SOUNDS OF BELFAST
On my first day of volunteering at the Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen’s in January, the jovial cook broke into a chorus of “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen” upon learning my name was Kathleen. I hadn’t heard that familiar Irish tune since I was down in Dublin during our Mitchell Scholar orientation last September. Listening to it again, I was reminded of the first days of our arrival in Ireland which now seems so long ago. And I was reminded of the deep history of the green isle that I fear I take for granted as I go about my studies.
So, I convinced myself then and there to take the time to re-discover the richness of this place. I finally climbed the treacherous Cave Hill – the beautiful Belfast “mountain” that cheerily greets me outside my window each (non-rainy) morning. There, the air was still, the birds were chirping, and I felt at peace. The city can be noisy with shouts of exuberant young people or the whirl of the car motors; it was a joy to explore the quieter side of Belfast and to take in the spectacular view of the Belfast Lough.
I took the time to visit a part of the Republic I hadn’t seen before – the southern coast. During tours of the area attractions, I heard a new accent that threw me for a loop. I have become accustomed to the variations on the Belfast brogue during the time I’ve been here – someone even told me recently that my own intonation of speaking sounded like a local one! – but the south provided me with a whole new challenge.
Back in the North, there are other sounds to which my ear has been attuned. The church bells that ring at 10:15 every Sunday remind me of the intense religiosity of this region, commonly referred to as the Bible Belt of the British Isles. The sound of the bubbling boil of a ready kettle in the kitchen means more than preparedness for a warm drink; rather, tea time is talk time – a break in the day for reflection and togetherness, a pause to cultivate friendships.
Away from these sublime moments of social and spiritual growth, I spend much of my time following the news in preparation for the upcoming election. I’ve heard the party platforms and taken in their advertising campaigns on billboards, lamp posts, and internet television. I listen to my colleagues discuss their apprehensions about water charges and potential political arrangements that could circumvent the impending new system. When I’ve asked about their hopes for the election outcome, they’ve quipped about their historical skepticism about elections, reciting the familiar saying in the North: “vote early and vote often” … but maybe not so this time around, they add. When one hears the rhetoric from the extreme parties, it’s easy to understand why my friends scoff at the obstinateness of the political leadership, even in preparation for this promising election.
Though it’s still chilly, the days are getting longer again in Northern Ireland. Spirits are high during this exciting time in the region’s development and Belfast is bustling with activity. As I prepare for a busy spring, I also intend to take the time to slow down, to listen and to learn, before this remarkable experience comes to an end.