“The name of this town is written in the imaginations of many,” the monsignor begins. He goes on to tell us about the history of Enniskillen: the residents who fought in World War I, the 1987 bombing, Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 2012. “And now,” he concludes, looking at us, “you’re a part of that.”
What, you might ask, is a Jewish girl from New York City doing at a Saturday night mass in a small town in Northern Ireland?
At the beginning of the school year, I joined Trinity’s Chapel Choir. I initially joined for an opportunity to improve my singing and sight-reading skills, but I have grown to love the choir community. Since we sing music for church services, it has also been a way to learn firsthand about the role of religion in Irish life today. Before this year, I could probably have counted the number of times I had been to a church service on one hand. While I still don’t always understand what goes on in the services we sing in, I have learned to find beauty in them because I share them with my fellow singers.
When my choir announced that we were doing a weekend trip to Enniskillen, I signed up without knowing anything about the town. The conductor told us that we would sing a Saturday night mass at the town’s Catholic church and a Sunday morning mass at the town’s Protestant cathedral. I did not think too much about where we were singing; I was more preoccupied with making sure I knew all the music for both services.
The monsignor gave us a welcome speech before we sang, and it was only then that I realized how much our presence in Enniskillen meant to the people there. The bombing of Enniskillen, as I learned from the monsignor’s speech, marked a turning point in the Troubles and motivated both sides to pursue peace. The town has transformed a painful event into a hopeful future through commemoration and interfaith cooperation. The fact that we sang in both churches in one weekend moved townspeople of both faiths, and the priests in each church eagerly announced to the congregation how special our trip was in this respect. Even though I do not belong to either faith, it was spiritually fulfilling to me that my friends and I could contribute to Enniskillen’s healing process in some small way.
I am left with a lingering curiosity about Northern Ireland, and I look forward to visiting Belfast with my Mitchell class in February for our mid-year retreat. But on a more basic level, I am left with a deeper appreciation for how music brings people from different backgrounds together. I never thought I would find myself in a church in Enniskillen—but I’m so, so glad I did.