Tuesday, August 30, 2011

European Heritage Open Days - Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 September - across Northern Ireland #ehod11

European Heritage Open Days are only around the corner. The time of year when buildings through open their doors and allow the public in for free to see inside buildings that are often out of bounds to casual observers.

Organised by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (part of the Department of the Environment), more than 300 events and properties are being offered on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 September.

Freemasons Hall in Arthur Square (formerly known as Cornmarket) beside the Squiggle

Last year, Littl’un and I took in a tour of Linen Hall Library, explored Freemason’s Hall in Cornmarket Arthur Square (and enjoyed a really cheap cup of tea with an amazing view), and wandered around the oldest church in Belfast, First Presbyterian (non-subscribing) in Rosemary Street.

This year there are numerous tours around Belfast: looking at the hidden history underneath Belfast’s streets; an architectural treasure hunt (organised by PLACE); tours of the newly restored Central Library; a walking tour around Victorian and Edwardian buildings by Young and MacKenzie architects (who designed Crescent Arts Centre); touring BBC Broadcasting House; as well as a look inside Stormont Castle (home of the NI Executive) and Parliament Buildings (home of the NI Assembly).

The Prisioner

First Church of Christ, Scientist (University Avenue/Rugby Road) was designed by Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect behind Portmerion which served as the backdrop for the original Prisoner series. Previous visitors rate it highly.

The rebuilt Lyric Theatre is offering three tours of its expanded premises – booking essential.

One novel addition to the normal schedule is a private home at 47A Ravenhill Road describing itself as ‘a family home build to a modest budget in a rational modernist idiom referenced to vernacular form’. Telephone pre-booking essential.

The Lock Keeper’s Cottage at Newforge is open … you could stop for a cup of coffee in the nearly Lock Keeper’s Inn café if you’re feeling thirsty!

Many of Lisburn’s city-centre churches are open on Saturday (with the majority paradoxically closed to visitors on Sunday). C J Lowry’s jewellery shop at the junction of Market Square and the top of Bridge Street has recently been restored.

Hillsborough Castle and Grounds are open to the public, as well as the nearby Court House, Fort and Friends Meeting House.

Armagh County Museum, Court House, Gaol, Public Library (treasure hunt for children), Observatory and Planetarium are all open, along with the Charles Lanyon-designed Tourist Information Centre on English Street – CANCELLED and the ‘flamboyant’ Gospel Hall on Mall West (which started out life in 1884 as a Masonic Hall).

Tours of the Maze / Long Kesh site are being organised on the Saturday. Pre-booking essential.

Some National Trust properties are open too – waiving their normal entrance charges.

European Heritage Open Day 2011 postcard

Copies of the EHOD brochure are available in local libraries as well as some arts venues. You also download the sections for Belfast, County Antrim, County Armagh, County Down, County Fermanagh, County Londonderry and County Tyrone.

This year, EHOD are also promising some free audio tours to download covering Belfast, the walled city of Derry and the Causeway Coastal Route. Warning: I didn’t have much success unzipping them on a Mac. You may have more luck on a PC.

Something for everyone … including the thousand or more delegates at Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis which will be in Belfast over the same weekend.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Love story in milk ...

The path of true love never did run smooth... especially if you're a milk bottle. It brings out the sentimental in me ...

h/t to In These Heels and Friends of the Earth

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Telling an Ikonstory at Greenbelt

Ikon at Greenbelt 2011 - photo by Ben Jones, twitter.com/DJSofaKid

Most years - though not last year - Ikon travels across to the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham and offers a 'gathering' to the appreciative and bemused people.

This year they had the 9pm slot in the Big Tent. No pressure there then!

@RichardFWatson: Best #gb11 moment so far. Silently looking into the eyes of a stranger and knowing we were part of the same story. #ikonstory

Hopefully someone videoed the session - or a version can be replayed in Belfast in the autumn.

Through arresting meditations on memory and forgetting, on the lies in our truth and the truth of our lies, this thought provoking session poignantly reminded that whilst our stories are important, they are not as precious as each other, and that new experiences compel us to destroy our stories and imaginatively re-write them.

