If there has been a consistent voice of reason in Northern Ireland over the years it has been that of the Reverend John Dunlop CBE. His forthright and common sense approach provided insights into the issues that go to the heart of our problems but balanced with ideas about how such issues can be constructively addressed. As a Presbyterian Minister he served from 1978-2005 in Rosemary Presbyterian Church in North Belfast. Over the years he has worked tirelessly to further better relations across our community particularly through encouraging us to gain a better understanding of all the people who make up our society. As author of “A Precarious Belonging: Presbyterians and the Conflict in Ireland” (1995) he provided an insight into the values and attitudes of an important part of our community and how it has influenced this island.
His impact across our island has been much greater than many would appreciate and at all times seeking to build and promote better relations by challenging constructively those who seek to do otherwise.
It was 60 years ago this year, in 1958, that I went to Queens University in Belfast. That was ten years before chaos and suffering enveloped Northern Ireland. Those ten years in the 1960s were years of excitement and change when I attended a couple of universities, got married, became a father and started a job.
Part of the excitement was that Northern Ireland was changing. The Second Vatican Council had been called by John xxiii and the frozen misery of inter-church relations from the time of the Reformation were beginning to thaw. Political reform was underway in Northern Ireland and tentative relationships with the Republic of Ireland were being established. The Corrymeela Community was established, mainly by students under the leadership of Rev. Ray Davey.
Then it all went wrong as opportunities were not grasped, necessary change was both mismanaged and resisted and some people took to the streets and others got involved in the futility of intimidation, killing and bombing. The different parts of the community polarised in fear and sectarianism. Thousands of students left Northern Ireland to study in Britain and never came back.
It needn’t have happened. There was nothing inevitable about it. It took thirty years to get back to where we were in 1968. The wrong people were followed.
People like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have been leaders and enduring sources of inspiration to multitudes of people. Many people have been inspired and challenged by less well known local people with whom their lives have intersected; people who have not followed the crowd.
Maurice Hayes and I came from two different parts of this community and when he died I was privileged to participate in his funeral service. He wanted it to be more than an exclusive Catholic occasion. His Obituary in the Irish Times contained the sentence, “He kept faith with the benign potential of humanity” and it quoted his conviction that “One thing that should not be allowed is the glorification in song or story of what was mean and nasty and dirty”.
As you dream and plan your future, be interested in more than your own self -interest and that of your community of origin. Be comfortable within the skin of your own culture but do not reinforce your own identity by denigrating the culture and significance of your neighbours.
While never denying the significance of your origins, through broadness of mind and breadth of understanding, go beyond the riches and the deficiencies of your inheritance and seek a future different from the past, without having recourse to verbal or physical violence. In your family and professional life be generous, fair, balanced and even handed.
Read again the narratives about Jesus, one of the most courageous, realistic and visionary people who ever lived. Like him, be a person of faith, acknowledging God in all you do with integrity, wisdom and humour. With imagination and creativity use your abilities and your spoken and written words, your verbal skills and generosity of spirit to serve the purposes of God’s everlasting kingdom. Maybe you will be an inspiration to some others.
Rev. John Dunlop CBE DD LLD. (A retired Presbyterian Minister)