Showing posts with label Derry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Derry. Show all posts

Sunday, October 06, 2013

REACTing to Turner Prize shortlisted artists and previous winners

The four shortlisted artists for the 2013 Turner Prize will be exhibiting in Derry from 23 October until early 2014. We spent a fun afternoon at the Ulster Museum today finding out about this year’s nominees as well as previous winners.

Eilis Lavelle was giving a series of short talks (on the hour) about previous winners and introduced the audiences to some of the work by this year’s four shortlisted artists. Winners and nominees have never been far from controversy in previous years. Will the Stuckists travel across to Derry to make their annual protest at the Turner Prize? [Maybe they'll put their protest out to tender - can think of a few organisations that have experience fighting for cultural causes!] I spoke with Eilis after one of her talks …

  • Laure Prouvost’s work varies from film to surreal installations to misspelt signage. Her installations draw in audiences who are trying to figure out the story behind her work. in the audience stories, translation, and surreal moments.
  • Tino Sehgal specialises in artworks that involve real-life encounters as well as obtuseness. Since he shuns his artwork being captured on film it will be hard to convince you of the cleverness of the large scale situational choreography and the themes and messages behind his work.
  • Humour – and satire – pervade David Shrigley’s stick drawings, stuffed animals and objects. Accessible and funny enough to make me laugh out loud (a rare event) means David Shrigley gets my vote to be the winner.
  • Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paints people, from memory rather than from photographs or at long live sittings. While portraiture is well-established in the art world, her focus on black subjects makes her work stand out. Some subjects appear in multiple paintings. Apparently the more of her work you see, the more the themes and style emerges.

[The two male artists have long Wikipedia entries. Despite being shortlisted for the Turner Prize, the two women have tiny 130-160 word entries. That’ll change if they win!]

Parked outside the Ulster Museum’s front door, the REACT mobile home had been turned into a studio for Seamus Ryan to capture the facial reactions of visitors when they were shown Turner Prize works.

[Aside - Portraiture runs in the Ryan family. Louis le Brocquy painted a portrait of Seamus's relative, the actress Kathleen Ryan. before she starred in films like Odd Man Out alongside James Mason. The Ulster Museum owns the painting, but it's not currently on display. Maybe one day Seamus will be able to return to see it hanging in one of the fourth and fifth floor galleries ... perhaps alongside an exhibition of his own celebrated portraits. In the meantime, at least he got a pint in The Crown (which featured in Odd Man Out)!]

The REACT crew have already been busy at the University of Ulster Belfast campus, Armagh, Enniskillen and today at the Ulster Museum. Photographs will go online at the Turner Prize 2013 website. Folk from Derry may also find their reactions appearing on gable walls and poster sites around the city.

You can catch the mobile studio and start a conversation about contemporary art (as well as pulling faces) next week at:
  • Monday 7 October, 11am to 4pm – Dublin – NCAD
  • Tuesday 8 October, 11am to 4pm – Derry~Londonderry – University of Ulster Magee
  • Wednesday 9 October, 11am to 4pm – The Streat – University of Ulster Coleraine
  • Thursday 10 October, 11am to 4pm – Letterkenny – Letterkenny IT

The four short-listed artists will exhibit in Ebrington from 23 October to 5 January. The 2013 winner will be announced on 2 December.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Church democracy and representation - laity, elders and clerics, young and old, women and men

While Methodists are his favourite, Gerry Adams is on record saying “I love the democratic nature of the Presbyterian Church”.

But if Gerry took a closer look under the covers, would he be happy with the level of democracy? Certainly there are many opportunities for members to be involved in shaping local work and events, and serving on congregational committees. But as you look at kirk sessions, and the hierarchy of central committees and boards, it is clear that the representation becomes less all-member and increasingly male and clerical.

Where are the women? Where are the elders? Are we covering all ages? Where is the diversity of voice? The “priesthood of all believers” isn’t just a phrase – it needs to be a reality.

I started writing this post on Tuesday. Each day there has been further articulation of the issue on stage and some positive – if limited – movement towards addressing the deficit.

Back in 2007 the General Assembly agreed to more effectively listen to the voice and views of young people.
The main aim of SPUD [Speaking Participating Understanding Deciding] is to enable young people to have a meaningful opportunity to be involved in decision-making at a denominational and a local level. However it is a key principle that we are not just making our voices heard, but also listening to the views of others and to the rest of the church.

More than twenty SPUD resolutions have been proposed and agreed at subsequent General Assemblies, despite the clash with school and college exams. Indeed today an additional resolution was tagged onto the end of the lapsed Board of Social Witness business that was a direct consequence of two SPUD speeches yesterday morning.

Guests from outside the Presbyterian denomination attending the opening night of General Assembly may have been bemused by the fact that other than the orchestra, everyone on the stage and everyone speaking was male and wearing a clerical shirt.

Every congregation sends their minister and a representative elder to the assembly. Over 600 ministers and over 400 elders were registered to attend. Each delegate has an equal vote, and an equal right to ask questions and make speeches. Yet on the first day of business at the assembly only two elders spoke: one convenes a board, the other is clerk of a presbytery. Throughout the week – other than those delivering board reports – only a handful of elders spoke.

There was a fabulous – if rare – moment of accountability on Wednesday when two elders who had travelled 170 miles to ask a series of pertinent questions around the low level of third level education chaplaincy in Dublin.

An induction session is run on the first morning of the General Assembly to introduce new delegates to the procedures of ‘the house’. However, recognising the consistent low level of participation, surely more could be done during the week – from the front – to regularly encourage delegates to take part in the business.

The planned reorganisation of central denominational structures (boards, or councils) has been delayed for another year. And with it delays the opportunity to address the gender balance – and perhaps other diversity imbalances – and in the makeup of those nominated to serve on the committees and boards/councils.

2013 is the fortieth anniversary of the General Assembly agreeing to ordain female ministers. While it’s the policy of the denomination, the uptake has been low … and slow. In the forty years, less than forty women ministers have been ordained – around 6% of PCI’s ministers. Perhaps the denomination needs to call in Lord Patten?

Indeed this year has been the first time a women minister has been called from her first charge to another congregation. As one minister put it, “the first time women have left their ‘starter church’ for a larger congregation”. Suddenly, three have moved this year.

The denomination’s Board of Christian Training recognised in its report that
Concern had been raised as to the low numbers of women applying for ordained ministry. The Committee agreed that promotional material aimed at potential applicants should clearly stress that both men and women are eligible for ordination on an equal basis.

