During WWII, Ray Davey conceived the dream of a community of reconciliation and peace. He eventually founded Corrymeela, an “‘open village where all people of good will’ could come together to learn to live in community.”
Over the years the community became distressed by the growing disharmony between folks living in Protestant and Catholic areas of the island. The divide had been there ever since the British Crown imposed an area in Northern Ireland where people loyal to the Crown could live with autonomy. Since then, the fissure grew wider and rumblings broke out from time to time until the division resulted in a brutal and violent time referred to as “The Troubles.”
In 1997 Mary McAleese was elected as President of Ireland. She was raised in Belfast, in one of the few Catholic families living in Protestant Northern Ireland. Her family roots were very old but not in predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland, but rather in Roscommon in the Republic of Ireland. Her parents had moved to Belfast for jobs. Thus, when Mary McAleese grew up, she knew many loyalist, protestant families, and on the whole her family was accepted by neighbors based on people to people relationships. When she assumed her responsibilities for leading the country, McAleese developed measures that were very similar to Corrymeela: “Together is Better” principle. Listen to an Audio Interview with McAleese on Corrymeela Podcast. You can also download a transcript of the interview.
During her 14-year presidency, Mary McAleese sought reconciliation among all the people of Ireland — a very high bar to achieve considering The Troubles and past violence among the nation’s citizens. Her national campaign was entitled, “Building Bridges”. Many of the activities under this program involved bringing people together in non-political ways, such as showing up to commemorate the violence perpetrated by one side against the other, when all joined in mourning together, commemorating, remembering. Few words were exchanged. During this time, McAleese worked to bring the British Monarch to Ireland, which had not happened for centuries. The Queen and McAleese planned together, resulting in a visit that provided healing in the Republic of Ireland. For example, Queen Elizabeth greeted citizens in Gaelic, causing many Irish nationals to weep in gratitude for her recognition of their culture. It sounds simple, but it had never been done. For centuries the Irish had been held as secondary citizens to a superior oppressor. Now they were recognized as equals by the Queen herself. It was ceremony of reconciliation. The Queen then visited, wordless, to all the places of mourning where Irish citizens had died in their fight for equality and self-determination.
This is beautifully chronicled in a recent interview of Mary McAleese by Padraig O’Tuama on the Corrymeela Podcast. (Scroll down to the first interview.)
I wondered after listening to Mary McAleese if the U.S. Democrats and Republicans might find a way to heal the political divisions that became violent on January 6 in our Capitol. Could we come together as neighbors, churches, states, and citizens…could we commemorate that day together as one of mourning with a mutual vow to never let that happen again? What do you think? What other nonverbal kinds of reconciliation might we do? Please comment.