Molly Bloom and Belfast

From the ikon event ‘Yes’ held on 10th February, 2013. By Jon Hatch.

My name is Jon, and I want to say ‘Yes’.

I first came to Belfast in 1991. At that time, city hall had a large banner across the dome that read ‘Belfast Says No’. I wasn’t as familiar with the details of Northern Ireland’s history, so I asked one of my hosts- who were East Belfast Presbyterians- what it meant. He said, ‘It’s about rejecting the Republic of Ireland’s interference in the running of Northern Ireland. How would you feel if a foreign country was being given a say in how your country was run?’ At the time, the answer didn’t make sense to me, as I didn’t see the Republic as a ‘foreign’ country, or not ‘foreign’ in the way that, say, France or China was foreign. Plus, I pointed out, in a globalised world most countries had some kind say into how other countries are run. I immediately got the feeling that this was the wrong answer to give…

I also wondered, was there anything to which Belfast  might say ‘yes’?

It made me think of the last bit of Ulysses, where Molly Bloom’s speech is punctuated by dozens of the word ‘yes’. The last word of that great novel is ‘yes’. Joyce felt that Ireland was filled with ‘No’. Irish Nationalism, Irish Unionism, Catholicism, Protestantism- to him, it all seemed to be saying ‘no’ to any number of things. He wanted life to be about saying ‘yes’.

I’ve worked in the field of peacemaking and conflict transformation in Belfast for over ten years now. I’ve always wanted my work to be about helping individuals and communities say ‘yes’- to examining their situation, to consciousness, to a view of life that said ‘yes’ to those that were different.

I still feel like I’m searching for ‘yes’ in Belfast. As I sat in my window last summer and watched the fires of Ardoyne, and even now as I watch the flag protests at Cambrai Street out the same window,  I still wonder:

How does Belfast say ‘yes’?

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