However, this concern was not translated into a resolution. Could it have been proposed that ministers and elders encourage all their members, regardless of gender, to explore their sense of calling to preaching courses and ministry? Perhaps that would have been deemed foolish given the breadth of attitudes towards women’s ministry that continue to be held by members, elders and ministers of the denomination.

For the first time ever this, the main speaker at the Youth Night event at the end of General Assembly is a woman. Gender aside, Jude Hill will be an exceptional speaker.

It was telling that the first mention of the fortieth anniversary of women being allowed to be ordained was finally made by two women. Otherwise, it seems unlikely it would have been mentioned at the assembly.

Two ministers made an unexpected intervention as they jointly delivered a short and dignified speech following the Board of Christian Training report. Revs Patricia McBride and Katherine Meyer read out the names of a sample of the congregations across Ireland that have “had the courage of their discernment” to call women ministers and employ assistant ministers over the last forty years.
We look forward to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in transforming the church we serve, a church reformed and always in need of reformation. And we look forward to celebrating the fiftieth anniversary with great joy and in great style!

On the final morning, another unexpected intervention as the convenor of the Board of Finance and Personnel John Hunter – an elder – finished his verbal report by referencing the gender imbalance of his own board. He spoke of the “failure” of the denomination to “mobilise all the talents in our church”. He also wondered whether there would be a female moderator in the next ten years.
Moderator, before turning to my final remarks I’d like to speak briefly on the transformational theme from the perspective of the Board of Finance and Personnel. A transformational church has to have the courage and capacity to affect change and this requires governance structures that are fit for purpose. But it also requires us to mobilise all the talents in our church. And I believe, Moderator, we’re patently failing in this regard.

I illustrate it with an example from the last meeting of the board. Of the around forty people present, only one was a woman, and she was Laura Kelly our personnel officer.

I can report that the Nominations Committee has sought to address this deficit in the thirty eight person membership of the new board. And I look forward to welcoming Mrs Barron to her first meeting. She however is the only female nominee within the new committee.

Moderator, I suggest that the most visible sign of a transformed church might lie in more female engagement and indeed in leadership. Would it be heretical, moderator, even to suggest that in time there should be a female moderator? Perhaps before the fiftieth anniversary of the agreement of this house to ordain women.

Throughout the week, I asked a number of women minister about their journeys into ministry and what might encourage more women to come forward as candidates. Here’s a selection of their comments:

While it’s a rule and we’ve encapsulated it into church law, there is an ethos in the denomination that hasn’t been very encouraging to women going ahead in leadership and specifically toward ordination.

I consider that I’m a woman who is in ministry. I’m a team player, men and women together. I just happen to know that God’s called me into this role and I work together with the other men and women in the congregation.

I was seventeen when he called me into the ordained ministry. I’ve just gone on in faith through that. I spent a long time with my New Testament professor making sure what I felt was Biblical and having done that there was no looking back.

I would really want to encourage women – and I see younger women all the time – with gifts and abilities that I think God would use greatly within our denomination in terms of ordained leadership. They’re choosing to use their gifts in the church but also in other spheres. I think women and men of younger generation are not in the main thinking of ordained ministry. I think of my congregation: I’ve got a lot of guys that I see incredible leadership in. When you suggest it to them it’s not happening in their hearts. We have to look at that – why is that the case that a lot of people years ago who would have instantly considered ordination are not doing that now.?

My minister and people around me spotted something and encouraged me.

It has to start at a grass root, congregational level. I would encourage men to be considering – in their congregations – who are the leaders? Not the men or the women. But who have obvious gifts of leadership. That’s the missing gift today. It’s not so much the pastor or the teacher. As we’ve heard in the assembly today we need to be calling forth leadership in the generations that come after me.

What will change it? The women themselves will change it – the lay women.

I knew I had a call from the early age of thirteen or fourteen. I fought against the call because I knew it was going to be difficult. I thought that if I go down this line that my life is not going to be normal. My call developed and in the end I couldn’t fight it any longer. I knew it was the right thing and I knew from a young age that this was where I was supposed to be.

If you have a call, you can’t fight the call, and if you trust that you will get a church, all the doubts and the negativity and the obstacles that you face will fade away because your congregation accept you as their minister very quickly. That gives you the validation and you know I’m in the right place and you do forget about the difficulties that you went through. There’s nothing any of us can do higher than living up to our calling.

Whenever I was being interviewed at Presbytery level [seeking to become a candidate for the ministry] I was told “you do realise that women have trouble getting a church?” and my answer then was that God already knows the church he wants me to be in and I’ve never wavered from that. God always knows where he wants his people.

Without a change of attitude – a transformation of expectation – the status quo will continue. The denomination must intentionally listen to the width of opinion across its membership. And it must also intentionally listen to the width of opinion – and criticism – from those outside the denomination, whether those be previously committed Presbyterians who are leaving to pursue their Christian faith in other churches, or those tell me that they dismiss the denomination as irrelevant and terminally prejudiced.

Disclosure – I write as a member of the Presbyterian Church who was ordained as an elder more than ten years ago (though isn’t active in that capacity) and a member of one of the boards of the church. I’ve spent the week as a fly on the wall – or perhaps a tweeter in a balcony box in the Millennium Forum – and wasn’t a ‘member’ of the assembly. I’m also married to a Presbyterian minister.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

There are too many people in our urban areas who feel they are nobodies ... with no identity, no hope and no future

Dr Norman Hamilton - former moderator and co-convenor of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Church and Society committee - addressed the General Assembly in Derry this morning and spoke about questions for the denomination coming out of the flag protests.

I think it’s fair to say that there was a general sign of relief when the high visibility element of the flegs protest came to a halt. Normal life in one sense could be resumed even though the protest is still going on in a very limited way. But for most people, sigh of relief and let’s return to normal.

But to coin a phrase, the underlying issues haven’t gone away you know.

I also recognise that most members of this assembly are not from the urban areas where the main protests happened. We had the privilege in our own manse of having the protests at our door with the road blocked off on a fairly regular basis. And the conversations I can assure you at the front door of the manse were absolutely fascinating using language that I think would not be appropriate for a moderator or even dare I say a previous moderator.

I would like to suggest to the assembly – moderator – that the protest has brought to the surface a couple of very, very deep unanswered questions within the Christian community and the life of our church, and that as a whole church we would do very well to learn of the lessons of these relatively isolated communities in our uran areas.

The first question is this. Identity. Who am I? Who are we? Do I matter? Do we matter? Does anyone care about my situation? Does anyone care about your situation? My need? Our need? In answering that question I think of the modern hymn “In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song; this cornerstone, this solid ground; firm through the fiercest drought and storm”.

I think individually and collectively we would do well to ponder whether this is actually true for us? Are there other allegiances that either are as important or even more important? To put the question another way, what am I most passionate about? What are you most passionate about? Is it Jesus? Is it the gospel? Or the scriptures? The work of the spirit? Or is it our business? Our family? Our membership of a club or an organisation? Or even our national identity?

Many people in these urban areas feel that no one cares about them collectively. They feel abandoned when their local schools are closed, when there are no worthwhile jobs, when their children fail and become prey to drug dealers, when their area gets evermore run down. Poverty and hopelessness is very real too.

A story from East Belfast which Douglas [Cowan – clerk of East Belfast Presbytery] may know is one of many. Of a home where a man lived on his own in such squalor that the pigeons were coming in to rest on the end of his bed and eat the crumbs. And he wasn’t the only one. The pigeons coming in at night for shelter to his bedroom.

There are too many people in our urban areas who feel they are nobodies in a nobody land, with no identity, no hope and no future. And the question to our assembly and indeed the whole Christian constituency is does this matter? Does it matter to us that there is a new underclass emerging in our midst? Now of course we cannot fix jobs, we cannot fix education, we cannot regenerate the run down areas of Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Limerick or Craigavon. But there is a very urgent need to show that we care.

The other thing I want to say – moderator – and it has already been alluded to and there has been no coordination on this point from David and from Douglas: to work for the welfare of these communities as the prophet Jeremiah would call us to do is the task of the whole church.

BMI [Board of Mission in Ireland] taking a lead with its missional emphasis. The Union Commission [deals with church vacancies] with its huge responsibility for stewarding what are ever more precious and scare resources. Presbyteries with their oversight of ministry in urban areas. Board of Social Witness with their caring ministries around social need. Church and Society committee which I co-convene, we can bring some perspective on the political and societal level. Our theologians across the church bringing the Biblical perspectives on these issues, not as academic theologians writing papers but as Christian men and women with deep Godly insights.

Moderator you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not suggesting a new committee. Absolutely not. But I am asking, if there is enough heart in our church and in this assembly for these people, for these communities, is there enough heart for us to have wide ranging PCI urban mission forum where all the contributors that are there with willing hearts and committed to developing a medium to long term strategy, an intentional purposeful getting together of our many arms and our huge resources for the welfare of the city.

Lindsay Conway explains about Presbyterian denomination's 150 year old social witness programme of "loving your neighbour"

If the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s theme for the year is to be A Place of Transformation, perhaps one of the most practical demonstrations of the scale of their commitment is the work of the Board of Social Witness.

BSW’s written report to the denomination’s General Assembly begins by reminding delegates that the board’s remit and operation includes:
  • 20 locations, 445 bed spaces, 423 staff, 200 volunteers, £9.5million operational budget
  • residential care, nursing care, supported housing, student accommodation, family centre, day care
  • working with offenders, people with addictions,
  • counselling service
  • child protection
  • chaplains – hospital, hospice, university, forces, criminal justice
  • ministry to the deaf
  • as well as lobbying and campaigning, pastoral care, and health promotion around disability health and wellbeing

Lindsay Conway is the Presbyterian Director of Social Services. While the phrase “social witness” isn’t in common usage, he explained it to me as simply “fulfilling that command to love your neighbour”. As well as the centrally organised work, Lindsay Conway acknowledged that
“the bulk of the social witness in our denomination is done at congregational level – lunch clubs, special events for those with learning disability, food stores and so forth – that is social witness, that is Christ in action.”

The denomination’s ministry to the deaf is now over 150 years old; its ministry to older people began well over 60 years ago; followed more recently work with offenders and people with addictions flowed from that.

Lindsay Conway was recently in the news speaking out about the fate and treatment of patients in residential care homes being threatened with a speedy closure.
There were few voices recognising that yes care at home is desirable but only if it suits, only if it meets the total needs, not giving older people the sentence of [being] moved downstairs to a hospital bed with no other facilities. Residential care, nursing care, has to be part of a whole range of care that is – in jargon terms – client centred.

On being part of the “Big Society”:
All good acts are not done by Christians and we have to acknowledge that, but we also said to the Prime Minister, sorry Prime Minister but we’ve been at Big Society a long time. That’s what the churches have done for generations. Not only the Presbyterian Church, but the [approach of] the Methodist Church, others with regards to Vincent de Paul and other diocesan things within the Anglican Church. Sorry Prime Minister, but we’ve been doing it reasonably well.

On welfare reform:
It’s starting to bite. And yes we’re grateful that the minister did get concession with regards to monthly payments back into fortnightly payments, that we don’t have the same pressure on the bedroom tax as others, but yes, it’s biting. And it’s biting in a way that’s affecting members of our congregations and communities. The church has to respond to that.

Other hot issues:
There has to be a big focus on carers and we’re going to launch soon a research paper on the level of caring that’s done by individuals within families and friends which is really masking some of the real stories within health and social care. Today, the whole research with regards to A&Es and elective surgeries being cancelled. That is just unbelievable.

The King’s Fund has now confirmed from an independent point of view that the figures aren’t as they are being reported. And it’s horror stories when people are being not just once or twice but maybe seven times having an operation postponed, what that means in emotional terms and so forth.

The church has to be verbal. The church has to have a view.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland provides these services:
That’s our rightful place. It’s not something that we do because we’re good people because God called us to do that. To love him with everything we’ve got and to do likewise in loving our neighbour.

This morning at the Assembly, Lindsay Conway finished his report by saying:
Luke 10 verse 35 reads "In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill - I'll pay you on my way back.' This is a powerful verse. This was not one simple good deed, it was guaranteeing sustainability - maintaining the care, continuing to look after - seeing it through to a conclusion - and Jesus said "go do likewise - go and do the same".

The convenor of the Board of Social Witness - Bobby Liddle - also highlighted the work of chaplains in hospitals, prisons, the military and third level education establishments.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Church of Scotland clerk reminds Irish Presbyterians that they are family and that "blood is thicker than water"

Rev John Chalmers – Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland – spoke this morning at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

He spoke about difficult relationships in families – troublesome cousins – and reminded delegates that in general “blood is thicker than water”.

Referring to the Church of Scotlands decision and process around calling gay ministers (individual churches would be allowed to “opt out” in order to call gay clergy to be their minister), he said “this is one of those moments”.

He asked the PCI Assembly to pray for the Church of Scotland. He said that you don’t expect others to tell you what to do. There was much more that united the two denominations than divided them.

