Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Emerald Isle Memories and Prayers

My wife and I have twice travelled to Ireland. On our first trip, in 1999, we flew in and out of Belfast on KLM and spent most of our three week stay in a private country home in Ballymoney, County Antrim. Using Ballymoney as our base we explored the small towns and countryside of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

There were only a few visible cues letting us know when we had crossed the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The road surface would change. Road signs in Northern Ireland were in English only. Road signs in the Republic were in both English and Gaelic. On major roads we would often see the derelict remains of border crossing stations and fortifications. We were never stopped, never had to show a passport, and our English pounds were always accepted in the Republic.

When we entered small towns in Northern Ireland we could tell by the paint on the curbs and how the homes were appointed whether it was a Protestant, Roman Catholic, or mixed village. Our visit coincided with ”the marching season” so in the North we saw small parades of Protestant Orangeman, often culminating in bonfires, and were even once solicited for a donation by an Orangeman who came to the door of the country home we were staying in.

Our hosts were Irish Presbyterians that had lived in Northern Ireland for two and three, if not four generations. Even though they and their parents had all been born in Ireland they thought of themselves not as “Irish” but as “British”. Their sense of self identity helped me begin to understand the root of some of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

On our second trip, in 2001, we flew Aer Lingus in and out of Dublin, stayed in B&Bs and a dorm at Trinity College, and never crossed into Northern Ireland.

I always felt safe during both trips, whether in Northern Ireland or in the Republic. In spite of the history of violence, unlike during our visit to Israel in 2000, I saw no armed military presence, though I did see police stations protected by barbed wire and gun towers. People in both the North and the Republic were friendly and helpful. Even after two visits we would like to return to Ireland yet again.

In recent days we have learned that in two British Soldiers were killed on Saturday and a Police Officer was killed on Monday in Northern Ireland. This is sad news for Ireland, all who love Ireland, and for peacemakers and lovers of peace. Having twice visited the Emerald Isle and having preached in a Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland I feel an affinity for the people of Ireland, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. I now find myself once again praying for peace in that land of Celtic Saints.

Whitney, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Minister and Missionary living in Belfast, authors the blog Glimpses of Grace and reflects on the recent violence in her post “persistent peace”.

No comments: