Thursday, December 27, 2012

4 Corners Festival & the Irish Churches Peace Project

Five minutes of prayer around Belfast City Hall was the most public Christian response to the flags issue in Belfast. With the carols about the ‘Prince of Peace’ sung at Christmas, what else should the church be doing to bring peace and stability to the situation?

The church’s role in the Troubles will long be a subject of debate with accusations of a lack of leadership weighed against individual grassroots peacemaking and relationship building.

Planned long before the protests began, a new festival runs in January, organised by a cross-denominational group of individuals in Belfast.

The 4 Corners Festival “seeks to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and prosperity” and its events “re designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends”.

The festival overlaps with – but does not supplant – the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A series of events – music, prayer, storytelling, architecture and discussion – will culminate on Saturday 26 January at 11.30am with a symbolic act of worship occurring in four corners of Belfast before congregating in The Dock café in Titanic Quarter for lunch and worship.
  • North – Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church, Antrim Road
  • East – St Dorothea’s Church of Ireland, Gilnahirk
  • West – St Oliver Plunket Roman Catholic, Lenadoon
  • South – Belfast South Methodist Church, Lisburn Road
It’s a thoughtful festival, and time will tell whether it plays a role in achieving its vision of “bringing Belfast together”. That may largely depend in how the events capture the imagination of people who wouldn’t normally badge themselves as peacemakers. It certainly builds upon the collaborations and friendships (eg, Fitzroy-Clonard) that have built up over the past twenty or thirty years.

In a separate initiative, EU Peace III money – along with contributions from OFMdFM and the Irish Department of Environment, Community and Local Government – is being invested in another church initiative, the Irish Churches Peace Project. Operating between 2013 and June 2015, the £1.3m scheme has three aims:
  • to promote sustained and well facilitated cross-community dialogue particularly focusing on the contentious issues that need to be addressed in order to develop good relations and promote reconciliation;
  • to support local inter-church/cross-community groups in their development of new grass roots initiatives that will contribute to the lasting peace;
  • to facilitate a process by which the main denominations speak more frequently in the public sphere with a united voice on social and political issues, and through that to model positive cross-community cooperation and undermine the vestiges of sectarian politics.
In some ways these are activities that you'd expect local denominations to be doing (and they are) without funding support from Europe and NI/RoI governments. Though perhaps the injection of public cash denotes the importance that those public bodies see in churches boosting their work on the ground to facilitate peace

Cross-posted from my witterings on Slugger O'Toole.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A few scripts short of a full bulletin

Philip Hayton presented the One O'Clock News on BBC One for the first time one day in the run up to Christmas 1986. In the gallery, not everything was going to plan. In particular, the director was a few scripts short of a full bulletin.

I remember witnessing minor pandemonium while visiting the back of the gallery at the end of a programme covering the Assembly coming back after one of its short breaks. Autocues weren't quite in the right place, and the final summary VT started to play half way through. I was mesmerised at the authoritative and yet calm voices that echoed around the darkened gallery and into the ear of the presenters a few miles away in the basement of Stormont. And I was amazed at how quickly the adrenaline drained away from the production staff as the programme ended and they shuffled their papers and got up to head for the door. The controlled madness and mayhem evaporated the moment the credits finished and the programme handed over to the presentation suite to introduce the next show.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Out to Lunch Arts Festival, 2-27 January 2013

As we head towards Christmas, time has run out for online deliveries and soon the high street shops will be shutting too. But it’s not too late to buy someone you love a ticket for the Out To Lunch Arts Festival hosted in the Black Box in the New Year. The baby sister of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival warms the hearts of many of us each January with drama, music and talk. Tickets for weekday lunchtime events include a hot lunch.

Treats that I’ve noticed in the programme include:

Thu 3 Jan at 1pm, Niamh McGlinchey – The Gulladuff vocalist plays mandolin, tin whistle and guitar. Her début mini-album Rainbow Days launched recently.