His speech addressed issues that will be debated on Tuesday afternoon, namely a resolution in the General Assembly supplementary reports that - as currently worded - seeks to chastise the Church of Scotland:
That the General Assembly view with dismay the deliverance approved by the recent General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in response to the Report of the Theological Commission and, while recognising it is not likely to be acted upon until 2015, places on record its great concern. JOHN W LOCKINGTON, NIGEL J MCCULLOUGH

Opening night of #pciga13 PCI General Assembly in Derry

After an absence of eighty years, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's General Assembly returned to Derry tonight with the opening session of the four-day assembly in the Millennium Forum.

The nearby Magee College – now part of the university of Ulster’s Magee campus – was once the theological training college for Presbyterian ministers (and other denominations) and some of the senior ministers attending tonight remember their time studying in the north west fondly. And apparently many Derry girlfriends turned into ministers’ wives!

18,500 miles later, having journeyed across Ireland, Europe, Indonesia and Jamaica, the outgoing moderator Dr Roy Patton used his address to challenge Presbyterians to be conscious of the danger of dwelling on the past and to see that God was doing new things. The incoming moderator Dr Rob Craig picked up the theme of transformation – both inside the church and outside in society.

There was little fuss - or discussion (that I could detect) amongst delegates - about the presence of a number of local Catholic clergy at the opening night celebration, guests of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery. This is in contrast to the Free Presbyterian picket outside Assembly Buildings in Belfast some years ago whenever Dr Ken Newell invited Catholic Primate Sean Brady.

I spoke to both Roy and Rob earlier in the day and they picked up the themes of their addresses.

You can listen to an interview with the two moderators along with some snippets from their speeches and Rev Stephen Johnston’s thoughts on some of Tuesday’s business.

In his opening address Dr Roy Patton noted that in the intervening eighty years “the social, economic and political landscape has changed very dramatically” as has “the place, the privilege [and] the position of the church”. [full text / listen to full address]
The separation of life into public and private spheres results in the marginalisation of religious faith from society. Faith is reduced to a privatised matter for likeminded people, tolerated as long as it kept private and personal. Long accepted norms and values are set aside. This is a different world, and it is world that can leave us believers very uncertain, fearful of the unknown, unsure of ourselves, as it threatens so much of what we hold dear, and disturbs the comfort of what we know and love.

But using words from Isaiah 43 he used the words of the prophet – “preaching to a discouraged and demoralised people, people who by the waters of Babylon sat down and wept when they remembered Zion” – to encourage the denomination to look forward:
God says through Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past, See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

Roy Patton commented that “in Ireland we love anniversaries and Churches too are very good at remembering the past and celebrating various anniversaries”.
There are constant calls throughout the Bible to remember, to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, his goodness and his mercy which follow all the days of our lives … There is also a good deal of truth in the words which remind us that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”.

But the prophet’s call to his people and God’s call to us is that we need to remember the past without living in it.

… while change for change’s sake is not very helpful, so tradition for tradition’s sake is equally unhelpful.

Roy Patton pointed to God wanting “to do a new thing” in individuals as well as in congregations “so that our life together maybe be marked by grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.
The grace of Lord Jesus is the basis of our getting on together, yet so often we are so reluctant to extend grace to one another, to consider one another’s interests above our own.

In the church we need to model what we call others to do especially those who are in political and civic life. The Christian gospel calls us into a new relationship with God, but it also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbour. Together we work for the common good.

I believe we would do well, all of us, to work together for the common good. Too often the common good is quite uncommon, and we pursue too frequently our own sectional interests. But in the church lets us be humble enough to say that our public life could be much better if we would practice what we preach. Living this out is essential if we are to have credibility in a deeply sceptical world, and especially among young people if they are going to listen to what we have to say.

He applied this concern for the common good to the church’s input into the marriage debate and world poverty:
We resist the attempts to redefine marriage because we believe that doing so undermines a fundamental building block of society. Such concern for the common good must also lead to speak out against one of the major injustices of our time, hunger. And so I want to encourage you to do whatever you can to support the IF Campaign. We believe that with the Prime Minister hosting the G8 this is now a special opportunity to take action.

He drew the Assembly’s attention to two examples of God at work that he had seen during his year in office: the charity Christians Against Poverty very practically tackling poverty issues in Antrim, and The International Meeting Point on the Lisburn Road in Belfast.
We sell ourselves short and sell others short if we think that Christianity is solely about getting to heaven when we die, of course we need to live in the light of eternity and the promise the fullness of the new heavens and new earth to come, but there is much more to it, so much more. God is already bringing newness of life now.

He referenced the recent BBC documentary series:
This Presbyterian Church has an incredible opportunity to impact this country and indeed the world. The BBC television series – An Independent People told something of that story. But the opportunity still remains, for God still wants to do a new thing.

Later in the service the incoming moderator spoke. Dr Rob Craig is minster at the nearby Kilfennan Presbyterian church. [full text / listen to full address]

He introduced the PCI theme for 2013/4:
Within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, as a matter of Priority, we believe that an essential part of our calling as the Church is that we are to be A Place of Transformation: where people do not leave as they have entered but are challenged and changed, having encountered the living God present in the worship and the lives of his people …

For the Christian Church there is nothing new in this: yet, it is a truth which we are in danger of forgetting and thus are in need of constant reminding - our dependence on The Lord. We can never be a place of transformation in our own strength. But if it is our priority that we are to be a place of transformation then we need to open to this: that transformation is as necessary within the Church as it is within our society.

Regarding transformation “inside the church”:
The spotlight on culture here in our city is very much on what we call the Creative Arts – a celebration of music, dance, drama, poetry, art, storytelling and the like. Yet, there is so much more to both our understanding and our experience of human culture.

At the risk of being too simplistic, culture is “the way things are done around here”. Across all societies there is our preferred way of doing life, of looking at the world, our culture – which is something we all intuitively know, and with which we all feel comfortable for we have imbibed it with our mother’s milk.

The thing about culture, about “our way of doing things, our way of looking at life” is that like an old pair of slippers it fits so snugly that more often than not we are not even aware of it. Because it fits us so well, we can see nothing wrong with our culture; and suppose that if only others could see things our way and adopt our culture then the world would be a much better place.

His own congregation underwent a physical transformation during the Troubles:

More than 30 years ago the Presbyterian congregation of Great James Street [left] the Cityside for the Waterside, leaving a lovely building where Christian worship had been conducted for some 140 years to begin the new congregation of Kilfennan – a much more modest building, with no assurance of what the future would hold; leaving very much against their will – as one of the older members put it to me “We had to go, but we didn’t want to.” As we all know, that was another kind of Exodus.

