Growing up in Belfast.
Belfast. The home of my childhood.
Despite the political and religious turmoil that haunts many of my childhood memories, I have always been proud to say that I was from Belfast. It's a very beautiful city, filled with wonderful people who, despite the ravages of sectarian violence, have a hardiness, a hospitality and a sense of humour that belies the outward impression of a community of bitterness and intolerance.
There are those who, to this day, prefer to paint their nostalgic portraits of the city in dark shades of grey depression and black despair, focusing on the features of division, the anger, the anguish, the alienation of various sections of the community. Perhaps they are the realists, the ones for whom tormented memories cannot be airbrushed away simply because of the signing of peace treaties. Many will carry the burden of those dark shadows with them to the grave, for to many, on both sides of the political and religious divide, the pain of personal grief will not be diminished by time. Even when we all learn to forgive, we will never forget, and that's as it should be.
But as important as remembering the relentless doom and gloom of those troubled times, is the need to acknowledge, applaud and embrace the fortitude of the generations who, amidst the mayhem, persevered with life and love and laughter within their communities. People who added colour to their palates, and painted hope and humanity into the foreground of an otherwise bleak canvass. In the face of adversity, mankind will often make his greatest stand, and in the case of the people of Belfast, their grim determination to weather the storm of conflict is possibly the real reason why achieving a process of peace and reconciliation became not just a dream, but a reality.
Recent projects in which I have been involved have forced me to consider the conflict from both sides of the divide, and what has impressed me the most, is how much the two communities of Northern Ireland have in common. Each has a belief in their individual cultural identity, and a shared belief that God is on their side. Each wishes to see a resolution to the conflict, and a time when they can embrace their enemies as friends. Each have a passionate love of their cities, their communities and their people.
For the common good, both sides have now resolved to pursue their political aspirations through dialogue and the democratic process, with a realisation that it is better to live together than to die together. With force-feeding of a one-sided agenda having been proved to be a failure, the future will be brighter through an acknowledgement and acceptance of cultural difference, and a determination to allow those cultures to co-exist. There may always be those radicals who insist that annihilation of the enemy is the only true victory, but it takes more courage and commitment to embrace the enemy and built a future of mutual respect, that to kill a community with hatred and Condemnation.
I grew up in Belfast with protestant and catholic neighbours. I lost friends on both sides of the divide as a result of the violence, and the loss was tragic regardless of the background of the victims. But today, those of us who survived are united in a common goal. To see the city of our birth restored to it's former glory. To see it once again as we saw it through the innocent eyes of our childhood.
If Belfast Was A Maiden.
If Belfast was a maiden, she’d be crying,
Her tears would surely flow like endless rain,
To see the way her heart is slowly dying,
To see the way her children live in pain.
She’d frown upon the garments that she’s wearing.
This maiden who once stood so tall and proud,
For now she’s dressed in robes of dark despairing,
That drape across her shoulders like a shroud.
No more will she take water from her river,
For now the Lagan flows with blood and tears.
And looking at her now, one might forgive her,
For cursing the misfortunes of the years.
For Belfast used to be the fairest maiden,
Who nurtured me when I was but a boy,
And though the childhood memories are fading,
I know that they were filled with peace and joy.
If I could be her knight in shining armour,
And care for her as she once cared for me,
I’d drive away all enemies who harm her,
And help her to restore her dignity.
For when the guns are silenced here forever,
And men can live in peace with fellow men,
Then Belfast city, fairest maiden ever,
Will smile upon her children once again.