Sat 5 Jan at 2pm, Zoë Conway & John McIntyre – An incredible pair merging fiddle and guitar. Based on previous performances at OTL and CQAF, not to be missed. This is the Belfast launch of their new album Go Mairir I bhFad – Long Life to You, with pieces commissioned from twelve leading Irish composers (Liz Carroll, Máirtín O’Connor, Steve Cooney, Frankie Gavin, Andy Irvine, Charlie Lennon, Donal Lunny, Tommy Peoples, Peadar O Riada, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Niall Vallely and Bill Whelan).

Tue 8 Jan at 1pm and 8pm, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – Original play by Australian Skewiff Theatre Company.

Fri 11 Jan at 1pm, One Rogue Reporter – Rich Peppiatt dissects his former trade and uses tabloid techniques against the tabloids themselves. Sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Tue 15 Jan at 1pm and 8pm, A Thousand Kisses Deep – Award-winning vocalist Christine Tobin presents poetry and song celebrating the words and music of Leonard Cohen, alongside Phil Robson (guitar) and Dave Whitford (double bass).

Thu 17 Jan at 1pm, Lennon v McCartney & John Lennon’s Last Day – Two short plays by Stephen Kennedy. A two hander to definitively sort out the pub argument of which Beatle was greater; and a look at the “strange and tragic events of John Lennon’s last day”.

Sat 19 Jan at 9pm, The Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble – A “twelve piece musical force” rooted in Dublin but drawn from across the world with a “mesmerising flow of extended grooves, Afrobeat originals and covers”.

Sun 20 Jan at 2pm, Four Men and a Dog – Irish trad, Southern rock, rap, jazz, blues, swing and even salsa.

Sun 20 Jan at 8pm, Lucy Porter ‘People Person’ – A regular performer at OTL and CQAF, her new show promises a “feel-good night of comedy” based around a “fascinating true story with a stunning twist in the tale”.

Tue 22 Jan at 1pm, Opera For Lunch (or Sex, Subterfuge and Snuff!) – NI Opera are back with three vocalists and lots of treats from beneath the refined veneer of eighteenth century opera.

Wed 23 Jan at 1pm, The Steve Experiment – Local Northern Irish self-taught guitarist Stephen Catherwood has a reputation for his inventive live performances.

And lots, lots more

Monday, December 10, 2012

Santa is coming to Belfast: giving away a free copy of this children's book ...

I’ve a copy of Santa is coming to Belfast to give away on the blog.

It’s a generic tale written by Steve Smallman which is customised for different cities. Illustrators Robert Dunn and Katherine Kirkland have done an amazing job working the Belfast skyline into the book.

The story opens with Santa asking “Have all the children from Belfast been good this year?” and an old elf replying “Well…erm…mostly”. It’s definitely fiction as the elf clarifies “they’ve all been especially good in the last few days!” and that’s somewhat at odds with the local news!

I’m no fan of the red-suited falsehood, but I gave some advice around the localisation of the story: street names, buildings, monuments and pointing out that St Anne’s Cathedral doesn’t have a bell!

Email me at alaninbelfast+santa AT gmail DOT com [there really is a plus sign in the middle of that email address] and I’ll randomly select a winner on Saturday 15 December at noon and get in touch for an address so I can post the book off to you in time for Christmas.

Alternatively, (discounted) copies are available for £3.75 on Amazon as well as all good bookshops!

Santa is also coming to Ireland, Dublin, Scotland, Cardiff, New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, ... and scores of other destinations!

Update - congratulations to Martin - book now on its way.

Belfast 400: People, Place and History (Sean Connolly, editor)

Ten days ago I finished reading Belfast 400: People, Place and History, a book published to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the city’s charter. In the light of last week’s reawakened community tensions and violence, it is interesting to look back at the roots of the city and its journey into the twenty first century.

Belfast 400’s chapters are written by a series of experts and edited by Prof Sean Connolly from QUB School of History and Anthropology. The opening chapter reminds readers that the Belfast that “emerged as the capital of Irish Unionism” was also “the birthplace of a United Irish movement committed to the establishment of an independent Irish republic”.

In sections dealing with the archaeological record, medieval times, and then looking through the last 400 years, the book intrigues and surprises with tales of how the people and places developed.