Yet within a very short time few within the new congregation of Kilfennan doubted the wisdom of the move; and those of us who have benefited from that move have often saluted the courage of those who were willing to respond positively to what was happening around them; and who did not remain prisoners within their own culture.

He reminded the denomination:
As Presbyterians we have a watchword; a slogan which reads as follows – that we are called to be a church which not only “has been reformed and which must always be reformed.”

Changes in Sunday morning services like ministers no longer all wearing clerical collars, moving away from the King James Bible and organs, never mind the introduction of PowerPoint were examples of congregations being “willing to change the wineskins so that we might preserve the wine”.
At a local level, within our congregations the absence of teenagers and young adults, the emergence of other new forms of church challenge and a drift of many out of Presbyterianism into such churches should cause us to re-think how to be church, finding new wineskins and thus preserve the wine.

And transformation needs to extend “outside the church” too.
With my smart phone I now have access to more information than was once contained in any library. Today those who want to smoke must stand outside our public buildings. The constitutional claim by the Republic of Ireland upon Northern Ireland was ceded through the Belfast agreement. We now have our own executive at Stormont. Civil partnerships are a part of our cultural landscape.

Since I was installed in Kilfennan in 1994 those are just some of the ways in which life in Ireland – North and South has changed and continues to be changed. And sometimes one person’s transformation is another person’s regression!

In many walks of life there are those who are working hard to transform life within Ireland – seeking to make this island a better place for us all to live in. Dedicated police officers, community workers, politicians, businessmen and women, teachers; and not least parents raising their children.

Some are people who share our Christian faith; others who have walked away from their Christian heritage; and those who even are opposed to our Christian way of life. There are few, if any, who do not want Ireland, North and South, to be a better place for their children: a place where jobs and opportunities are being created, where sectarian hatred is being eroded and where a shared future has become a reality.

No-one would claim that we have yet been fully transformed.
Rob Craig asked how Christians should “fulfil our calling to be a place of Transformation?”
Sometimes it means that we can be partners, sharing common ground and working together with others for the common good. The IF campaign which seeks to bring pressure to bear on the G8 is one example of the way in which we can partner with others to transform life for others.

Sometimes it means that in the public square ,although our voice is only one of several we must speak up and speak out – offering an alternative, a counter-argument; explaining the good and positive lifestyle contained within the way of Jesus. When I was interviewed the morning after my nomination as Moderator I was asked "why is the church so negative?" This is how we are perceived - many know us for what we are against, not for what we are for. While we cannot be true to our calling and endorse every lifestyle or government policy we must demonstrate to our community that Jesus came to bring life to the full.

It is notable that marriage - in the context of same-sex marriage - is an enormous magnet that neither outgoing nor incoming moderator could avoid mentioning. Somehow the issue has been blown up into a shibboleth of orthodoxy and Christian distinctiveness, while so many other issues are ignored. And certainly the issue has taken on a significance amongst clerics that it fails to achieve to the same extent in the pews. Perhaps if the quality of our relationships - within and outside the church - was prioritised, that would set how we deal with secondary issues in a better context.

Perhaps the themes of the two addresses could also have been applied to the Assembly business this week - the need to be debating and legislating in a changing world, willing to be transformative and offering positive alternatives.

On Tuesday morning at the Assembly, delegates visiting from other denominations – across Ireland, the UK and beyond – will be welcomed. Members of Assembly will walk round to the nearby 1st Derry church to share communion before lunch. The afternoon is dominated by the report and resolutions of the General Board.

Major items of business will include the appointment of a Clerk designate and a Principal for Union Theological College, ruling out churches being allowed to install baptismal tanks, discussing plans to initiate a denominational conversation on “human sexuality” (ie, gay issues), boosting conciliation when conflict arises in the church, revising central denominational structures (moving from the current boards to a smaller number of councils), a project to encourage more generous giving, reaction to the Church of Scotland’s recent decision around the selection of gay ministers, and new initiatives around Good Relations.

It will be miraculous if all this planned business fits into the four hours allocated to the debates, meaning that some resolutions are expected to lapse into spare sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Woz in Derry - curiosity, social revolution, young innovators, DIY builders, RPN, Google Glass, watches and strong views on Apple’s low taxes in Ireland #EPNcongress

Hardware hacker, engineer, philanthropist and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak spoke at the European Business Network Congress in DerryUK City of Culture 2013 – on Thursday morning. [You can listen to the two parts.]

The conference brought together representatives from European (and further afield) business and innovation centres, incubators, businesses as well as entrepreneurs. This year’s congress was organised by NORIBIC, the Northern Ireland Business Innovation Centre.

Change is the new norm; change is the new status quo.

Wozniak touched on society’s general loss of mental arithmetic skills in light of the availability of calculators:
We’re taught a lot of things in school and we’re told this is what a complete, educated life is about. You learn all these subjects. When you finally wind up actually working in creative things for society you’re pretty narrow, you’re in one field. And yes you might be in a field that has to use a lot of mathematics, a lot of science, a lot of physics. You might be in another field that doesn’t.

We don’t need everybody in society to be a mathematical genius and be able to do differential calculations and solve circuits. So we don’t have to teach everything to everyone. That’s one mistake we make with schools.

Wozniak spoke about an innate human curiosity:
We have some inner urge that we’re born with to be curious, to explore, to see how the universe is made, and what we can make different.

He explained to delegates about the influence of the Home Brew Computer Club which brought together intellectuals, academics and technologists as well as younger hackers like Wozniak.
They would talk to us about how some day when everyone had computers of their own the world was going to change. Communication – our view of how greatly the world was going to change was that somebody was going to be able to type a message they wanted to communicate to another group of people with a similar interest. They would type a message. It would go over a modem and be stored on a computer. And over the next hour, one hundred people could dial in one at a time to that computer and read the message. You could get a message to a hundred people. That was a dream that was amazing.

I was so shy in those days. I would never raise my hand, never engage in the conversation, sat in the back row of 550 of us, just listening and listening. The most important day of my life every two weeks to hear what these people were talking about technology and how we could help others and how we could provide technological parts, and what we needed to get things built. And I listened to this kind of talk and I thought: this is so amazing, what we’re going to do to the world.

He contrasted the old pattern of new technology being so expensive that only the military could initially exploit it with today’s reversed situation where:
the greatest most powerful chips are designed for personal computers and for game machines and because of their high volume … the prices came down so far now the military uses those devices and takes advantage of the prices that are due to normal consumer needs.

I wanted to help this social revolution happen. People changing their life in education, in communication, and the technical guy being important. So my approach was I will build the computer – which I had a lot of pieces at my hand that I’d built up to at that stage – I’ll build a computer and I gave it away for free.

