The Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Center in Co. Antrim

By Niamh Lynch

Nine neighborhood and community leaders from Boston and Chelsea arrived in Northern Ireland on Sunday, where they are due to take part in a week-long learning exchange program around issues of community development, social integration, and reconciliation.

The trip is being coordinated by the IIIC and two members of staff will accompany the group as they meet with their counterparts from Northern Ireland and later, from Co. Donegal. The visit is the second part of an exchange which saw a group of Donegal community leaders travel to Boston about eighteen months ago.

Participants will exchange experience and best practice strategies that have the potential to bring real social change in both Boston and in Ireland. What these programs have shown in the past is that, whatever the flag flying overhead, there is often a great deal of overlap in the challenges facing communities when it comes to issues like social integration, youth disengagement, and police/community relations.

“The transatlantic connections formed through programs like this are lasting,” says IIIC Executive Director Sr. Lena Deevy. “What we are doing is making the introductions and getting the conversation started, but the real goal is to establish relationships whereby community leaders can continue to share with each other even after they return home.”

It will be a full week for the participants and after arriving in Belfast they will travel to the North Antrim coast, where they will spend two days at the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Center. Here they will hold a series of workshops with a dozen of their Belfast counterparts representing communities from all shades of the political and religious spectrum.

Later in the week the group travels to Co. Derry, where they will gain some historical perspective on the Troubles and explore some of the city’s regeneration initiatives. The visitors will then cross the border to neighboring Co. Donegal, where they will be hosted by the group who traveled to Massachusetts in September 2010. Their meetings and workshops in Donegal will focus on social integration, particularly of new immigrants.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to advance our mutual understanding of some really challenging social challenges,” says Sr. Lena “The IIIC wishes to acknowledge the vision and generosity of the trip’s supporters: the Barr Foundation and Barr Fellowship, Donegal County Council, the Community Relations Council of Northern Ireland, IIIC Wider Horizons partner the Tyrone-Donegal Partnership, and the Corrymeela Community.”