Ain’t no place like home
Home is where the heart is. What do you give to a conference that has everything? A singer-in-residence, of course, So welcome Brian Houston, troubadour from the east of Belfast who will entertain our delegates, including at the residence of the US Consul General, with his evocative compositions, including this magnificent anthem: ‘Ain’t No Place Like Home’
Back in the day, Irish President Mary Robinson initiated the simple gesture of placing a candle in the window at Christmastime to remind us of the Irish abroad — at last count 70 million-strong.
Next week, those lights will shine like a beacon from Belfast when the city welcomes back its Irish and Scots-Irish diaspora for the sixth annual Belfast International Homecoming.
The mission, over three days of exciting engagements, scintillating showcases, glorious grub, raised glasses, and vigorous debate, is to encourage our global family to join us in building a better Belfast.
The highlights will be many but for me the standout feature of this year’s gathering will be the recognition of 12 young ambassadors, representing the very best of Belfast.
Our young ambassadors are not only the future, they are also ridiculously talented, outrageously ambitious and, best of all, keen to stay in their home city despite its many challenges.
Our Terrific Twelve include a Syrian refugee, a gentleman who beats up tough guys for a living, a Belfast bard whose poem was deemed best in a competition which had 12,000 entrants, a trans activist who is a skilled executive with our leading professional services firm, a start-up phenomenon and an Ardoyne artist who is the most exciting female photographer of our era.
You can see the complete list of our Young Ambassadors online or, better still, come along to the Ulster University spanking new Belfast campus on the Homecoming opening night, 16 October, when they will receive their Belfast Ambassador medals.
Failing that, you can see six of the Young Ambassadors in conversation with Mike Nesbitt MLA at the Homecoming conference proper in the Harbour Commission Offices on Friday 18 October.
Earlier this year, in tragic circumstances, we got a glimpse into the amazing genius of one young North Belfast woman who was ruthlessly taken from us.
That’s a loss we can never replace.
But what we can do in the here and now is celebrate and spotlight the extraordinary young people — represented by this daring dozen — who, this very day, in this very city, are writing a bright new chapter for Belfast.