I gave out the design. No copyright notices. I said build your own. I wanted everyone to build there own that was going to help start this revolution of social norms.

He spoke about why young people are successful innovators.

Since young people are generally not connected to a big company, to the status quo [of] how things are made, they’re willing to go off and try new things that might just be for fun – they don’t have to be for value. They don’t have a lot of money in their lives. They’re often very shy like I was. and they do a lot of internal thinking to themselves. They’re independent thinkers. They don’t have to have everyone else going in the direction they’re going. They don’t have to do things by the standard rules.

That means that young people are much greater risk takers. Once you have a big success in your life, success will sometimes change you and you want now to only pursue greater success, more money, more wealth, more power. Those become your goals. But they aren’t the goals when you start young.

Now when the young people get going at something, they’re usually going off in such a new direction – I’m talking about things like Google or Facebook or even Apple – going off in a new direction, something that hasn’t been done before. It’s not that you’re doing the same thing a different way, it’s like you’re doing something that is just like so different and out of the book that you’re really writing the book.

When you go to school you read a lot of books and you get information – it’s called knowledge, it’s called intelligence – and you’re judged by scores of how much you can remember. But that isn’t really thinking … But if you go off and you start working on something very different, your own ideas, your approaches, without having read the book on how people make a certain kind of product, you invent it yourself if you’re smart enough and you know the building blocks.

He pointed to modern-day hacker spaces providing low cost access to soldering irons, tools and 3D printers – “the sorts of devices that young people with an interest can use” – supporting “builders” and “do it yourselfers”.

He spoke of the highly motivating intrinsic “inside” rewards that come when “your own head is doing what it wants to do” rather than being a business goal or means to profit. He used his own example of developing a floppy disk drive for the Apple II from scratch over Christmas and the New Year in time to demonstrate at a trade show in Las Vegas. Being able to attend the Las Vegas show was his personal motivator.

There was a wonderfully geeky moment as he explained Reverse Polish Notation to the Derry audience!

Asked about what innovations were “creeping over the hill” Wozniak suggested talked about flexible displays, Google Glass and a smart watch.
I think we’re going to go for a couple of decades towards our mobile devices seeming more like real humans. Obviously I read the same things as everyone else, I couldn’t guess beyond that, but for many, many years I’ve been hoping that we’d finally get these organic LED displays that were foldable.

I want to see objects like you’re used to a globe being a round circle. I want to see a globe that is glowing. It’s Google Earth and you can zoom in on parts of it with your fingers. Because it fits the human style of looking at a really round globe better than a flat screen.

I’d love to get low, low cost plastics that I could put on the side of my car and push buttons inside to change the colour of my car or make it look like a cop car. [audience laughs]

Wearable technology is one of the ones we’re hearing so much about lately. And I am getting so jealous – I don’t know if the marketing plan was ripe to hit someone like myself or not – [of] the people who have Google Glasses. I haven’t had time to be a full explorer with that so I didn’t get the Google Glasses yet, but boy that’s starting to seem like an interesting thing that I sure want to try.

But I also don’t mind the idea of a watch as long as the watch is my smartphone that I can basically do all my smartphone stuff on including asking Siri questions. Wouldn’t mind a watch but if all it’s going to be is pretty much music and measuring how many steps I walk per day, nah, that wouldn’t be enough.

Wozniak’s attendance was timely given the recent interest in Apple’s Irish tax affairs. While he didn’t have time in his headline speech to the assembled congress to address the issue of tax, it was the issue that most interested journalists at the press conference afterwards.

Wozniak spoke out against the current differences between personal and corporate taxation. The BBC report:
People are not taxed on profit, they are taxed on income, corporations should be taxed the same as people in my mind, that is how it should be, that would make things fair and right.

That means corporations pay taxes on all of their revenues or people only pay it on a tiny amount called profit and until we rectify that the whole problem is just with us forever.

That is why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and I am always for the individual being much more important than their training, same reason I created the Apple computer at the start, it was to empower the little guy.

Why do businessmen get to write off lunches and cars? If normal people did they would have more savings. That is really not fair, that businesses are not treated the same as people.

A person would say, 'my life is my business and I have to pay for my home, pay for my clothes, my food and what is left over if I make a little money some year and put it in savings, that is my profit', but people are not taxed on profit, they are taxed on income.

It hasn’t yet appeared on the NI Business News podcast, but until it does here’s a clip from Friday’s Good Morning Ulster programme on Radio Ulster with part of business reporter Colletta Smith’s interview with Steve Wozniak. Have Apple done anything wrong?
Well first of all, every company has to go for the minimal tax, the maximum profits. But why hasn’t Apple been open about it for twenty years saying here is how we make our taxes small? If they felt that they were doing the right thing they would come out and say we’re doing the right thing, here is what it is. No, when you hide stuff it’s that you feel it’s really wrong and I do think it hurts Apple’s image a bit.

They’re not doing anything more wrong than anyone else. People say the system is wrong. The system is only there because big companies with money control who makes the rules. A company like Apple doesn’t pay anything like the taxes I pay. Not even close. For Apple to pay what I pay they would pay 50% of their income not their profits. Corporations are never taxed the same as people.

Was Wozniak disappointed with the business decisions [around tax] that Apple have made over the past twenty years?
No, they had no choice in the business decisions. They could have though been honest to the public and said here is how we minimise our taxes. They could have even gone to governments and said this is sort of not right, you really should have found some better compromise.

He was asked about Ireland’s favourable corporation tax regime [under which Apple have “paid just 2% tax on $74bn (£48.8bn) in overseas income, mainly by exploiting a loophole in Ireland's tax code”].
Taxation systems around the world are different. So I’m not going to criticise another country just because they are different. I don’t see any harm in that. Every state that adjusts tax rates to be very favourable, they’re trying to attract businesses. Sometimes states in the United States do it. Sometimes countries outside of the United States like Ireland obviously must have done this to attract companies like Apple to be here because it creates a lot of jobs and good and other things. There’s a lot more income than taxes.

Later on I got a chance to interview Steve Wozniak – he was tickled that an iPod Touch was being used as the recording device. He explained what influenced him to create and innovate, relating the story of the first time he thought that he was good at something. The Home Brew Computer Club was important in his engineering journey.
I think we need to approach very young people who are in school and yes give them places but not only that they can just talk and hear about things … that they can show things off, that companies will come in and show them products, that they can actually build a few things on their own, the do it yourself builders.

