As you drive into Corrymeela in Ballycastle at Northern Ireland’s northern tip, an amazing calm washes over you. The serene landscape and beautiful sea view may have something to do with that. Corrymeela is Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. Its founding was not a reaction to the Troubles, rather it grew out of post-World War II vision for how we could build communities based on equity, diversity, interdependence and sustainability. Its founder, Ray Davey, experienced the brutality of combat and prisoner of war camps in WWII and upon emerging as a survivor, wanted to imagine a new way of being. Corrymeela was founded in 1965 and soon after, the Troubles erupted in Northern Ireland. It was a seminal period for the organization. They were right where they needed to be when they were needed most. Describing their work today, Corrymeela’s Executive Director Colin Craig says they “work at the fracture lines in people’s lives and in the world.” How inspiring and how courageous.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by Colin and his wife Rachel. Colin took us into a building they call the “Croi” (pronounced cree). Croi is the Gaelic work for heart. As you walk into the round building you are welcomed by a fireplace and walk down a rounded hallway, as if you are entering a womb. The pathway wraps around and delivers you into peaceful gathering/worshiping spaces. As you exit, the beautiful design brings all of the building’s different chambers back together in a seamless flow. Colin said it is meant to physically bring you into the heart and deliver you back to the world. It is indeed a piece of art. Corrymeela is a community by design. Both the physical design and the way they live and work well together, have great intentionality. It is a reminder of the many choices we make everyday that ultimately design our lives.
We shared an inspired conversation about how difficult change is for individuals and even more so for communities. Habits of mind and action are deeply embedded in each of us. As I shared both the challenges and opportunities facing my community, Colin wisely and encouragingly said, “If you can’t go straight, go crooked. Sometimes it is just too hard to hit things head on, the path forward is rarely linear. But, the ‘the arts’ already know this well.” We talked about how experiential learning through the arts and the creative process offer valuable tools to approach our community work from new angles – tools that reach us socially and emotionally and create a path for for new social narratives to emerge in our communities. Reconciling complex differences between people, in any environment, is complicated and layered. We need empathy, beauty, creativity, healing, and expression…and yes, the arts do know this work well. Thank you Colin and Rachel for reminding me how critical the arts are in our community building efforts. I will keep Corrymeela in my heart as I move forward in the world.