This dream-like sequence of performance artistry and guerrilla theology was compellingly drawn to a close with a powerful act of ritual, whereby we were instructed to hold the gaze of a stranger, grasp each other’s hand and imagine their name and story before whispering our own names.

But in the meantime, the Greenbelt Festival blog gives a tantalising glimpse into the Inception-esque multi-layered story that the Ikonographers told.

And (ex-/remote-)Ikon regular Cary provides an interesting perspective from Nashville.

Photo via Ben Jones

Belfast Mela - Sunday 28 August - Botanic Gardens

belfast Mela banner

This afternoon, Belfast Mela once again takes over Botanic Gardens from noon until 8.30pm. The annual cross-cultural “gathering” takes in world music spanning Bhangra to Bollywood, Gospel to Irish trad, and a spot of Polish electronica along with circus acts, dance, fashion, henna and interactive arts for children. The World Food Market offers flavours from Eastern Europe all the way to the Far East.

Tip from last year - arrive before mid-afternoon to avoid the long queues at the entrance to this colourful celebration of diversity.

£2 entrance (£1 under-12s/senior citizens) to the main Mela.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What’s the real story behind today’s NI GCSE results?

BBC news website clipping

Much of the mainstream media’s reporting around this morning’s GCSE results has focussed on the highest grades.

The clipping to the right (from a BBC News online article) is a typical example.

Not much mention of any grade below C.

The disparity between male and female results is very noticeable in a subject like English.

Comparison of English GCSE results

This year 24.5% of girls opened their envelope to discover they had been awarded an A* or an A, and a total of 75% scored A*-C. In contrast, only 12.7% of boys achieved A* or A (nearly half the percentage of girls), while 62% scored A*-C.

Comparison of Maths GCSE results

In Maths, male students score marginally higher than females.

But overall, girls outperform boys by a country mile: 31.9% vs 23.3% for A*-A; 78.1% vs 71.3% for A*-C.

Compared to GCSE results across the UK (though note that GCSEs are not taken in Scotland), both male and female students in Northern Ireland have an edge on their English and Welsh counterparts.

You can access the full statistics for the last eleven years of GCSE results for UK, England, Northern Ireland and Wales at the Joint Council for Qualifications website. Unfortunately, the tabular data is released in PDF format rather than spreadsheet, and the 2010 figures aren’t even searchable. Not very data.gov.uk-friendly!

(Note that the figures above all refer to GCSE ‘full course’ and don’t include the double-award subjects or short courses.)

Of course this isn’t the full story.

The data released today simply looks at exam entries rather than the performance of individual pupils. It will be many months before the Department of Education release the figures for Northern Ireland the north of Ireland (as they refer to it on their website) that show the number of pupils who achieved 5 or more A*-C grades including Maths and English – the general measure of success. They have to wait for the School Leavers Survey to be processed, as the statistics are not gathered from the individual school results.

It’s quite difficult to find the figures.

The latest figures are for 2009/10. The School Leavers Survey states that 59% of school leavers (53.4% male, 64.7% female) had achieved at least 5 GCSEs A*-C including English and Maths. (For reference, the figure for England is 53.4% … but I don’t think we’ve got anything to boast about.)

2009/10 Northern Ireland results from School Leavers Survey

So 41% of Northern Ireland pupils left school in 2009/10 without reaching this standard. Around 1.7% left without any formal qualifications.

Northern Ireland grammar schools could be quick to point out that only 6% of their students (553 in total) left without the five good GCSEs including English and Maths. However, that percentage rises more than ten-fold to 64.7% (or 8800 pupils) for students in non-grammar schools.

GCSEs in Northern Ireland aren’t a particular big success story for two fifths of pupils.

That’s the unspoken story of today’s results too. 9353 unspoken stories of people who are leaving school without the kind of minimum qualifications that many employers require.

(That and the fact that for the last ten years there’s no record of anyone in Northern Ireland sitting a full Welsh GCSE.)