The city was labelled as “the northern Athens” by a “self appointed elite” who saw “evidence of a quickening of intellectual life in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”. By the early nineteen hundreds, Belfast obviously had a well developed self promotion/marketing capability with its “industrial primacy” being talked up in a 1913 account that eschewed statistics to claim that the city was the “largest in the world” in five industries (largest shipyard, largest linen mill, largest mineral water factory, largest tobacco factory and largest rope-walk).

Yet the linen industry brought with it respiratory disease while overcrowding and a lack of sanitation led to cholera and typhus epidemics giving Belfast another ‘largest’ … the highest death rate in Ireland.

For me, the most interesting chapter in the 390 page book was written by Sean O’Connell and dealt with the period between the start of the First World War and the beginning of the Troubles. The impact of the Blitz was something I missed by not studying GCSE History. Poor health provision and inequality were exposed. At one point post-war, the council was suspended and the City Hall was investigated for corruption.

Differences and discrimination in employment opportunities across the city were described, combined with closed working practices in the docks. Explanations of gender discrimination and practices that required married women to resign from their public sector and clerical jobs. Barmen in Shankill Road pubs would not serve women. Pawnbrokers and money lenders were common place facilities.

In 1957, despite opposition from Christian groups, Stormont legalised bookmakers’ shops, three years ahead of Westminster.
A torrent of complaints followed an Alan Whicker film about Belfast’s legal gambling establishments that featured, in 1959, on the Tonight programme. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board felt it showed the ‘most sordid part of Belfast’. Whicker’s remaining five films on Northern Ireland were shelved amid the furore.
Now there’s something for BBC NI to unearth from their archive! The nineteen sixties also saw children’s playgrounds being locked up by the Belfast Corporation. James Young quipped:
If you had to bail out of a plane over Belfast on a Sunday, sure they wouldn’t let you open your parachute.
And the Northern Ireland Tourist Board warned:
of the dangers to the city’s £12 million annual tourist trade from its reputation as ‘a strict’ sabbatarian place’.
There are glimpses into the city’s complex political history and what one contributor calls “Belfast’s repackaging of its violent past”. Alexander (Buck Alec) Robinson is described as having “a long list of convictions” (including larceny), being a member of the RUC’s C1 Special Constabulary and a boxing champion. He was linked to the murder of a Catholic woman who lived on his street, was interned for a period, became a US bootlegger and kept pet lions. Rev Ian Paisley carried his coffin at his funeral in 1995 and called him “a rare character, a typical Ulsterman”.

Paisley pops up again in the final chapter which looks at conflict: civil rights marches and the misplaced hope in John De Lorean car factory amidst bombings and murders. Relevant to December 2012 the book lists examples where “street decorations” and flags caused tensions and disruption.
The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (NI) 1954 forbade the display of ‘provocative emblems’. In 1964 the Revd Ian Paisley famously threatened to march up the Falls Road to remove a Tricolour from the office window of the Republican Party. This forced the RUC to remove the flag, provoking serious rioting in the Falls Road area.
There is much to praise about Belfast 400’s comprehensive study of the city. However, the book is a little let down by its inconsistent index which seems to randomly ignore some references to topics. (The index also lists the Belfast News Letter and Belfast Telegraph, but omits the Irish News despite mentioning its articles through the chapters.) Other than one brief mention, the book overlooks the Jewish community’s contribution the city.

Published by Liverpool University Press and supported with a grant of £60,000 from the Leverhulme Trust, Belfast 400 will be officially launched in Belfast City Hall in January.

However, copies are already available for immediate shipping on Amazon and (I assume) in local bookstores at £14.95. The book will make good a good present for anyone interested in the socio-politico-economic history of Belfast and wanting to get ahead of next year’s commemorations.

Disclosure: I was supplied with a copy of the book by Belfast City Council.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sir Patrick Moore

As a teenager I remember hearing Sir Patrick Moore delivering a talk one evening at Queen’s University. My memory is that he was speaking about mapping the moon, illustrated with slides of his own photographs of craters and the moon’s landscape.

My strongerer memory is that there was a loud bang in the middle of the lecture, which turned out to be the sound of an explosion at the side of the City Hall. Sad how so many events in Northern Ireland can be associated with a terrorist attack that took place about the same time.

