In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Martin Magill, who is a priest at St John Parish on the Falls Road in Belfast and co-founder of the 4 Corners Festival.
My family have been here for a number of generations. We’re still in the family home out in Aldergrove. And we’re very much what I call an integrated community there. By that I mean that we have a variety of people from various denominations living in the area. Has been like that, and as a farming community, very good cooperation amongst the local farmers. They’re pragmatic at the end of the day, they’ve been doing work together years, and I’d go so far as to say as generations, because I think realistically they know the value of cooperating with one another.
I lived four years in Rome. I did so because that was part of my studies for priesthood. I really benefited from the experience of being abroad. That formed me in various ways. It gave me a sense of a broader vision, seeing students from various parts of the world. One evening, we bumped into a group of American students and uh, one of the students then asked us where we were from and when it came to my turn to answer the question and say, “Belfast”, his immediate response was, “Oh, yes. Oh, that’s that place where Catholic and Protestant kill each other.” And I thought, oh my goodness. That remark stopped me in my tracks. In some ways it encouraged me to be involved in the work of peacemaking.
I would work very closely with clergy people from other churches. For example, I’m involved in a cross-community festival. It’s an arts festival, inspired by our Christian faith. It’s called 4 Corners Festival. It’s got the strap line of “Bringing Belfast together”. And the idea is to try and encourage the building of new relationships.
I’m ordained now 33 years, and over that time, I’ve met such a variety of people in parish life. In some ways I’ve seen people at their best. I’ve also seen people at their worst. I’ve seen people in very joyful occasions and some very sad. And I’m just so just really blessed by so many conversations over the years. I’m very blessed to be where I am at the moment at St John’s here on the Falls Road.
So thinking locally, I love the phrase that we talk about this wounded and yet wonderful city of Belfast. One of my real desires to see would be the bringing down of walls, not just the physical walls — I don’t really like the phrase “peace walls”. I’m a believer in integrated housing. I want to see people live side by side and I go back to my own growing up in a farming community where people lived side by side.
If there’s the opportunity to look at a hundred years, well, I’d like to think that our world leaders will be looking at some of the root causes of why people are having to leave their own lands in the first place.
So for me, the whole question of peace and world peace. And part of that really does look at the whole question of the injustices in some of the systemic issues in our world, and especially the whole question of inequality, of poverty, and the amount of money that has been spent on arms and imagining if some of that could be channelled to tackle some of the core issues facing our world.
It would be remiss of me not to mention a concern for the planet. I talk about care for creation. Really pleased Pope Francis from the Catholic Church has really talked about it in a very powerful letter written almost six years ago, his concern for creation, his concern for the planet.
And so looking ahead into the future, it has to be one where we as stewards of creation, stewards on this earth, would find ways of being able to share its resources, care for its resources, that will benefit all of us and lead to a society and a world where we can all flourish.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD