A sight for sore eyes
There are few things as beautiful as an open peaceline which is what greeted me in Townsend Street,where the Shankill joins the Falls, on Friday.
Courtesy of the Shankill Women’s Centre and An Chultúrlann, residents from both sides of the divide joined to host a colourful street party celebrating the Belfast of yesterday. We had a rag man, a milk man and a fishmonger as well as sweeps and lamplighters.
But the big treat for me was being welcomed into the stunningly beautiful Townsend Street Presbyterian Church by the dynamic Rev Jack Lamb. Once boasting a congregation of 1100, the church had seen its numbers diminish over recent years but, thanks to the efforts of local people, its congregation is on the increase again.
With an imposing organ and old-style pews, the church makes a wonderful community space and indeed the sacred music playing during Friday’s street hooley was Frank Sinatra’s hymn to New York — with the Rev Jack providing harmonies.
This coming together of our community set the scene for my installation dinner — a celebration of all our people — on Saturday night in City Hall when we were graced with the presence of Belfast Poet Laureate Sinéad Morrissey, that giant of poetry Michael Longley, the LGBT Quire choir, the Open Arts Community Choir — complete with napping guide dog — the sublime Joby Fox, ArtsExta from India and the Methody Harpists. Dr Ian Adamson, former Lord Mayor of Belfast read his powerful ode to the dead of the Somme while Geraldine Hughes, our greatest acting daughter, came home from New York to emcee.
At the dinner and today at the Belfast Day to celebrate our city’s diversity, representatives of the faiths read the Prayer for Belfast. Last night, Sheik Mohammad El Rashidi read the Muslim version of the prayer while Fr Des Wilson in Irish and the Rev Margaret Ferguson in English read the Christian version. Today, at the culmination of Belfast Day, Rabbi David Singer, my Jewish chaplain read the Jewish version of the prayer in both Hebrew and English alongside Fr Des and the Rev Margaret.
It was another wonderful moment for a Belfast which embraces its diversity and its wonder, like the open peace line, another sight for long-sore eyes.