In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Norman HAMILTON, who is a Presbyterian minister and a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church.
First and foremost, it is home. It’s home because most though not all my family and friends are around. So it’s a place that I love because of them, but also because it’s just a wonderful place to be. I mean, you’re never more than an hour from the sea. You have the hills, the mountains. So from an environmental point of view, it’s just wonderful.
Clearly we have had a very distressing 30, 40, 50 years. I’ve had both the privilege and at times the horror of being in the middle of that in north Belfast, in the Ardoyne area, where we were for 26 years before we moved here to Ballymena.
But even in those awful times, I didn’t want to move out. I still wanted to live on the interface on the Crumlin Road, because again, I knew all the people around me from both sides of the community. We have in practice reach the stage where a large part of the population who would call themselves Protestant are effectively cultural and increasingly secular Protestants, and the same with the Catholic community, culturally and secularist Catholic. So that the number of people of real faith, of practicing faith, is certainly declining. Though, to be honest, that doesn’t of itself bother me, because I would far rather have people with real faith practicing their faith than half the population just signing on the dotted line but not making any difference to the way they live day by day.
The increasing number of folks from elsewhere in the world is beginning to express itself culturally. For example, Diwali is quite big in the Belfast area. My sense is that as people of committed faith from elsewhere come and live in Northern Ireland, that that will change the dynamics of community life.
Even though I’m unionist, I’m a member of the SDLP commission on a new Ireland, because my Christian identity is far more significant to me than political or cultural identity. I would love to see a commitment to good government emerging amongst the electorate and then being reflected in the way politics is done.
It doesn’t seem to me that there is any real hope of a good future for us, either north or south, if our politics is so contaminated by bitterness and aggression and polarization and power seeking. So, from my perspective, that is my, my heart’s desire. It’s what I pray for quite often — that a new generation of elected representatives, both at local and at central level would emerge, who really do want collectively to do good government for the benefit of everybody.
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