Cross posted from Slugger O'Toole

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Telling Year (Belfast 1972) now available on Kindle

The Telling Year - Belfast 1972 by Malachi O'Doherty

I read Malachi O’Doherty’s account of The Telling Year (Belfast 1972) nearly three years ago. At the time I realised how little I knew about what happened in Northern Ireland the year before I was born, unaware of the sheer level of violence, scale of bombings, and the number of people and families affected in those days.

It’s a dark book about a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history. As Malachi looked back at the paper’s output from that year with the benefit of hindsight, he found analysis that was surprisingly accurate alongside stories that failed to get to the truth of situations and events. And then there were the stories that titillated the normally conservative NI readers as they pored over their Sunday paper.

For Malachi, normality meant living cheek by jowl with IRA volunteers who sometimes wanted to spend the night hiding in his front room to throw off the scent of the army. It meant being able to drink in republican establishments. It meant hearing things and seeing people that somehow didn’t feel right to bring up in conversation or stories in his working life at the paper. The moral dilemma was real, and Malachi doesn’t shy away from examining it in the book.

The good news is that The Telling Year is now available for the Kindle … a bargain at £3.50!

Those familiar with Malachi’s voice off the radio - or his interviews as BBC Louis MacNeice Writer in Residence at QUB - will hear his tongue in cheek tone each through the pages of the book.

It’s a fascinating – if disturbing – read, with enough levity to dilute the more traumatic passages and keep you reading to the giggle at the very end.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Evangelical Journeys - choice and change in a Northern Ireland religious subculture

Cover of Evangelical Journeys - by Claire Mitchell and Gladys Ganiel

Over the last decade, Claire Mitchell and Gladys Ganiel have interviewed ninety five self-declared evangelicals in Northern Ireland to build up a picture of their dominant spiritual journeys and the individual choices that have determined the routes they have followed.

The analysis of these interviews has recently been published by UCD Press in a fascinating book Evangelical Journeys.

The authors spoke about their book in an In Conversation event at Contemporary Christianity in Belfast back in October. The audio from that evening is still available online. And just a few weeks ago, William Crawley interviewed Gladys and Claire on Sunday Sequence - there’s a link to the audio on Gladys’ blog.

Based on each person’s description of their faith development and their spiritual turning points, the authors loosely categorise them into one of six journeys.

  • Converting to evangelicalism
  • Deepening evangelicalism
  • Maintaining a steady faith
  • Moderating evangelicalism
  • Transforming evangelicalism
  • Leaving evangelicalism

The main part of the book consists of a chapter per type of journey, dipping in and out of the individual stories, noting the similarity and diversity in the experiences.

For non-believers, we think these stories can provide insight into what it is like to be religious in the contemporary world. For those who are evangelicals, we think these stories may help in the process of reflecting on their own religious journeys … readers may also be able to identify with some of the people they meet in the book.

Because it’s peppered with the voices of those interviewed, Evangelical Journeys is a captivating read. There’s an element of spot-your-own-journey as you read, as well as a constant challenge to the tenets that prop up – or are the foundations of – your own faith as you grow to understand so many other people’s journeys.

One fundamental observation is that although someone’s initial denominational involvement tends to be an accident of birth (primarily their parents), subsequent decisions that “change and alter their religious views … are not random choices” but stem from conscious reactions to their physical and mental health as well as to their peers.

The authors steer clear of trying to define ‘evangelicalism’ or adopting stereotypes. They acknowledge that “aspects of evangelicalism have contributed [enormously] to the conflict in Northern Ireland” but dismiss any simplistic notions that evangelicalism is either “rigid and unchanging” or “preoccupied with politics” pointing to examples of change, diversification, political withdrawal as well as strong social action resulting from ethical outrage and conscience.

Converting to evangelicalism. Unlike the other five journeys, nearly all interviewees described conversion as part of their religious journey, most commonly referring to one (or more) incidents before the age of ten. Childhood socialisation through attending church and Sunday schools – even with only nominally Christian parents – has a major influence on individuals.

All of those who converted as adults had some familiarity with evangelicalism from childhood. When they encountered evangelicalism in later life, this was not radically new information.

Relationships with evangelicals (‘advocates’ who initiate conversation), crisis and trauma were all noted as tipping points on the conversion journey.

