It’s that time of year again – time for the sixth 4 Corners Festival, which runs from Thursday 1 to Sunday 11 February with the theme “Now. Here. This.” Originally conceived by Presbyterian Minister Steve Stockman and Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill to celebrate Christian Unity week, the Festival aims to encourage people of all faiths and none to visit different churches and parts of the city they might never have been. It has expanded in scope and ambition from half a dozen events in 2013 to nineteen this year including debates on the peace process, music and theatre, prayer and theology.
I have my own fond memories of the 4 Corners Festival, which is a unique and remarkable initiative promoting peace and reconciliation in a divided city: Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poetry reading at Cultúrlann, and the prayers at peacewalls in 2014. That was also the year that riots broke out outside Skainos on the Newtownards Road as Brighton bomber Pat Magee, and Jo Berry, daughter of Conservative MP Antony Berry, who was killed in the 1984 blast, engaged in a powerful dialogue with one another and a packed audience.
In 2015, I was privileged to be offered my own event, in conversation with Glenn Jordan, about my book on the Belfast peacewalls, hosted by the extraordinary Rev Jack Lamb at Townsend Presbyterian Church, for which the interface barrier on Townsend Street was kept open. That year, a panel of three Lord Mayors, Nichola Mallon, Gavin Robinson and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, spoke at Fitzroy Presbyterian and a wonderful bus tour with artist Bronagh Lawson visited churches in all four corners of the Belfast showing artefacts from her visits over several years to 360 different church services in the city.
This year, the programme kicks off on 1 February with a discussion at St Michael’s Church in the Shankill on the theme of “20 years on: A Conflict Frozen in Time?” addressing loyalism’s contribution to the peace process. On Sat 3 Feb, the 4 Corners’ tradition of walking will continue with a visit to St Peter’s Catholic Cathedral involving young people from the Immaculata Youth Centre followed by a festival of choirs at St Anne’s Anglican Cathedral.
There will be daily prayer from 12-2 from 5-9 February at four iconic church buildings: Skainos in East Belfast, Clonard in West Belfast, Fitzroy Presbyterian in South Belfast and Duncairn Centre in North Belfast. Arts events include a Ricky Ross concert (sold out already!) on 7 February and a performance of Laurence McKeown’s “Those You Pass on the Street” on 5 February, about a friendship between the widow of an RUC officer and a Sinn Féin community officer. Another walking tour on 10 February will take in Connswater Greenway, CS Lewis Square, Skainos and the Sam Thomson Bridge, exploring the redevelopment of East Belfast.
Only last year did the 4 Corners organisers begin to count the numbers, but attendance has been growing year on year and there were about 1,300 visits to various events in 2017. “Thank you for organising events to take us out of our comfort zones into new spaces and to meet new people”, said one attendee; another said: “It was just so refreshing to attend your event and see people coming together in peace with an eye on the future… not both on the past. It truly gave me hope for Northern Ireland.” Some events are invitation only; others require registration; all events are free but money is being raised for Organ Donation.
Further details and the programme of the 4 Corners Festival can be found here. Every year a banquet is held; this year it will be for recipients of Organ Donation and 4 Corners is asking for contributions to cover the cost of that meal. You can make a donation at JustGiving.com