This morning we headed to the Corrymeela office in Belfast to meet with our facilitator, Paul, and Sean, who works with Corrymeela on an educational program in school system in Northern Ireland. But before I get too far, I should tell you a little bit about Corrymeela.
The Corrymeela Community started in 1965 as an intentional community founded by a professor of Queen’s University in Belfast. As far as I understand it, the purpose didn’t start out as a peace and reconciliation centre but grew to address a need once the Troubles started in 1968. It is now a complex of buildings including residences, a conference centre, and a worship space. All of which is perched on a cliff just outside of Ballycastle on the North coast of Norther Ireland. It is down the road from the Giant’s Causeway and 12 or so miles from the Western coast of Scotland. It is a spectacular setting, all the more so as we have had spectacular weather. Sunny and mild. A rare occurrence here…..so I don’t want to tempt the weather gods and say too much more.
After a brief introduction about Corrymeela and an overview of some of the educational work they do in conjunction with Facing History and Ourselves, we headed out for a walk around the neighbourhood where the Belfast office is situated, The Holy Land. I thought it was a reverent moniker for some reason, but it turns out the neighbourhood got its name because the builder named all the streets with some references to places in the Holy Land: Jerusalem Road, Cairo Street, Palestine Way. The neighbourhood sits behind the university so is now mostly student housing as well as home to a significant Roma population. It’s an interesting intersection of life in Belfast.
After an amazing burrito, we hopped on our bus to Ballycastle. And by bus I mean full sized 50 passenger coach…..for the six of us! I mean, we were riding in style. Nigel, our driver, was a pleasant fellow, happy to chat about his experiences in Canada and watching the Blue Jays in the 80s.
We started our formal program last night and talked about identity, how that shapes us, how that changes us, how it influences our viewpoint and experience. Identity is deeply meaningful in Northern Ireland, in a way, that I honestly haven’t thought about in my lifetime. I think we have a much more pedestrian view of identity in my part of the world, or maybe that’s just my experience.