Even where conversion takes place in a dramatic or emotional way, it seldom occurs without a great deal of prior active deliberation on the part of the potential convert.

Deepening evangelicalism. A subset of evangelicals become more deeply conservative. At the time of their interview, all identified themselves as DUP voters.

Quite a number of people in this chapter identified themselves as fundamentalists … A smaller group … detailed study of biblical doctrine was paramount … Some … value Calvinistic interpretations of the relationship between church and state. Some people whose faith was deepening described themselves as ‘right-wing conservatives’, ‘traditional’, ‘saved’ and ‘born-again’.

Church activity fills the week of many of these people, surrounded “with godly people”, and a reduction of individuals’ contact with non-evangelicals. The authors found that some of their interviewees saw the NI peace process as a sign of the end times. One forty-something policewoman (identified as ‘Helen’ in the book) felt that it is getting harder for Protestant Christians and said the “green [nationalist] victory” in Northern Ireland is “a sign of the times”.

For her, the presence of ‘murderers’ in the Northern Ireland Assembly ties in with predictions in the biblical book of Revelation that in the last days evil men will rule the earth.

At one time extremely politically active and vocal, Helen has withdrawn from political involvement. A keen home-decorator, she says that “if she is doing anything in the house she will ‘hurry up and get something picked’ before Armageddon”. The authors note:

Whilst we should not make more of this comment than was intended, it is interesting to note that Helen continues to improve those temporal things around her that she has control over, such as her home, and does not attempt to change things in areas of life where she feels powerless, such as Northern Ireland politics.

Maintaining a steady faith. For these evangelicals, “their religious beliefs and practices as adults in mid or later life closely resembled their beliefs and practices as teenagers and young adults”. While all interviewees “mentioned going through a period of finding out about faith for themselves rather than simply accepting what they had been taught without question”, some intentionally protected their faith “by not studying certain subjects at university or only reading books that confirmed their faith”. Others “chose not to dwell upon any difficult questions that arose”. Many described a faith that was “personal and devotional, rather than being over focussed on doctrine”.

I found some of the stories of buffering faith to shut out challenge quite disturbing. Colin explained his strategies for surviving university:

You are taught to think in university and investigate and look at things from a different point of view and what you have to be careful not to do is transfer that onto your Christ beliefs … because you are constantly taught to question and you could start doubting it.

Choosing to compartmentalise and ring-fence fence their faith in the knowledge that other critiques of their faith exist.

Moderating evangelicalism. Interviewees in this category tended to describe themselves as ‘liberal evangelicals’, ‘progressive evangelicals’, ‘followers of Jesus’ or just plain ‘Christian’. Some were uncomfortable with the term ‘evangelical’ point to heavy association with Paisley. Many had moved them “away from their conservative evangelical upbringings, but also away from strong forms of union ism, loyalism and range Order politics. The authors found that “a significant minority of people on a moderating journey had come to see themselves as Irish”.

We found that many evangelicals on a moderating journey had progressed beyond [‘some of my best friends are Catholics’] and established deep relationships with, and genuinely positive attitudes about, Catholics. Rather than holding on to the strong religious unionism with which they were raised, and seeing Catholics as hell-bound sinners, their faith has become more open and inclusive … people on moderating journeys began to see that, rather than being the enemy, Catholics were actually ‘fallow pilgrims’.

Bible study, ECONI, Evangelical Alliance, university Christian Unions and experiences at Bible College were all cited by individuals as tipping points onto a journey that better coped with alternative interpretations of evangelicalism.

Most moderating evangelicals who were interviewed had experienced disappointment with their churches. Crucially, when leaving a conservative church they had ‘outgrown’ they were able to find other churches “they could be happy in”. (This is not always the case for transforming evangelicals can be “disillusioned with all churches”.) Some remark on the scriptural grounding and protection they received from conservative churches in their youth.

Throughout the stories, there’s an openness to challenge – often through a wider range of books (Douglas Copeland gets a mention), films and music (U2). Some had experienced life outside Northern Ireland, often choosing to get away to seek out different experiences.

Transforming evangelicalism.

