cork grandfather was in the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) which was the old police force before partition in Ireland. His grandfather left that job at a relatively early age when he had ten children. His grandfather left the police force because he refused to take part in the evictions in the late 19th century. With ten children to support, that wasn't done lightly. The poor people were being evicted because they couldn't afford to pay their rents. He always had a great admiration for his grandfather, although he never met him, because he stood up so firmly on principal. His other grandfather, from County Amagh, was also a man of principal, but his principals took him a different direction. When the Protestants and Unions in Northern Ireland feared they were going to be sold out to some kind of united Ireland, he was one of several thousands of Ulster Protestant people who imported guns who were prepared to go to war in order to stay with Britain. He was part of the gun running of 1912 in reaction what was called “The Home Rule Bill” which was seen as the thin edge of a wedge which would take Ireland into an arrangement in which they would not be comfortable.

    He had these two grandfathers with quite different viewpoints which seemed to combine to make Reverend Good a hybrid. Growing up, Reverend Good was not sure where he stood on all the factious issues. His family had come from two different traditions. Some people thought he should be one or the other, but he was thankful to have gotten both viewpoints from the very beginning. One day he might argue from one side and the next he would switch sides in the argument. This education about the different viewpoints has helped him in his mission as a minister because he has little difficulty serving the whole community.

    In the late 1950s, he was a young minister in South Armaugh, which was a very tense area, a very republican-nationalist area. There had been bombing and shooting which it was an early manifesting of the tensions. The British had set up a curfew and no one was to be out unless they had a permit or pass. He had one as a young minister so he could accomplish his pastoral duties. He came home one night through the Town of Newry. The Nationalist people resented the curfew because they saw it as directed against them. They sat down in Marvin Square in the center of the Town of Newry in protest against the curfew. He heard a big commotion and being a young person he couldn't resist his curiosity so he parked the motorbike by that area and walk closer to see what he could. He saw a horrendous scene of water cannons hosing human beings across this public area in a way you would attempt to hose vermin out of a space. He didn't have any feelings one way or the other regarding the protest, but once he saw that he couldn't believe what people were willing to do to a fellow human being. Something inside him reacted in revulsion. The next day people were saying well that will cool then down now, but he realized the technique was going to create a backlash like throwing petrol onto flames. That proved to be the case. The next night there were twice as many protesters in the square.

    He remembers being a young fellow in the center of Belfast when the Youth for Christ Campaign was present. After the World War II there were “blitz squares” which were open areas left by the Nazi aerial bombs. People would gather in these squares and have meetings, gospel readings, political meetings and all sorts of things. On one side was the Youth for Christ Campaign, which was young American evangelists. They were all attractive, in suits, new hairstyles, and they had guitars. The girls were pretty singing in a choir. Off in the distance he saw a straggling group of people coming through the dusk from the Albert Clock.

    This clock and the Crown Bar are two things on the tourist trail in Belfast. He said you go to the Crown Bar and when you come out, you see the Albert Clock and you think its leaning! In case you didn't know, the Albert Memorial Clock was built on wooden piles on an area where miscellaneous fill had been placed over wet organic soil around the River Farset, the top of the tower is famous for leaning four feet off the perpendicular.

    So in the group was a great big man and a small band – a few flute players, and a couple of drums. They took a position on the other side of the blitz square. He watched with curiosity. The big figure leading this was the Reverend Ian Paisley, who at that time was just starting to be known. He stood up literally on a wooden box and in front of him was one of those watchman's fires. He had a book which had been written by the principal of the Presbyterian College, Professor Davie, who had been accused by his fellow Presbyterians of being a heretic. Professor Davie had written this book in which he was raising some interesting questions. Such a book today would not raise hackles they way it did then.

    He was reading something about the virgin birth, he tore out the page, he shouted out something, he flung the page into the fire, and the people would say, “We have heard a joyful sound, Jesus say it!” And he kept doing this with page after page.

    Mr. Paisley was a self-ordained minister. He adopted the name Free Presbyterian Church because he wanted to pull people away from the Presbyterian Church, perhaps to build his own empire.

    Reverend Good said to himself, “Lord, if you want me to be a minister, please do not let me be anything like that. Please help me to oppose something like that.”

    These were some of the defining moments of Reverend Good's life.

    This talk is continued in a future blog posting entitled "Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict".