Proudly eccentric, yet clearly expert in his field, Sir Patrick Moore communicated his love for space and science with passion and enthusiasm. He could convey complicated facts to amateur viewers and listeners in a way that was both engaging and accurate without watering the truth down to bland watered-down science. A character big enough that The Sky At Night has survived years of cuts at the BBC and remaining on air. And let's not forget his role in the show Gamesmaster!

What I hadn’t realised until today was that he had been director of the new Armagh Planetarium between 1965 to 1968 before Terrance Murtagh’s reign in the 1970s.

A fine example of an astronomer, a scientist, a broadcaster, a communicator … and a xylophone player.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Looking for something unique for that special person this Christmas?

Fed up with giving socks and M&S vouchers as presents?

If so, the Christmas exhibition and sale at the University of Ulster's Belfast campus opens on Tuesday evening, 11 December at 6pm and runs until Friday 14. A wide range of 'arts and crafts' [if I'm allowed to call them that] will be on display. Over to the university press release:
Christmas shoppers are invited to browse among the fabulous display of over 150 handmade pieces, each one a unique example of the expertise and skill of Northern Ireland’s emerging creative talent.

The event promises to deliver something for everyone, with all tastes catered for – from the traditional to the contemporary – and with prices starting from as little as £5 it will suit all budgets.

Showcasing their individual creations are the 2012 Artists/Designers in Residence and students from the Contemporary Applied Art course, Fine Art course and the Textile, Art Design and Fashion Course.

The sale and exhibition gives these artists a chance to introduce their work into the commercial market and is the perfect opportunity for the discerning Christmas shopper to pick up an original piece of artwork.

The Christmas sale and exhibition opens on Tuesday December 11 from 6pm-9pm and continues on Wednesday/Thursday 10am-5pm and on Friday from 10am-4pm.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

TEDxBelfastWomen - talks, music, comedy and ideas worth sharing

Thirteen speakers, two musicians and a comedian were lined up in a really diverse programme at TEDxBelfastWomen in the newly opened Skainos centre on East Belfast's Newtownards Road.

Academics, entrepreneurs, digital creatives, foodies, journalists and environmentalists all taking 8-9 minutes to express their idea worth sharing.

While the platform was dominated by X chromosomes - with the exception of Glenn Jordan (XY) from Skainos - the audience was around 10% male. Organised to tie in with the TEDxWomen event in Washington DC, the day's theme is:
The Space Between ... exploring how women are less likely to approach subjects from a black-or-white perspective as they see the grey area in between. There is a curiosity in wanting to explore what is in between extremes, to gain the big picture and find the areas where we need more understanding and perhaps compromise. Women know that this is where life happens—the places in between.

The local organisers - who picked up from the good work done by TEDxBelfast (2011 and 2012) - hoped that the Belfast speakers would share "their own fascinating stories ... about how they are influencing the growth of the communities in which they live, love and work and how they are actively part of ‘the space between’".

Videos will appear on the TEDxBelfastWomen website over the coming weeks as well as under TEDx on YouTube.

Before the event started I talked to one of the organisers Veronica Morris as well as speakers Jude Hill, Sue Christie and Deirdre Heenan about their expectations for the event.
  • Prof Deirdre Heenan (University of Ulster)
  • Dr Therese Charles (Silverfish Studios)
  • Siobhan Bogues (The Lighthouse Centre)
  • Music - Suzanne Savage
  • Kathleen Holmlund (digital strategist)
  • Kitsten Kearney (Educational Shakespeare Company)
  • Musician - Edelle McMahon
  • Fiona Murray (Chocolate Memories)
  • Jenny Radcliffe (Negotiation Intelligence)
  • Prof Sue Christie (NI Environment Link)
  • Eve Earley (Neo Ireland Ltd)
  • Comedy - Lauren Kerr
  • Judith Hill (UTV journalist and Tell It In Colour)
  • Shan McAnena (Belfast Festival at Queens)
  • Maureen Hanvey (Aeroponics)
  • Stephanie Akkaoui-Hughes (AKKA Architects)