The Royal Visit to Corrymeela
25 May 2015
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited our Ballycastle centre on Friday. It was the last stop of a visit themed around peace and reconciliation. They met staff, volunteers and children from 5 local primary schools. Pádraig and Colin led Prince Charles on a tour of the site and pointing out our plans for Biomass heating, the newly planted orchard and our just finished polytunnel! This will be a great space for working with groups, but also a way to grow food for the kitchens and spur us on to be able to compost more of our food waste.
The tour continued through the Golden Garden,where he stopped to chat with our intrepid team of gardeners – Dot Wilson, Yvonne Naylor, Joe Kennedy and Heather & Alistair Kilgore. In the main house the Duchess of Cornwall joined him to meet the staff and volunteers along with a residential group from St Mary’s University in Texas who couldn’t quite believe their luck. There was also a short private visit with Susan McEwen and some of the women from the Stop Peace Unravelling Project.
After a brief stop for press photos by the Cross overlooking Rathlin Island, the attention turned to the Davey Village. In the Foyer the Royal Couple stopped for a chat with Sean Pettis and our partners on the Contact, Culture and Conflict around the Causeway project. Our archaeologists from Queens and the University of Ulster had persuaded the Causeway Museum to bring along some artefacts including a priceless 17th century sword.
Our main reception was held in the majestic Kenbane Lounge and was a mix of Community members, volunteers, partners and funders. It was a poignant moment, coming at the end of a week when the Prince had visited the spot where the IRA killed his beloved great–Uncle Lord Mountbatten. He spoke of the pain that all victims feel and the healing that comes slowly after such trauma. Pádraig spoke of the importance of gestures of reconciliation and shared his poem, “Shaking Hands.” This was written after he witnessed the meeting between Queen Elizabeth II and Martin McGuinness in Belfast, and our visitor listened attentively perhaps reflecting on his own meeting with Gerry Adams earlier in the week.
The Royal visit was themed around peace and reconciliation and in his speech Prince Charles paid tribute to the work of Corrymeela and particular to our founder Ray Davey.
“In the roots of Corrymeela, we can discover lessons that can serve as a model to all who strive for peace and reconciliation. As you know so much better than I, Corrymeela was founded by Ray Davey, a remarkable man whose experience of suffering as a prisoner of war inspired him to wrestle with the question of building community amidst conflict. I was lucky enough to meet him when I came here all those years ago. It was this vision that led him to establish a place where people of different backgrounds, different political and religious beliefs and different identities could gather to break bread, to work together, to learn and, most of all, to talk about the hurts which are too deep to bear in silence. As I said earlier this week in Sligo, healing is possible even when the heartache continues – and the fruits of Corrymeela over the past fifty years bear testament to this.”
Corrymeela believes that we can learn to live and work well together and the lessons of reconciliation in Northern Ireland can also be applied to fractures in many countries across the world. Executive Director Colin Craig believed that Corrymeela was an appropriate place to end what was an emotional visit for Prince Charles.
“For many years we have worked with victims of violence on all sides and Prince Charles understands the pain of losing a close family member. It is also poignant that some of our work with families and young people over the last few years has been supported by a fund set up by Countess Mountbatten in memory of her son Nicolas who was also killed in 1979.”
After the speech John Hunter, Chair of the Corrymeela council presented a number of gifts to the royal couple including a painting of local wildflowers by Rachel Craig, the Corrymeela Turf Cross and some handmade baby hats for his new granddaughter. There was one other gift and it stole the show as Michael Maundu, our volunteer from Kenya also presented one of his own paintings and got up close and personal with the royal couple.
Corrymeela Community Leader Pádraig Ó Tuama who hosted the visit and tour of the site said,
“Corrymeela’s journey over the last 50 years has shown us the power of people telling their stories, of shared hospitality, of telling the truth about the present, of turning towards each other and finding strength, life and hope in each other. Prince Charles’s visit shows the importance of gestures of reconciliation, where people who have been affected by violence acknowledge what has happened in a way that addresses the future with wisdom, leadership and hope. “
Corrymeela continues to be an open village – open to all of goodwill and we were happy to welcome Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to our centre. We hope it was a healing visit for him and that this week’s gesture of reconciliation will help us all move forward. In his speech Prince Charles quoted the Ulster poet Helen Waddell who asks,
“Would you think Heaven could be so small a thing As a lit window on the hills at night?“
And then envisages a moment when she will,
“…come in stumbling from the gloom,
Half–blind, into a firelit room.
Turn, and see you,
And there abide.”
He ended his speech with this reflection.
“It is, I think, a moving vision of coming home from darkness, exclusion and coldness to light, acceptance and warmth. In Corrymeela, for fifty years, you have been that lit window on the hill; you have given peace a home. May we, from all our traditions, with all our memories and all our regrets, and with God’s blessing, make a home for peace in our own hearts.”
For photos of the visit and a selection of the media coverage look at our Facebook page