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    The Banjo Burke Festival

    (If you are looking for the post on the 2011 Banjo Burke Festival, click here)

    I am taking a break from relating the Northern Ireland meetings here, which probably makes sense anyway, as Ireland is a large country, the Irish culture is dispersed across the world, so there is a lot with which to keep up.

    I attended the Catskill Irish Arts Week last week. Once I was there, I realized I could interview people who are involved in the Irish arts. I also realized there are other events which are coming up which many might enjoy attending. And these events are a great way to join in the Irish culture!

    One of these events is the Banjo Burke Festival on Columbus Day Weekend, October 8-11, 2010. This event is unique in that it will be held entirely in public houses around East Durham. Sessions with musicians cooperatively making music are a feature of the Catskill Irish Arts Week, too, but the Banjo Burke Festival will be hold even its workshops, ceili sets, and concerts in the pubs.

    The musicians committed to appearing are:

    Brian Conway
    Grainne Hambly
    John Nolan
    Seamus Connolly
    Aine Meenaghan
    Rose Conway Flanagan
    Pat Kane
    The Jameson Sisters
    Damien Connolly
    Margie Mulvihill
    John Reynolds
    Felix Dolan
    Dylan Foley
    Hearts Content

    Concerts on Saturday are from 1:30 to 4:30 PM and 7:00 to 9:30 PM. The workshops, continuous music, sessions, house concerts, ceili sets, and a breakfast are all fit in around those.

    More information can be found at , by emailing Bridget at , or by calling Bridget at 607-225-9928.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Andy McGann Festival

    Did you ever wish you could go to an event which is wonderful which everyone mainly hears about by word of mouth?

    Well, here one comes: "Psssssssssssst, do ye wanna hear wonderful Irish traditional music by some of the best from Ireland and the United States?

    Then wend your way on down the road to East Durham and attend the Andy McGann Festival on Saturday, July 17th from noon to 7 p.m. at the Quill Festival Grounds."

    I am exaggerating a bit, there are articles about it on the web and maybe in the newspapers in that area. Still, for the quality of who will be playing and what you will hear, you'll be hard pressed to find a better value.

    Why does this Festival keep happening every year? The Andy McGann Festival is the culmination of an entire week of instruction and celebration on Irish traditional music and arts known as Irish Arts Week. Since all these great musicians are there for the week, they get together and appear on stage at the end producing hours and hours of wonderful entertainment. Besides the music, there is story telling mixed in, all of which is true!

    The grounds are set up with two pavilions so if you wonder what's happening in the other one, just wonder a few steps over and see. There are street fair type foods and Irish CDs, art, clothing, and jewelery for sale. Of course, Irish brews are available.

    So come on down the road to meet the friendly people and hear wonderful, lively music!

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    I'll Text U From The Recreational Riot

    On Monday our Volunteer In Missions group met at 1 pm with Researchers John Bell & Ulf Hanson, from the “Institute for Conflict Research” which focuses on conflict sources such as parading, segregated housing, segregated living, segregated education, and bonfires, and their alleviation.

    This is the summary of the third portion of that meeting and this third portion concerns segregated living, recreational rioting, and parades, as well as general issues which knit all the discussed issues together.

    Will the violence and sectarianism stay the same for 100 years now that relative peace has been attained? Can segregated living be ended. Should it be ended? Or is segregation OK as long as there is understanding and empathy?

    Most are surprised at the degree of changes which have occurred in the recent years, such as there being a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein government.

    Integrated education may erode divisions, but may not solve all problems of understanding. Some young Protestant young people go to school with Catholics and vice versa, but it doesn't stop all attitudes against the other side. The young people's neighborhood and family can have an overriding influence. But contact does tend to undercut the ability of the worst stereotyping from taking hold.

    The government insisted there were only 44 interfaces (which they call peace walls), but an independent review has found 88 interfaces. Derry and other areas have physical interfaces as well. However, there are invisible lines of separation which are held to in living patterns which are just as firm as the physical interfaces. Some of these invisible interfaces are monitored by security cameras.

    Some middle class neighborhoods claim they are untouched by sectarianism, yet people can describe the division lines which really exist.

    Research was done in the Castle Dearg area. The researchers put a google map before people and asked individuals to explain the sectarian boundaries.

