I was struck by a photograph in Mojo magazine. It was the taken at the event that made Van Morrison a free man of Belfast city. That in itself is a thrill for us Belfast folk but it was what was happening around Van that revealed something powerful about our very recent history. It was the other two guys in the photograph. There standing side by side and obviously working together were our last two Lord Mayors; Gavin Robinson and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. Gavin is DUP and Máirtín Sinn Fein. This photograph, while declaring to the world that Belfast is home to one of the rock music’s great geniuses, also celebrated a city in a better place than it was twenty years ago. I felt Van should have presented Máirtín and Gavin with an award too!
Lord Mayors have an opportunity to shape a city. In Belfast they only serve for one year but if they do that job well they can make contributions to the peace and prosperity of the city. Gavin and Máirtín did just that. They were not easy acts to follow BUT Nichola Mallon from the SDLP has followed them with ease, exuding passion, inspiration and grace.
The 4 Corners Festival saw something of their raison d’être in the way these three Lord Mayors went about their business. All three made a conscious effort to represent all of our citizens. That is often not easy in a city divided, a city where you can find little reason to visit certain corners. Often times people in some corners would not be most welcoming to a Mayor who is a member of a political party from another corner.
4 Corners Festival is all about shifting us across our corners. So, we have invited our previous two Mayors and our current one to come and share their stories of their year in office. I have glanced across Donal McCann’s photographic account of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir’s year, in his brilliant book We. Too, Sing Belfast, and it is breathtaking in the distance covered, the breadth of the people met, the scope of the issues connected with. I am also fascinated that for Gavin and Nichola their Christian faith, from different traditions, is very much at the core of who they are and that Máirtín, though not calling himself a person of faith, is very often Tweeting Scriptures and promoting the work of the faith communities.
So, in the Museum on February 3rd at 8.00 we will be hearing their stories. What did they learn about Belfast from the opportunities and challenges of having to be in places they had rarely been? What were they surprised about in the different corners? How did their year challenge their views of their city? Where were they most challenged in their own lives? What were the obstacles that stood in their way in representing all the citizens of Belfast? How were they changed by the experience? What is their hopes for the future of our city? What do they think the people of Belfast and indeed the faith communities can do to make our city one of peace and prosperity as the prophet Jeremiah sought for the city he lived in.
3 Mayors For 4 Corners - February 3rd, 2105 at 8pm in Ulster Museum