This chapter considers the stories of people who at one time considered themselves evangelical, but now think about and practise their faith in a radically different way. Although most continue to see their lives as part of a Christian story, they now interrogate and critique their former evangelical subculture. They have varying degrees of attachment to evangelical institutions, networks and friends.

Some interviewees used the term ‘post-evangelical’ or identified with the ‘emerging church movement’ to describe their journey. Highly educated, one interviewee described people of transforming evangelicalism as “a sort of liberal, intelligentsia, middle ground”. Communities – or ‘support groups’ to deal with “the trauma of their evangelical past” – like Ikon, Zero28, names like Rollins, Tickle and McLaren and talk about ‘truth’ abounds. Peter Rollins was amongst those interviewed for the book.

For him, evangelicalism reflects modern assumptions about being able to ascertain ‘truth’ and to verify facts. For evangelicals this means constructing an overarching religious narrative that explains everything, from the formation of the universe to the most intimate details of people’s lives. People like Peter disagree with over-arching narratives and want to construct alternative, diverse, open-ended narratives that they feel are more helpful for having a meaningful spiritual life and authentic relationship with other people … But this openness to uncertainty and doubt by no means precludes religious seeking.

Some transforming interviewees had found that evangelicalism “forced them into a zealous public persona that they were not comfortable with”. Two interviewees explained:

Melanie: You don’t have to get your neighbours saved – what a relief.

Sophie: You can just make friends with people and be friends, you don’t have to think ‘oh this person’s really nice, I want to be friends, oh, I wonder are they saved?’

Transforming evangelicals found that “Jesus has just become this formula for restricting people”. One interviewee Ross said that evangelicalism “can be reduced to agreeing with the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, not doing conspicuously conservative moral things like smoking or being drunk or having the wrong kinds of sex, won’t let women drive cars, forms that won’t let people who have been divorced and remarried pray in church”.

There was a suggestion from one interviewee that churches, like cigarettes, should have “a health warning: church can seriously damage your health”.

People on a transforming journey also had a deep frustration with the churches’ response to global issues. They said that evangelicals had become too caught up in narrow Northern Irish concerns and failed to see the bigger picture.

Kate explained her frustration:

I think it’s quite amusing in a sick kind of way that those on the fringes of the church are those who seem to give a crap more than anybody else. The problem is that they give a crap but the church doesn’t change, you know it sits there. We worry about this stuff, it really matters. [But] this dominant [church] culture, it just carries on.

While frustrated, doubting and questioning, transforming evangelicals have chosen not to leave religion behind altogether. Indeed “because they seek to challenge and change mainstream evangelical culture, some have continued to attend church alongside their participation in groups like Ikon”.

Leaving evangelicalism. The ten interviewees explained that leaving their faith was a gradual process.

Unlike people who are transforming or moderating their faith, people who had left their faith found that there was nothing worth saving.

Some got to this position by “granting oneself permission to question” and having passed the ‘what if’ threshold found that there was no going back. Others like Liz who had a child outside marriage found that harsh moral judgments from fellow Christians “delivered a blow from which her faith could not recover”.

The authors discovered that some of the interviewees had ‘relapsed’ and come temporarily back to religion. And more leavers than any other category had spent time away from Northern Ireland.

While the “high point for religiosity is the teens and twenties”, this is also the stage that interviewees tended to leave evangelicalism. The peak time for changing religious beliefs was in late twenties and thirties, particularly for moderating and transforming evangelicals.

Politics played its role as a basis for being interested in faith and “deepening in a conservative direction”. Yet politics was also reason for dissatisfaction: “anger at evangelical churches’ maintenance of the segregated status quo”. And people’s “focus on global political issues, social justice and peace-building led them to further deconstruct their faith” and distance themselves from previous expressions of faith.

Throughout the book, personal choice jumps off the pages. Stories of people choosing to eliminate opportunities to question or be challenged, choosing to embrace doubt, choosing to stay in relationship with God, choosing to reject their childhood faith.

As I say above, I found the snippets of the interviewees’ explanations of their journeys fascinating, an honest insight into the complexity of faith and practice. And while the book at times takes an academic tone and approach, it was accessible to me as a layperson.