    The researchers encountered a brother and sister around the same age, living with their nuclear family in the same house, and the maps from the brother and sister were very different. The brother had been beaten up several times. The sister thought areas were mixed and the brother felt the same area was unsafe for him. Perhaps woman are sometimes perceived as less of a threat and are allowed wider access.

    Young people were surveyed about their informal means of overcoming residential segregation: they were asked where is a space where the two sides can hang out together. They identified some.

    There are boyfriend and girlfriend relationships across the interfaces. A lot of the young people see no problem with that, but young guys from one side do not accept young guys from the other side.

    There can be mixing in small groups of friends, but all it takes is one intolerant young person to bring up the old sectarianism.

    What happens if there is intermarriage?

    There was an area where mixed marriage people tended to live in Belfast. But couples of mixed marriages are spreading out. Protestants find it easier to live in predominantly Catholic areas, but not so much the reverse.

    The Catholic Church used to insist the children needed to be raised as Catholic, which created problems in mixed marriages.

    Recreational rioting, which is the hurling of insults, stones, or involves more direct violence, does occur now, perhaps augmented by texting between cellular phones. The Americans wondered is it a very common event coming from the young people who have nothing better to do? Or is it uncommon and organized by criminal elements?

    The Belfast residents perceive a lack of legal ways for young people to get an adrenalin rush without rioting. The kids report getting a “buzz” from it. Recreational rioting can start small and almost innocuous but the sides can be drawn in and it can escalate to be very large.

    Although having any recreational riots is undesirable, the number of riots has gone down since 2005 and 2006. Community worker influence has helped the reduction. Things have improved.

    Most now assume the Troubles started in 1963, but one of the American leaders had a relative with photos of Orangemen marching in 1953 and rocks being thrown at them. Parade controversies have gone back as far as the 1820s. So although most observers at the time were surprised at the severity and number of deaths in the period of the troubles, violence surrounding parading has been around for a long time.

    The Americans wondered if there are regulations preventing public assembly? Parade permits are issued by Parade Commission after review of an application made at least 28 days in advance, although the Parade Commission is being phased out. Since everyone hated the Parade Commission, that is both sides hated it, then the Parade Commission was probably managing the disputes correctly. If one side had liked them, then the Parade Commission would have been partial to one side. The Parade Commission will be replaced by a panel with a first minister on it.

    There have been 4,000 applications for parades in Northern Ireland per year. Only about 30 of those were contentious. It is not like every parade is opposed by some group other than the organizers. A place in County of Donegal, not in Northern Ireland but in the Republic of Ireland, has about 3,000 Orangemen in a parade every year, with a Gardai presence, and without any trouble. Apprentice boys and bog side residents keep the controversies down.

    Parades are not necessarily deemed to be acceptable on old routes when demographic distributions have changed.

    A question was asked: Are the Northern Irish only managing the conflict or are they tackling the root issues that support and maintain the conflict.

    Looking at the glass as half full, sharing of space between the communities is happening more than ever before: workplaces, and shopping are largely integrated. Legislation is stringently requiring workplaces over ten employees to not be segregated, although schools are exempt.

    In the spirit of tackling the root of the issues which cause violence, the Forthspring Group is applying for a parade permit to celebrate peace and reconciliation on July 27th to coincide with their celebration at their Community Center. This type of parade should support people's transformation.

    Sunday, June 27, 2010

    That's Not a Bonfire, THIS is a Bonfire

    On Monday our Volunteer In Missions group met at 1 pm with Researchers John Bell & Ulf Hanson, from the “Institute for Conflict Research” which focuses on conflict sources such as parading, segregated housing, segregated living, segregated education, and bonfires, and their alleviation.

    This is the summary of the second portion of that meeting and this second portion concerns bonfires.

    Bonfires are used to commemorate events significant to the community which sponsors them. There used to be about 38 fire sites. Now there are about 80 or 90 sites in Belfast. More bonfires are located outside Belfast, too.

    The bonfires can be seen as threatening to the “other side,” which can be either side.

    There have been efforts to convert bonfires to more of a festival. For instance, more efforts are being made to try to discourage paramilitaries from firing a volley in the air, as this is seen as inciting violence. Most bonfire organizers ban burning the tri-color flag of the Republic of Ireland.

    Also, efforts are being made to clean up bonfires environmentally. The government is erecting walls around areas which are not supposed to be breached until the actual building of the bonfire begins. This keeps people from putting plastic and other obnoxious trash in the area where a bonfire will take place. Burning of tires has been banned.

    The wooden structures created for the bonfire are impressive feats of architecture. Often they are burning towers. A tower which could fall over would be bad for neighbors. The bonfire structures are huge - over three stories high. The predominant fuel is pallets.

    The better organizers keep young people off the structure so they don't get hurt.

    Some community activists are trying to stop the fires. Some are trying to containerize the fire in a metal frame generally referred to as a beacon. Trash is banned from these beacons. Still, young people are mostly unimpressed by beacons. They report an element of disappointment to see a small beacon fire. Some attend impromptu bonfires held elsewhere and at the same time for people who don't want to watch the beacon fires.

    Some groups are stressing the community aspect of bonfires. The one in North Belfast in Tiger's Bay. Children's play park, is an alcohol free event. Children could and do go.

    The Cultural Networks Program is stressing fire isn't the only culture of Belfast neighborhood. South Belfast has embarked on a year long program to teach what is commemorated by the bonfires. South Belfast community organizers are trying to stress the cultural aspect of the commemorations.

    The City Council's point of view recently was people are burning rubbish. They required fences around bonfire sites to avoid illegal dumping.

    Young people find the fires exciting and they require a lot of organization and time to set up. Also, the hours and hours of work that go into building a bonfire keeps the builders from getting involved in street conflicts.

    Some bonfires are very organized, some are organized by former paramilitaries. Others are more impromptu. Some are primarily built by young men. Some are built by gender equal assemblages of young people.

    Primarily the bonfires occur in working class and poor areas. Some feel bonfires are more predominant in Protestant areas, but Catholic/Republicans developed bonfires in the 1980s to commemorate internment of their leaders. Originally, Republican/Catholic bonfires used to be on August 15th as this had a religious significance. Then the date went to 9 August as this is the anniversary of internment.

    The July 11th date is a fixed date to Protestants.

    Jean Paul, Director of West Belfast Festival, runs the largest community festival in Western Europe. In the late 1980s, in a number of Nationalist Republican areas, the conversation started, “Can we not do something more productive in a sense to promote our community, rather than burning stuff?” Also, the rioting at bonfires which took place up to that time led to numerous deaths, and the grassroots and leaders wanted to avoid such deaths. These desires led to the development in various places of community festivals. A district celebration often has smaller area celebrations done in conjunction.

    (This summary of this discussion will be continued in a future blog.)

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Institute for Conflict Research

    On Monday our Volunteer In Missions group met at 1 pm with Researchers John Bell & Ulf Hanson, from the “Institute for Conflict Research” which focuses on conflict sources such as parading, segregated housing, segregated living, segregated education, and bonfires, and their alleviation. The Institute for Conflict Research is a small independent research organization based in North Belfast on the interface between Tiger's Bay, which is predominantly Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist, and the New Lodge area which is predominantly Catholic, Nationalist, Republican. The organization started in Temple Grove Research in approximately 1994 based in London Derry/Derry. By 2001, it had moved to Belfast and was focused on the human cost of the Troubles.

    Their focus moved into the impact of segregation in communities, the impact of interfaces on peoples' lives, and a lot of examination of parades, bonfires, and murals. Recent years have branched out into examining immigrant issues because of the changing demographics. There is one district of Belfast where the second most common language is Portuguese as it contains a high proportion from of people from East Timor. Migration is a big issue in Northern Ireland. The last census was in 2001. Potentially 35,000 Polish people are working in Northern Ireland. Many people from India and China have been in Northern Ireland for many decades. Recently, eastern Europe has been the source of many more immigrants, such as from Poland, Lithuania, etc.

    The Institute for Conflict Research also was the first Northern Ireland research group to have studied homophobic crimes and transphobia (fear of trans-gender individuals and transvestites).

    Recently they did a study of young people in Northern Ireland to see the young peoples understanding of history and their understanding of the troubles. Approximately a 1,000 young people were surveyed. A few hundred were interviewed in depth. The research was designed to find out if the young people understood the historical events which the bonfires commemorate, and the results show many young people are participating in bonfires with no knowledge of what they commemorate. The researchers suspect parents play a role in telling their children what happened in the Troubles but the knowledge which passes is often personal and with little context. Also, some parents are trying to shield their kids from the knowledge about the prejudicial attitudes to which their parents were subjected.

