Monday, May 21, 2012

A Mother, Medicine, and Love

Sometimes the unexpected connections formed in travel are so great.

While on the Volunteers In Mission trip to Northern Ireland, I was sitting in the dining room of our hotel typing on a laptop computer. It was my turn to write the daily blog for our Volunteer In Mission group. Mike, one of our leaders, was patiently waiting for me to finish so he could add the pictures.

I wanted to relate how Father Gerry Reynolds had told us he was affected by the visit of "the Queen" to Ireland, as were many others in Ireland. I wasn't sure of the best way to refer to her highness: the Queen of England, the Queen of Britain, or some other phrase. I looked around the room and, besides a few Americans, I saw a few other people present who might be Northern Irish. So I asked in a loud voice, but addressing no one in particular, how I should refer to the Queen. That late at night, the dining room is informal and the guests largely set the mood and ground rules.

A young woman who was sitting by herself spoke up and said in an Irish accent that the Queen's prime post was Queen of England, although she was Queen of all the parts of Britain and the United Kingdom. After I explained why I asked, she teased me by saying I could refer to the Queen as Queen Lizzie. I laughed, but declined, as I didn't want the Queen to think I was a rude American.

The next morning, the young woman came in for breakfast when a few of our group had already been there for awhile. I invited her to join us and during introductions learned her name was Colleen. She told us she was staying at the hotel after having donated one of her kidneys to her 9 year old son almost three weeks earlier. Colleen said her boy was doing great and that the three week recovery time was probably more for her than for him. She said the lack of an adequate kidney in him had held back his health and vigor. He is small for his age and couldn't run as fast as other's his age. Now that he had a full capacity kidney, the nurses say he is all over the place.

The leaders of our group asked Colleen to join us in our morning devotions. One person brings a devotional or thoughts to share with the group, we pray, and we learn our plans for the day from our leaders.

As it happened it was my turn to give the devotional, which due to my lack of attentiveness to the schedule, caught me by surprise. Thankfully, during our bus ride to the Giants Causeway I had done the preparation I needed. I had been reading the Jewish Annotated New Testament which includes both Jewish and scholarly reactions to the New Testament. One chapter discusses the concept of "neighbor" in the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself". I asked questions about when Jesus was asked "who is my neighbor?" and how he answered with the story of the beaten man on the side of the road saved by a good Samaritan. We also talked about how Jesus said to love your enemies.

After the devotion, the prayer and administrative parts were all done, Colleen was asked if she enjoyed being with us for all that took place. She said she did and she said she thought the devotion teaching of how we are all neighbors in this world, no matter whether we live near or far apart, was meant for her.

Colleen told us her younger son had deficient kidneys too and her husband had donated his kidney to him.

Despite all she's been through, she was cheerful and hopeful.

Collen shared the rest of the mornings with us at our devotionals.

On the final morning we could share in that place, she said she knew her father would greet her, as he has in recent years, with, "Colleen, what denomination are you now?" He says that because as she's gone through these experiences with her son's, she has always reached out and asked for prayer from any group who would pray for her sons. She herself is Catholic but she's had her son's prayed for by multiple denominations. She said no matter how tradition and secondary beliefs have divided us, we're all praying to the same God.

Later that day she went to pick up her son and take him home. She had one more surprise for us – she saw us as the taxi was rolling down the road and she had the driver stop to come over to us at the Forthspring Community Center. In the front parking lot, we meet her oldest son and seeing him with the energy from his new kidney was such a joy!


You can read more about organ donation in Ireland and elsewhere here:

Transplant NI Team , Belfast City Hospital

Strange Boat Donor Foundation , Bothúna, Spiddal, Co. Galway

UK The National Kidney Federation , The Point, Coach Road, Shireoaks, Worksop, Notts S81 8BW

National Kidney Foundation , 30 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016

Kidney Health Australia , ABN 37 008 464 426

European Kidney Patients’ Federation (CEAPIR) , Vienna, Austria

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thoughts of an American on the Walls in Belfast

Thoughts on "the wall" in Belfast by an American:

For those who don't already know, there are walls in Belfast and other Northern Irish cities and towns.

The Interface Walls demarcate the separated housing of the Protestant-Unionist- Loyalist community from the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist community.  The walls grew out of the barriers of debris that were established during the height of the Troubles in 1969 when both sides wanted to keep those from the other side who were bent on violence from entering their communities. These debris walls were originally reinforced by barb wire by the British military units which came into Northern Ireland. The government calls them Peace Walls to emphasize the security the walls impose.

The walls vary in size and construction material. They are all substantial and do block movement. The tallest ones prevent bottles, stones, etc. from being thrown over.

These walls cut off many streets that formerly were complete. There are large metal gates at certain larger streets which are sometimes open during the day and closed at night.  There are other streets where there are both large metal gates and narrower pedestrian gates.  Most days the pedestrian gates are open to foot traffic, but have restricted and crooked paths through the openings which prevent motorcycles and scooters from speeding through so those devices cannot be used for quick getaways from assassinations or other violence.

The large metal gates at certain locations can be opened for parades which celebrate victories of one community over the other, in battles centuries ago.