Evangelical Journeys is certainly worth a read if you’re curious about Northern Ireland evangelicals.

[Thanks to the authors and UCD Press for a review copy of the book.]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

White Park Bay ... and cows

Cows on beach at White Park Bay

Even the cows were doing a spot of sun bathing on the beach at White Park Bay this afternoon.

Cows on beach at White Park Bay

At one stage there were more cows standing around than people at their end of the beach as they tried out out-stare the humans.

Cows on beach at White Park Bay

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shining a light on your Lego youth!

Lego lanterns and torches in WH Smith sale

For all those who spent large quantities of their youth building structures with plastic bricks before discovering keyboards and screens, WH Smith in Belfast has Lego lanterns (bedside table lights) and torches in their sale to remind you of the good old days.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Mac versus PC

xkcd.com cartoon

With PCI's Tech Camp starting later this week, a recent xkcd cartoon brought back memories of a late night and raucous Mac versus PC debate at camp in 2009.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Turas, by Colin Neill - a story of strangers in a strange land

Colin Neill’s first novel Turas peeks into a world in which many Ulster Protestants feel uncomfortable. It’s 2020 and the Irish unification that unionists and loyalists confidently predicted would never happen has become a reality. President Adams is ensconced in Phoenix Park.

The newsreader reported that … a short ceremony at Stormont had confirmed the passing of Northern Ireland, and had officially confirmed the birth of a now 32 county Republic of Ireland. The Union Jack had been lowered and the tricolour raised. The Secretary of State had made a short speech, shaken hands, and in the most dignified manner that he could, ‘got out’.

A group of men from a Lurgan church meet regularly for Bible study. The societal events around them are shaking their faith and challenging their identity. Irish for ‘journey’, Turas explores these men’s spiritual journey as they adapt to new norms. They pray that God …

“… would touch our land powerfully, that even yet justice would be done.”

As they study the book of Jeremiah, they somewhat arrogantly wonder:

Are we as Protestants from Ulster to be an instrument of judgment upon Roman Catholic people? Or is there going to be some judgment of God upon this land but the pot will tilt away from the North because of our faithfulness and we will be spared?

Suddenly, they are in a minority, with the protection a nation state offers minorities: “education preserved; peace money for public housing and business incubation; funding for their community and youth workers” and even the suggestion of a “Protestant Ombudsman” (or ‘Ombudsprod’).

Their anxiety is interrupted by a visiting South African who challenges their prejudices, pushes their buttons, and demands answers to the questions they fear addressing. Like many evangelicals, their understanding of Catholic theology is simply that it is the Reformed Church’s enemy. Slowly they get to grips with their own shortcomings.

“Maybe the grand lie we told ourselves was judging ourselves against crooked plumb lines rather than the real holiness we read about in the Bible. I once heard someone say that the problem with evangelicals is that they ought to be the most radical people in society yet we’re probably amongst the least radical. What about big houses and expensive cars? What about fancy clothes even if we are virtuous and don’t drink or smoke or do the lottery? What about all the petty nonsense we get caught up in within churches, instead of going out there and engaging with people and getting our hands dirty?”

Some of the men start to rethink their old opinions of “those lefty-woolly people at Corrymeela and ECONI and the like – the beards and Moses sandals brigade”. Some notice that their minister’s Easter Sunday sermon “blatantly ignored the wider events around him that Easter”. Cross cultural romance and cross community meetings widen perspectives and sometimes reinforce stereotypes and insecurities. Truth recovery catches up with a retired RUC officer. The group ponder the Drumcree parade and the eternal resting place of Gerry Adams.

Turas is likely to be an uncomfortable read for some, but I’d strongly recommend it. Even without the prospect of a United Ireland on the horizon, it is a wake up call for Christians attending Protestant churches who steer clear of politics or who subtly assume a unionist bent on life – never expecting that there could be nationalists (protestant or otherwise) sitting in the pews.

Nobody met them at the top of a birth canal and asked them to tick a box to say that they wanted to be Ulster Protestants or Irish Catholics. They simply came out and were placed in their mother’s arms and took what they were given … Yet those mother’s arms and those father’s influences – as well as the churches and the schools and the politics and the shibboleths and the history and the versions of the history – all of that was what formed them.

