The 4 Corners Festival brings Christians together in Belfast, writes Róise McGagh
On Friday January 31 the 4 Corners festival kicked off in Belfast city. The series of events running until February 9 was aimed at bringing Christians in the city together, as one of the founders of the festival Rev. Steve Stockman said: “We want to believe that Jesus could be a peacemaker rather than a divider of communities and cities”.
The Friday morning saw secondary school students in a workshop, starting off the festival with a reimagination of their own city. Later that evening Gary Lightbody, lead singer of Snow Patrol brought together a packed audience and encouraged them to see each other as equal.
These were only a few of many walks, games, shows and talks that took place up until February 9 under the theme ‘Building a city of grace’.
The 4 Corners Festival was launched at Hydebank Wood Secure College and Women’s Prison on January 17. “Our prisons are a part of the community and not apart from the community,” said Ronnie Armour, Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
Fr Martin McGill founded the festival eight years ago with Rev. Steve Stockman.
“It really came about by accident out of a chance conversation between myself and a Presbyterian minister,” he said, “who had a similar experience of Belfast, of not knowing the city. I think because of the Troubles people stay within their own particular area and from a security point of view we didn’t travel very much to certain parts of the city.”
They decided to begin the festival by bringing young people together for a set of talks and a workshop encouraging them to imagine the future of their city.
Students from seven schools in different areas of Belfast attended a talk with Arthur Parke, an architect with FCB Studios who designed the Ulster University (UU) building where they were hosted. They were welcomed to the new Belfast campus by Andrew McAnallen, the UU Student Union president as well as the provost, Prof. Raffaella Folli.
Arthur brought the students to the top of the building where there is a lookout point and invited the students to view the possibilities of space within their city in which there might be room to build community. He showed them maps of Belfast, pointing out all of the vacant sites and their possible uses.
“Today’s activity has been for the students to find out more about their city and instead of feeling helpless about it to actually be able to come up with, through words and through creative art, and be able to communicate ideas,” he said.
He took them through the process of designing the UU building and how he felt it has the potential to cause a ripple of regeneration in the area. “The students seemed inspired by that, and the use of this building is great, to get up high.
“One of my key interests was being able to get them to see Belfast from a different perspective, one that they wouldn’t already have experienced and maybe use that laterally to say – well maybe you can apply that idea of a different perspective to what you’re going do throughout the course of the day.”
It shows hope for the future of Belfast, to see that young people who are about to finish school have a vision for the future”
The students, once inspired, began a workshop with Shelley Tracey, a poet and artist who does community and education work. She talked to the room of 17- and 18-year-olds about different kinds of poetry and art and how they can be used to express ideas. She showed them examples of how poets and artists have effectively portrayed ideas through different styles of work.
The students were then given materials to create a piece of work that expressed their ideas and hopes for the future of Belfast. Most of them wrote poems and made or incorporated it into an accompanying art piece.
One of the shorter pieces read: “Standing tall and strong; defiant bright and hopeful; we stand together.”
Shelley said she was impressed by the openness and creativity of the young people in the room. “What struck me was how the young people used the maps in their pieces,” she said.
“It shows hope for the future of Belfast, to see that young people who are about to finish school have a vision for the future which is about challenging divisions.”
Kate Greene from Our Lady and St Patricks College Knock said: “It’s been a really good experience. I want to work in civil engineering so the development and the future of the city is something that really important to me.”
St Malachys College student, Ethan Mackel said: “The 4 Corners Festival really lives up to its name, you see people from the north, from the south side of Belfast, from the east and west. It’s great to hear opinions from people about Belfast as a whole. From people in school I’ve never heard of before.”
When asked if sectarianism had affected his life he said “My mum and dad are very defined on their view, from their own personal experiences. But our experience as a generation – we didn’t live through the Troubles – it’s what we get from them, our ideas our beliefs usually come from our parents, if not from our communities or our schools.
“It’s up to us what we want to do with them. We never saw the fighting but then it’s up to us to make a decision on how we can help.”
The UU Presbyterian chaplain Cheryl Meban helped facilitate the event. She debriefed with Fr Martin. The students expressed their want to not be seen as a divided place of conflict by people who visit.
“This is the antidote to that kind of narrow nationalism and exclusion.
“This place has thrived on two dysfunctional nationalisms that intend to keep people apart and for me this is not about stopping people voting for those parties but helping them to infiltrate those parties with a more healthy appreciation of their nation and their belonging and their future,” she said.
She literally had an open-door policy where the Protestant reverend would come for tea…”
That evening Gary Lightbody addressed the Fitzroy Presbyterian Church packed with hundreds of people who paid into the only ticketed event of the festival.
Rev. Steve Stockman brought the crowd through the Bangor musicians’ career and encouraged him to perform some recent songs. Gary said: “I think that whether we see it or not we all have a bond with each other and a lot of that is to do with music.”
He said to Steve: “As you say you said you were having this experience where you realised everyone was connected, whether they were Catholic or Protestant or whatever religion while we were singing along to ‘Run’, I have those moments all the time”.
He talked fondly about his grandmother and how she helped him see that people are people despite their background. He told the crowd how she passed away reading the bible and the verse on one of those pages inspired the song ‘Church’.
“She was born and raised in Derry as a Protestant, a very devout Christian and one of her best friends Margaret Monaghan was a Catholic from when they were very young, for their whole life they were best friends.” He said
“She literally had an open-door policy where the Protestant reverend would come for tea, and the Catholic priest would come for tea. Both sides would come for cups of tea round Betty’s house.”
As Arthur Park said earlier that day: “The city is not finite, it’s not finished, its malleable and it has the ability to change.”
“What we want most to do in Belfast is to take people out of different corners of their city, into places they’ve never been before, to meet people they’ve never met before, to listen to people they might never have listened to before and to move some direction that might bring Belfast together,” said Rev. Stockman.