Where there isn't a physical wall such as out in the rural areas, there are invisible but clearly known lines between the communities.

Approximately 1,300 families or individuals were forced to move in Belfast in 2009 because of threats, intimidation, and violence for living too close or within an area where one side or the other thought they shouldn't live.

Rather than walls being taken down over the decades, more walls were constructed until as late as 2010. Politicians used wall construction to garner good will and votes from the community they support.

Both communities have community safety as their prime concern, but there are empty properties on the Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist side in Belfast and every property is occupied in the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist side.  Many from the Catholic-Republican-Nationalist community are on wait lists for housing.

Some residents we spoke with said many residents don't feel the walls are necessary except during the marching season.  Tensions escalate during marching season, and people feel the walls prevent gangs of one community or the other from venturing into the opposite community bent on intimidation or violence, especially at night.

Our Volunteers In Mission group experienced the aggravating side of the gates and walls when we stayed past 9 PM at a Protestant church. visiting after a service.  The gate we wanted to use to get back to our hotel, which essentially is in a Catholic area, was closed and we had to walk to another gate which was still open.

At the session about the five decades affected by the Troubles, we were told about a family that owned a house which was on the interface early in the development of the walls. They used to let their friends from the opposite community through the "wall" by having them pass through the house. So there have always been those who understood the separation of communities was unnatural.

Thinking about all the aspects of the walls, from the perspecitive of an American and as a practical person with an idealistic bent, it has been easy for me to focus on how the walls need to be removed as part of the reconciliation process.  Still, the walls are also a manifestation of the deeper problems.

One of the youth workers at the Forthspring Community Center said something which put my attitude and the entire problem in a new perspective. He said, "If we could magically remove the physical walls in the city, it likely wouldn't solve anything, until the walls in peoples hearts are dissolved."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

East Durham Irish Festival, Memorial Day, 2012

East Durham Irish Festival, Memorial Day 2012

Tom McGoldrick, Festival Director of the East Durham Irish Festival, wants everyone to know the East Durham Irish Fesitival is May 26th and 27th, 2012.

Groups include:

Barley Juice from Philadelphia

Searson from Canada

The Fenians from California

Hair of the Dog from Albany, Shilelagh Law

The Canny Brothers

Jamesons Revenge from NYC

Andy Cooney Band from East Durham

Kitty Kelly Band from East Durham

Kilrush from East Durham

Brothers Flynn from East Durham

St. James Gate

along with Pipe Bands

and Irish Step Dancing Schools

Advance tickets are available @ $12 in advance (plus $1 handling charge per ticket up to $3), a $4.00 saving, by calling 518-634-2286 (credit card sales acceptable) or send your check to East Durham Irish Festival, Box 189, East Durham, NY 12423.

Avanced sale two day tickets are available for $22.  This is $10 less than the total of same day gate entrance fees of $16 per day. No Service fees with purchase of  passports.
One venue is a large pavillion and the other is a tent, so rain isn't a problem. And yah wouldn't think it would be for the Irish, right?!

Free Camping will be available. Show up at the Festival Grounds and Parking attendees will direct you to campsites.

The Children's area "Land of the Leprechauns" will be back bigger than ever. A great variety of food Food and Vendors will be available.


Location: East Durham, New York

Time & Date: May - Saturday the 26th - Sunday the 27th

Festival Schedule

Festival Web Site with More Information

More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Terry Kane

- Len Graham

- Mary Staunton

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy

- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Over the Pond

I am returning to Belfast to learn from and help those in Belfast overcome and put into perspective generations of conflict. This is my second trip to Belfast with a Volunteer In Mission group.

Several of the people going today were on the trip two years ago, so I look forward to catching up with my friends. The "new" volunteers have interesting and committed lives, too, so I look forward to getting to know them and working with them.

Traveling starts out with concerns, from grand to mundane.

I hope this isn't too much information, but my packing has evolved. My friend Dave told me years ago to put a change of clothes in a plastic bag for each day. I haven't done that exactly, but I have packed most things in clear plastic bags. Our leaders Mike and Pat pointed out packing in plastic bags, especially with zip closures, makes the potential search and repack at the airport go well, with less chance of things getting lost or torn by the bag zipper, and helps keep stuff cleaner with regard to the counter where a million bags are dumped and repacked every week. If I like dealing with the bags at the other end, I'll air the bags out and save them for next time. It should save on pawing through my entire bag to find a clean item, right? Just have to find the right bag.

An odd worry is the accents. My "ear" for the language takes a bit to kick in, and I'm pretty good with unfamiliar accents. I'm talking about English being spoken, not Irish or Gaelic. There is that saying about Britain and America being divided by a common tongue. I was going to ascribe that as a quote, but it turns out the saying can't actually be ascribed to anyone in that exact form. Still, the American accents and the Northern Irish accent are quite different. The accent there is heavily influenced by Scottish to my mind.

I am wondering how they are getting on with reconciliation. The Great Recession is worse in Europe than in the US at this point. There are a lot of low income people in Belfast and I wonder if the cutbacks in spending on social aid and charitable donations are fanning the fires of resentment and pain. Soon, I'll hear.

Don't forget to check out the Volunteer In Mission group blog at: