On the last Sunday of each month, for 15 years and more, I have been connected from Belfast to the great city of Pittsburgh through my news report on Diane Byrnes' Echoes of Erin radio show.
Today was the first occasion on which I had to defer to the heartbreak and grief of Pittsburgh rather than talk about our own troubled history here in the north of Ireland.
Rather than give my monthly round-up, I suggested to Diane that she dedicate Karen Matheson's Amazing Grace in Scottish Gaelic for her bewildered listeners still coming to terms with the merciless attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Earlier today, I had the privilege to catch the Rev Steve Stockman reflect on our own trail of tears in a service in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in South Belfast which also ended with the singing of Amazing Grace.
The Rev Steve is a big fan of U2 — who have been playing Belfast this weekend — and his sermon leaned heavily on his experience of the Saturday gig. My 86-year-old neighbor in our pew confided in me afterward that she wasn't entirely au fait with the entire U2 catalog. I had to sympathize as my ENTIRE knowledge of U2, such as it is, comes solely from the sermons of the Rev Steve.
But while I have yet to be infected by the U2 fever, I did take away one crucial message from the Rev Steve's redemptive sermon: even in the depths of despair, there is always light. It's a comforting assurance based on our own hard-won peace in Belfast that we send with love to Diane and our many friends in Pittsburgh.
Interestingly, it was the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh which first brought a trade mission to Belfast as the peace process took shape in the early nineties. Since then, Belfast has built multiple links with the US, including our sister city relationship with Boston.
But Boston and Massachusetts had warm relations with Derry long before Belfast came a-calling. And it's that traditional partnership which will be celebrated at the Golden Bridges conference in Boston on 15 and 16 November when guest speakers will include the mayors of Derry and Donegal as well as Derry business leader Garvan O'Doherty who is spearheading a £45m development on the city's quays. I plan to join them but promise that the word 'Belfast' will not cross my lips.
I won't be so circumspect, however, at the Belfast International Homecoming from 28-30 November when delegates from many parts of the globe but most notably North America will come 'home' to build a better Belfast at the invitation of Homecoming Host and hotelier Howard Hastings.
To date, we have prominent members of our global family from New York, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Portland (Oregon not Maine) flying in to take part in our business and investment conference which happily coincides with the Belfast Basketball Classic featuring eight US college basketball teams.
But it won't all be business briefings, legal symposiums and start-up competitions, there are myriad other events which will connect the diaspora back to Belfast. My own favourite is a plan to bring Liverpool native and former Queen's history prof Christine Kinealy — now based at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut — together with the Rev Livingstone Thompson, a native of Jamaica now ministering with the Moravian Church in Belfast, to celebrate the bicentennial of escaped slave Frederick Douglass, himself a visitor to our city back in 1845.
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