Still, that’s no excuse for not “relating, understanding and loving” our neighbours, no matter their culture or identity.

Available at amazon.co.uk.

I asked author Colin Neill why he had wanted to write a book that challenges the way many Protestants view nationalist/republican politics and the idea of a United Ireland?

I'd been toying with the idea of writing a novel for some time, and can only say that the idea for Turas came to me in what felt like a moment of epiphany. I was walking up a mountain in Donegal and it suddenly came to me: 'why not take a set of Ulster Protestant friends and put them in a United Ireland and see how they get on?' For many years I've felt incredibly frustrated with the 'local church', where the fact that we live in a terribly divided society is the 'elephant in the room' that nobody addresses. Turas tries to tackle Protestant attitudes to Catholicism and Nationalism in a way that is fresh and accessible.

Is it healthy for faith and politics to be often held together in such a tight and emotional way in Northern Ireland?

It's not unhealthy to tie together faith and politics, but the way we've done it in Northern Ireland doesn't seem to have - in large part - worked. On matters like poverty and exploitation of the poor, faith and politics have got to be intertwined. But look at Northern Ireland, which is arguably the most Christianised region in all of Western Europe, and look at the fractured society within which that Christian faith is practiced. Scratch all the churchgoers hard enough and they're all either orange or green, but how many of us hear that mentioned when we're sitting in church?

The book's title 'turas' is Irish for 'journey'. Do you hope that readers of the book will go on their own journey - much like the seven main characters - after reading it?

Absolutely. The book has been written to create disturbance in the minds and hearts of readers. I want people to be unsettled in the course of reading it and go 'on their own journey.' Not my journey, but theirs. I'd love to deconstruct something of the way that people from my community see their country, but the constructing and where they go with questions is clearly down to them.

What kind of reaction has the book got?

The reaction from those who have read the book has generally been very positive: both the radicalism of the content, and also the language and attitudes of the book's characters. Ulster Evangelicalism is the most incredibly fascinating sub-culture: it can be narrow and frustrating, and yet I love this place and these people, and the feedback has been that the essence of this community has been well captured in Turas.

Turas was your first book. Are you tempted to write again?

I'm tempted but undecided. There's a romantic sub-plot in the book, and whilst I've no aspirations to Maeve Binchey's crown, what surprised me was that the story of Alan and Nadia's relationship was the part of the book I enjoyed writing most. Some people have asked me: 'whatever happened to Alan and Nadia?' [Alan’s one of the seven men in the book and fancies himself as a bit of a heart throb. Nadia’s his Easter European Catholic girlfriend who he met when she served him in the local chip shop.] Maybe that's the basis of another book.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Festival of India - Sunday afternoon in Custom House Square (plus other treats)

Poster about Festival of India in Belfast, 2011

The Festival of India is running on Sunday afternoon in Custom House Square in Belfast. From 1pm until 5pm the square will be awash with music and dancing from groups flying in from England, as well as jewellery and craft stalls, henna and face painting ... and food! Organised by the Indian Community Centre. Admission is £2, but under-12s go free.

Indian Independence Day will be celebrated with flags, music, dance and refreshments on Sunday 21 August from 6pm in the Indian Community Centre at 76 Clifton Street, Belfast, BT13 1AB. The next evening - Monday 22 at 7pm - Kavi Sammelan (a group of 6 Hindi poets) will be reciting poems by eminent poets from India. In conjunction with the Indian High Commission.

And up in Derry on Saturday 3 September, there's an Indian Vegetarian Cooking Challenge being held between 12.30pm and 4pm in Clooney Hall, Clooney Terrace. Prizes for tasty dishes in various categories: starters, main course, desserts. Budding masterchefs must register with the organisers by 27 August. Entry fee £5.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

smart (arse) parking

Spotted some nifty sideways parking in Belfast yesterday.

SMART car parked sideways on the street

And then spotted the two stickers on the back of the car.

SMART arse badge on car

Brought back memories of a fun six months with a SMART car a few years ago.