Irish School of Ecumenics Featured in North Belfast News

imageMy School has been featured in North Belfast’s local weekly, the North Belfast News.

The article, written by Kieran Hughes, explains the history of the school and includes an interview with Dr Geraldine Smyth, the Head of the School.

The North Belfast News is not available online (except by subscription) but you can read the text here:

Trinity College in the Heart of North Belfast: Uni’s base at Irish School of Ecumenics one of Area’s Little Known Facts

By Kieran Hughes, North Belfast News, 24 March 2012

It’s a little known fact that for the past 12 years a fully integrated institute of Trinity College, Dublin has been delivering Masters degrees from a base in North Belfast.

Even one of the leading lecturers from the Irish School of Ecumenics on the Antrim Road admits that not many people know they are busy delivering top class education in their striking white building on the Antrim Road just opposite the entrance to Innisfayle Park.

The School was founded in 1970 in Dublin by Jesuit priest Fr Michael Hurley and before long had courses running in Belfast.

Since 1980 the degrees at the post-graduate institute have been Trinity qualifications, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the School became a full part of the Dublin university.

It was in that year that they introduced their Masters degree in Reconciliation Studies, which was revamped last year to become the Masters in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation – both of which have been delivered from the Antrim Road based.

Dr Geraldine Smyth, Associate Professor in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at the School, says North Belfast is a fitting location because of the religious, cultural and economic diversity here.

“The School was founded out of a desire to bring people together to learn about one another’s cultures and religious traditions and that fits well here,” she said.

Dr Smyth, who is originally from the Falls Road, spend her time between their Dublin campus at Milltown park, and the Antrim Road building.

Currently her research is focused on theological and political approaches to acknowledgement, commemoration and forgiveness I post-conflict societies including Ireland.

The Dominican sister has acted as consultant to the World Conference on Religion and Peace, the World Council of Churches on Faith and Order and Creation and Peace concerns, and to the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity on ecumenical education.

“In a place like North Belfast I think there are great opportunities because of the very different kinds of community and the opportunities for exchange.

“There’s a lot of difference on this road, there is a lot of diversity and I know there are a lot of community groups and community based organisations that are trying to be catalysts for urban revitalisation. But I still think there are too few places where people can listen and learn and argue with respect and that is what we try to do here.

“In some ways there has been huge progress but I still think there is a lot of fear and a lot of trauma and the effects of trauma, a lot of unhealed wounds. This road has been a veil of tears, so much sorrow, so much suffering and I think you can’t just gloss over that and forget about that.”

Much of the research she and her colleagues do is linked to what is happening in the North and it makes more sense to be based here.

“You have to be up here talking to people, even for me if it’s talking to my nieces and nephews on how life is changing.”

Geraldine explained when the School first developed in the North in the 1970s and 1980s it offered people from different traditions a chance to learn, in a structured way, about how religion and identity related, and how Protestantism and Catholicism were formed in opposition to one another and were conditioned by a divided culture and an institutionalised sectarianism.

“It sounds very tame now but then the opportunities for people to step inside one another’s churches to learn about one another’s traditions to learn how identity and culture can shape beliefs were limited.

“People think that belief is their conscience and that dictates everything and it is the truth that matters but very often the things that we declare to be absolutely sacrosanct about our beliefs are as much political, cultural or economic than doctrinal. So it was an opportunity for developing understanding about each other.”

From those early days the School’s adult education programme in the North and the border counties now reaches 1800 participants each year.

“Belfast has always been a centre of interest and a base from which to engage many other parts of the north,” she continues. “But even though the Irish School of Ecumenics is on the front of the road here a lot of people don’t know it. It’s a good place for us to be and people are welcome to come to the various events that we have.”

For more information about the Irish School of Ecumenics visit

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