I was a builder my whole life, project after project after project. Here’s the thing: when an inventor-type person – not just an engineer but an inventor – comes up with an idea in their head, they want to run into a laboratory, hook something together, and have a working model very quickly. Something to test their theory. And I was always able to do that. Whereas a lot of people that were interested in computers and technology weren’t builders and couldn’t really go in and just try something and make it. I saw a Pong game, I wanted it, I built my own. They couldn’t do that.

Exploitation of new technologies is often followed by exploiting people. Steve Wozniak was an early funder of EFF/Electronic Frontier Foundation – was probably the first dot org website I visited – a non-profit which defends civil liberties.
To me it’s very important because I grew up in a counter-culture time, the 1960s in the San Francisco Bay Area. People were talking about different styles of life and different ways you could live your life. Well heck, I helped bring a lot of that through technology. But it meant so much to me that they weren’t talking about rules. But one of the things they were very focussed on was civil liberties and the idea that you could be conscripted to go into wars, and who caused the wars, and were they right or wrong, and a lot of that sort of thinking.
So I was very much, my whole life, aligned with civil liberties. I read books about how our guarantees of freedom starting with the Magna Carta and then working through hundreds of years of improvements that basically protected innocent people – the burden of proof is always on the accuser – and it put down a set of rules. Sure those rules are getting undone now, I’m very worried about it, but my reason for starting the EFF was basically a very proponent of what the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] does in the United States but in the technical framework.

There’s still a need?
There’s a huge need. Because now we’ve got into ideas of patents and some people and countries even say patents almost shouldn’t exist, or certain kinds of patents. Should you give a monopoly – maybe only if someone has to invest huge amounts of money to get a return. Software patents are extremely questionable. Software patents' almost a method to do it. How can you just choose a method that normal people would come up with the same method [in the future]. So there’s a lot of these issues. Copyright issues. The EFF fought a court case against Disney, and Disney won … because what do people really own versus what do all the big huge controlling companies [own]?

He also explained the background to the huge steampunk watch on his wrist. When he tilts his write the two vacuum tubes illuminate first with the two-digit hour, and then with the minutes before going dark again. The video below visualises it a little better!

I saw somebody wearing one at a computer show. I Googled NIXIE Tubes and I found the watch. It’s handmade by a guy in Tucson, Arizona. He’s sold quite a few of these. It has old vacuum tubes running on 140V. These vacuum tubes haven’t been made in at least 40 years. They’re old technology. It’s pretty amazing. When I turn my wrist to see the time it shows me big giant glowing digits that [are] very easy to read.

My brain feels more comfortable reading this time than it does any watch I’ve ever owned. So I keep wearing it. My intent at first when I first put it on was to show it off to gadget friends: the sort of people who like unusual things. But I decided after three days rather than go back to my nice beautiful thin Movado watch …

I’ll blog about some of the other sessions over coming days – Sir Tim Smit (Eden Project), Benjamin Southworth (deputy CEO of Tech Cities) and leading urbanist and proponent of the Creative Class Richard Florida. In the meantime you can peruse their talks and listen on-demand.

Over 500 delegates attended the event. In a welcome innovation, the conference sessions were punctuated with artistic items from local Derry musicians and dancers, including one of the Wonder Villains singing Just say Yes (the unofficial theme tune of the City of Culture) and the Inishowen Gospel Choir. More conferences should showcase local culture: it softens the whole event and gives tired delegates a lift. After NORIBIC's stunning success in Derry, the next EBN Congress will have a lot to live up to.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Innovation, business and culture at the EBN Congress in Derry (29-31 May)

Derry’s stint as UK City of Culture for 2013 is bringing all kinds of events and conferences to the city. At the end of May, a business and innovation conference with a technological and cultural focus will take over the Millennium Forum.

The EBN Congress will bring together European business and innovation centres, incubators, businesses and entrepreneurs. This year’s congress is being organised by NORIBIC, the Northern Ireland Business Innovation Centre.

The line-up of local and international speakers and contributors is impressive:

Steve Wozniak is best known for co-founding Apple Computer Inc along with Steve Jobs. He’s also a philanthropist and founding sponsor of technology and children’s discovery museums as well as an initial funder of the campaigning Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Richard Florida is described as an “urbanist” and wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, a book whose concepts Derry academic Paul Moore rubbished in his 2011 TEDxBelfast talk.

Tim Smit co-founded the Eden Project where he is still co-chief executive. The project has contributed over £1 billion into the Cornish economy. Long before that he worked as a composer and producer of both rock music and opera.

Michael Gorman is founding director of Dublin’s Science Gallery and has a passion for exciting people about the “creative collisions between art and science”. The Science Gallery was described at last year’s TEDxBelfast as having “no entrance fee and a decent café in which you can meet scientists and artists, their exhibitions go beyond simple childish scientific displays and offer an insight into real science”.

And that’s before you list the experts in economics, semiconductors, sustainability, the University of Ulster’s Director of Innovation Tim Brundle and director of Derry’s CultureTECH festival Mark Nagurski and lots, lots more. It’s good to see that the list of speakers is not all male. Themed villages will focus on culture, digital, social and internation opportunities for networking.

The full programme stretches over three days from 29 to 31 May. Local delegates can take advantage of heavily discounted tickets. (The main EBN Congress site handles bookings from further afield.)

Hopefully I’ll be there on the middle day and will post about the atmosphere and some of the content being shared. In the meantime, local creative firm Uproar Comics have produced a light-hearted guide to the congress.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In conversation with Presbyterian moderator designate Rev Rob Craig

Rev Rob Craig was elected last night as the next moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He’s termed “moderator designate” until he takes over at the opening night of the General Assembly in June.

In a process that sometimes reminds me – admittedly in some small ways – of the election of a US President, only two ministers were put forward for the vote this year, so the 19 Presbyteries (groups of ministers and elders in different geographic areas) had a straight choice between Rev John Dickinson and Dr Craig. [Presbyteries end up like a US state, each with only 1 vote in the electoral college.]

For nearly twenty years, Dr Craig has been minister to the congregation up in Kilfennan in Derry’s Waterside. It is undeniably symbolic that a local minister was chosen as moderator (17 out of 19 presbyteries) in the year the General Assembly will escape from Fisherwick Place in Belfast and be held in the Millennium Forum in Derry.

The tweeting moderator previously worked in Clough and Seaforde congregations as well as his assistantship in Glengormley. He’s a past pupil of Armstrong Primary School in Armagh and Wallace High School in Lisburn.

I spoke to the new moderator designate today at lunchtime and he explained to me what his role would entail and what had gone through his head when he heard the result last night. He spoke of the opportunity that the out-of-Belfast General Assembly offered delegates in June and hoped that many would choose to stay overnight in the area and change of atmosphere would be reflected in the nature of the debates and discussions.