    In education, at present only six percent of children attend mixed schools where children from both traditions attend. There is evidence the most of the schools were fairly well integrated at the creation of the Irish state in the 1920s. But over the decades both the Roman Catholic and the various Protestant churches were comfortable with the segregation into schools which were not mixed. The religious schools are built with 90 percent aid from the Irish government but the remainder of the funds has been religious sponsorship.

    Before 1990, Protestant schools taught British history and Catholic schools taught a Nationalist history. The topics were so selected, even if taught fairly, the focus on the self group by each group kept understanding at a minimum.

    There was a revision to the curriculum in1999 and another in 2007. Now critical thinking and assessing text, including determining what sources of conflict exist and the probable effects of conflict, are taught. A personal development and mutual understanding (PDMU) unit has been added. Now children are asked to take the role of former members of the opposite community from their own in oral exercises or essay writing. For instance, a Catholic student might have to argue against home rule, which was an issue for the entire island of Ireland back in 1912, taking the position of defending a Protestant viewpoint. While it is too soon to tell what the effect has been (its been less than 3 years), the curriculum is only one part to which the students are exposed.

    For many decades, Irish schools administered a test to ten year olds called the “Eleven plus” or “11+”. This test was used to determine the type of subsequent schooling: a higher grade on 11+ put the student on a track toward more difficult subjects and standards which could lead to acceptance in a university. A lower grade meant the child would be put into less rigorous academic classes along with vocational training in a trade. Parents were concerned about the 11+ exam because of at least three reasons:

    1.Ten years of age is relatively young to determine a child's future. Even an untrained observer knows children mature at different rates and a few years later, a child can be more able to concentrate on study and learning in an academic environment.

    2.A single test places to much emphasis on one result. A child could excel at one area, but weaknesses in other areas might pull the child below the line necessary to become headed to university. If such a child were permitted to advance, by the time the child reaches a university or the work world, their particular talent may be a huge advantage such that the individual and society would benefit greatly.

    3.Being just one test, something as simple as an illness or a phobia to tests could lower a student's grade and affect their whole life based on a transient event, a surmountable problem, or a temporary condition.

    Perhaps for these reasons, politicians abolished the 11+ exam (Some people point out the woman who actually abolished the 11+ exam and the process of what is dubbed “selection” was an unelected administrator). The schools at the next higher level of course study are called grammar schools. Where as “grammar school” in the USA is the name of the category for the grade levels for children approximately up to 12 years old, in Northern Ireland, grammar school is the name for the level of schools which educate children between 11 years of age and university. The Northern Irish grammar schools still need to determine which students to admit. Therefore, the 11+ exam has been replaced by a similar exam given and administered by each individual grammar school. This is a relatively new procedure, but it seems to have increased the pressure on 10 year old students. Since the admission line is set by each school, parents are sending their children to several school entrance exams in order to maximize their opportunity for placement in a better school. This seems to be exacerbating the stress on these ten year olds.

    Thirty schools have banded together to share the results of one exam, so perhaps the schools will reduce the stress on ten year olds of taking multiple exams.

    Every student can be influenced by the attitude of their teacher, as much as the curriculum and, of course, when each student goes home, is exposed to the attitude of the parents, siblings, and other family members. Research by the Institute for Conflict Research revealed the three most influential factors on the attitudes of youth are first, parents, second, school/community and third, extended family.

    Although the poor areas in Northern Ireland do not look as physically shabby as poor areas in other parts of the world, the family life has lots of negatives such as the dole (welfare), alcoholism, drug-abuse, crime, and other difficulties. Statistically, the children from the poor urban areas, which were most affected by the Troubles on a day to day basis, have a lifetime disadvantage in terms of earnings potential, and have as much to overcome as children from any of the poor areas around the globe.

    Still, there are optimistic signs. Our Volunteer In Missions leaders have been coming to Northern Ireland for over 30 years. In former years, these leaders didn't see children playing outside or walking home from school. Apparently, parents were concerned for the children's safety relative to violence emanating from the Troubles, so would pick up their children at the school. This year, for the first time, children can be seen on the streets and in the neighborhoods walking home from school. This is an indicator of how much the tensions and the expectation of violence have lowered.

    (to be continued)