By Kevin Warner
Corrymeela is situated in a pleasant position overlooking Ballycastle Bay, in Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland. It is the centre of a community of Christians "committed to healing the many breaches — social, religious and political — which exist in Northern Ireland and throughout the world."
Originally started by Presbyterians in Queen's University, Belfast, in 1965 (some time before the old conflicts of Northern Ireland resurfaced) the Corrymeeta community has since become a fully inter-denominational one. It has also, of course, seen a sharp intensification of the need for community. relations work.
The Corrymeela centre, which comprises a large house and two self-contained chalet "villages", is both a location for community relations projects and a powerhouse of ideas, encouragement and prayer for people involved in community work.
A number of conferences are held during the year on aspects of community problems. Holidays are provided at Corrymeela for deprived groups such as old-age pensioners, mentally handicapped children, families from riot areas, and unemployed boys. As the Northern Ireland situation worsened, Corrymeela found itself increasingly involved in relief and welfare work. Volunteers looked after children who were brought out of troubled areas of Belfast in the period following the introduction of internment.
One of the most important functions of Corrymeela is the organisation of work-camps throughout the summer. These bring together young people— largely, though not entirely, students — from different sections of the Northern lreland population, from south of the Border, from Britain and from other countries.
It is hoped that by working, eating, relaxing and worshipping together the work-campers will improve their understanding of each other, and that those who are Christians will become "more aware of the implications of their Faith and non-Christians much more open-minded about the claims of Christianity". The work-camps are usually, concerned with the maintenance and extension of the centre, but some have been orientated towards social service work.
Perhaps the most dramatic work done at Corrymeela is the bringing together there of Catholic and Protestant children. There are, of course, a number of schemes which provide holidays for children away from the troubled areas.
What makes Corrymeela particularly effective in this field is the careful way in which the holidays are organised so that the children will mix naturally. Moreover, many of the young people who have been to Corrymeela keep in touch with each other when back in Belfast (or wherever) through youth groups, or even to engage in community service work.
David Ford, who has worked full-time for Corrymeela for the past year, claims: "There is likely to be an identity crisis when two groups who are likely to be afraid of each other are forced into close proximity."
It is necessary, therefore. to ensure that the children retain the security of their own familiar groups, and then to structure situations so that they come together easily.
Tara, one of the chalet villages at Corrymeela, is used a lot at weekends, or for longer periods in slimmer, to bring Catholic and Protestant youth groups together. Each group is allowed to retain its independence in catering for itself, Care is taken not to force the youngsters together, but some mixing is achieved by means of activities like discotheques. The Ballycastle district has a very interesting geography and geology, and the base is used during term time by school groups who come to study the area. Efforts are made to have a Catholic and a State school group there at the one time, and teachers are encouraged to arrange joint field-trips.
As David Ford puts it, Corrymeela is "using geography to put over community relations — the great advantage of geography, unlike history, being that it is neither Catholic nor Protestant."
David recounts how, on the first night of one such mixed geography course, both the Catholics and Protestants barricaded their bedroor., doors, each fearing attack by the other group during the night. But in the course of a week this fear gave way to an atmosphere of friendliness — the antagonism being reduced to the playful level of singing their respective sectarian songs at each other.
Last month, C'orrynicela ran a holiday for 35 educationally sub-normal children from the Belfast area. There were boys and girls of both religions there, with ages ranging from 10 to 15.
Many of these children came from areas which have seen a large share of the violence and civil disturbance. Coming to Corrymeela then gave them a badly-needed break from the stresses of the troubled areas which they must bear along with their educational difficulties.
But — more important — once again there was the fact that Protestants and Catholics could mix and get to know one another. This mixing was facilitated by the presence of more than 20 "helpers" who arranged activities — games, swimming, walks, singing, a picnic and a concert — in which the children took part.
The excellent facilities available, the large number of helpers and their considerable concern for the children created a happy atmosphere in which the boys and girls learned in directly, perhaps unconsciously, a lesson in community relations.
Despite the emphasis of this article so far, it would be incorrect to see the troubles in Northern Ireland — even in a simplistic analysis — in terms of' Catholic/Protestant antagon ism. But sectarian prejudice and
conflict are undoubtedly now a major element in the troubles.
Apart from the fanatical ones, every vision for the future of Northern Ireland — whatever else it may contain — must encompass reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics. And this requires, in particular, the elimination of fear and the acceptance by each group of the right of the other to see things differently. Until the Churches in Northern Ireland put really serious effort into reconciliation, any other attempts of theirs to bear Christian witness are rendered meaningless. There is strong prejudice at present on both sides. And pre judice, by its nature, feeds on ig norance: it is much easier to believe all sorts of evil, and to have all kinds of irrational fears, about whom you don't really know and who don't really know you. Much of this ignorance could be overcome at its very roots — as is being done at Corrymeela — if Catholic and Protestant children were to work together in schools.
It is hard to see how the authorities in the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland can claim to be serious about reconciliation and at the same time maintain their present pogition on segregated schooling.
The urgency of improving community relations is obviously increased by the rash of sectarian killings which have recently afflicted both communities in the North of Ireland. But the need to bring both religious groups together in schools is also heightened by the fact that what may be termed tribal lines are now more clearly drawn than ever on the map of Belfast as the result of extremely large movements of population in the last few years..
Feeling threatened, Catholics have left Protestant-majority areas and vice versa. It appears that close on one-tenth of the people of Belfast have moved residence during the troubles of recent years. Consequently it is now far less likely that Catholic and Protestant children will get to know each other in their own
Margaret Mead, talking with James Baldwin, the negro writer, about the race issue le the United States, makes a point that may be valid for the situation in Northern Ireland: "Now, the fear of someone who is different, especially when he is extremely different, is not going to be so easy to eradicate. You have to have a lot of experience.
"You have seat to really have been loved and touched by pebpie who look very different, if you are not going to be frightened. That is very important both ways.
"You have to have known enough children of another group when you were a child to realise that some of them are mean and some of them are lovable. Because you build up stereotypes when you know only one or two.
"That is one reason it is so important for people to live close together and go to school together."
Corrymeela creates situations where children can be "loved and touched" by people who seem very different. That is wonderful work. In some ways what is being done there may appear to be just a drop in the ocean. But one has to hope that somehow its message will reach far out into the community.