Asked to rate the health of the denomination he would shortly become the figurehead of, he said that statistically there are signs of “ailing” when you look at the declining numbers of members, baptisms and new young communicants. However, he also recognised that “those who have stayed, stayed because it matters to them, because their faith is a living thing and in that sense the church may be more vibrant than it has ever been”.

He said that “the foundations of Christendom have crumbled and that means the church now finds itself in a new situation” no longer holding sway over Western Europe. He added “there are competing voices – the church is just one of those voices – and we must learn to listen, to respect, to engage and then to present our case”.

He described the denomination’s need to be “salt of the earth and the light of the world” and to have an impact on the world. I suggested that perhaps the church was better known for being salt than light with recent media coverage noting the denominations’ anti-same sex marriage, anti-flag protests, and anti-abortion statements.

Dr Craig said that the church “is responding to these ethical issues that present themselves”. However, he countered that
“…if, for the sake of argument, the church is seen as against abortion we also want to say that is because the church is for life. If we say the church is against same-sex marriages we want to say no the church is for marriage and a much richer and deeper understanding of human sexuality.

And also I would want to say alongside that that the church is for compassion, and for caring for people, and sometimes when statements are made which are true and to which we sign up, it’s not possible to show that human face and caring dimension of the church which I know is there … I hope that’s the kind of ministry I’ve had and I don’t want to [as moderator] be any different.”

Dr Craig takes over from the current moderator Rev Dr Roy Patton on the evening of Monday 3 June.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Heaven in a Nightclub ... the spiritual roots of jazz in the Waterside Theatre (Fri 1 Feb)

As part of the City of Culture 2013, there’s an evening of jazz up in Derry’s Waterside Theatre on Friday 1 February at 8pm.

Three artists – Bill Edgar, Ruth Naomi Floyd and Randy Pendleton – will perform examples of ragtime, blues, spirituals, funeral bands and much, much more. The Heaven in a Nightclub jazz concert will be interspersed with historical information about the spiritual roots of jazz. So you’ll go home with your foot tapping and your brain enriched!
Dr Bill Edgar is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. His approach is that “jazz ought to entertain” but its background is deeply rooted in the history and social and spiritual experiences of African-American people who were reared in slavery yet nurtured on the Gospel message in every aspect of life.
Heaven in a Nightclub is organised by Contemporary Christianity and the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal. Tickets (adult £8, concession £5) are available from the Waterside Theatre box office, or in bulk from Billy McIlwaine (028 7134 6718 or billymcilwaine AT hotmail DOT com).

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Finishing the year with some recommendations of businesses that I value. (You could also read that as finishing the year with a round up of blog posts that never got finished!)

We finally got our house in East Belfast sold in late autumn, and moved house in Lisburn (still referred to as “Belfast’s bedroom”) in early November. A to B Removals are strongly recommended. John Thompson, Kenny and the guys have moved me four times now, take extraordinary care of furniture, have their own storage, and are very agreeable to work with. Serving Lisburn, Downpatrick, Crossgar and beyond - 028 4483 2514.

Five favourite restaurants of the year. Lisburn’s Square Bistro tucked in between Next and Argos in Lisburn Square is a great spot. The food is delicious, the service is good, and the staff are child-friendly. Five miles out of town, The Pheasant on the Upper Ballynahinch Road is a little more expensive, but always a good meal. Little Wing Pizzeria are great (particularly the East Belfast/Upper Newtownards Road branch). I’ve still a soft spot for a blue cheese burger (and sometimes even just an egg-burger) in the Gourmet Burger Bank on Belmont Road, East Belfast. And if you want something fast, cheap and hot at lunchtime in Belfast, check out the Cornish Pasty Trading Company in Church Street.

Holidaying in Buncrana and Derry this summer, the Tower Museum in Derry is well worth a visit. Fascinating history of the city, and the Armada exhibition captured the attention of our six year old. The Doagh Famine Village is another treasure in the north west. While a museum devoted to the Irish famine may not sound terribly appealing, there’s a much greater breadth of history covered, with enthusiastic guides and a cup of tea at the end. Find out about impact of the famine as well as learning about the traditional Irish wake, a Presbyterian meeting house, a Republican safe house, the travelling community and an Orange Hall.

Nice Day Designs features the work of Irish designer and craftmaker Ruth Crean. Based in Limerick, she upcycles second hand clothes and sells all kinds of crafts and jewellery online and in Limerick’s weekend Milk Market (a little like Belfast’s St George’s Market). Worth a look if you’re looking for a present.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Culture Night ... tonight in Belfast, Strabane, Derry and beyond

Across Ireland, tonight's the night when arts taster events will be run in a town near you ... for free. Last September, Belfast's Cathedral Quarter was buzzing late into the evening as families walked around the streets, guided by maps and diverted by what their ears and eyes could pick out of the smorgasbord of music, pictures, talks, dance, comedy, street performers and one man soulfully playing trumpet from an upstairs window.

Tonight, the organiser has crammed in even more events, and even more activities for children. Check out the Culture Night Belfast website. Culture Night is also being celebrated in Derry and Strabane, as well as many other towns and cities across Ireland.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A legendary victory – City of Culture 2013 – Derry~Londonderry

As the voxpops in the bid video say:

"I am Derry. I am Londonderry. I am legendary."

Hundreds and thousands of words will be written in posts and comments about the winning City of Culture 2013. For me it's a remarkable win. The most westerly city in the UK won a national competition. It's not just out of London, or outside the M25, or over the Pennines ... it's over the water too.

The whole bid process seems to have given Derry a real confidence boost.

For a city council that regularly debates what the city should be called, never mind the debate about which principality any individual would like it to reside in, it was remarkable that a bid containing both names "Derry~Londonderry" should be made to a UK (rather than European) competition. In terms of capacity building, it's a major leap forward. And a major achievement for the talented bid team who no doubt overcame many obstacles in their way.

Now seems to be the time for NI's second city to stand up proud and show us all what it's made of. There are a few years leading up to 2013 for the citizens of Derry to enter into dialogue with each other - and to allow the rest of us to listen in - about how to find ways of celebrating the many cultures (a lot more than just two) that can be found in the north west.

Time too for Belfast to pay attention, and get ready to make the journey up over the Glenshane Pass to take part in the events that will be organised. It's not that far!

In the context of unwelcome parades, community mistrust and tension that spills over into this week's violence and mayhem in Belfast and beyond, lessons of mutual understanding, dialogue and gracious accommodation may been to gently spread down from the north west to reach those parts of NI that are harder to reach. More on that another time.

(Originally posted over on Slugger O'Toole)