TAKING BOTH SIDES REQUIRES CAREFUL TIMING!
Northern Ireland in the 1970s had many parallels to the conflict in Cyprus, and when the N. Irish members of the CHIPS Team returned from the Mediterranean in 1972, it was a natural progression for them to invite CHIPS to become involved in peacemaking there.
The Irish felt a bond with the people of Cyprus, and Roy was asked on several occasions to speak about CHIPS’ work. In turn, he was inspired by the interdenominational work of church leaders and the Corrymeela Community.
Thanks to a generous donor who leased CHIPS a house off the Antrim Road for free, we aimed to establish a team pulled from all sides of the conflict: Protestant, Catholic, English and Irish. We wanted to start as the house would go on, with everyone moving in at the same time. With the deep sectarian mistrust it could have easily become known as a Catholic or Protestant house.
Recreational activities were organized by Irish Catholic Nuns, who also held their evening classes in the house: needlework, music and cookery classes with particular emphasis on the elderly and young people. The community pulled together, furnishing and decorating the space, and by 1976 Sister Sarto of Belfast’s Convent of Our lady in Mercy was able to say “Thank God everything is working out well… we have classes almost every night and the children in on Saturday for baths – some of them haven’t got baths in their homes.”
Ultimately cleanliness proved an easier challenge than sectarian harmony. The CHIPS house struggled to establish a mixed Catholic and Protestant team, and so the house was handed back to its owner, but for several years the project was widely recognised by the local community as a down-to-earth approach to peacemaking.
CHIPS withdrew, while keeping up with the friendships made there. This was an important lesson in timing, as it had proved premature for that kind of household at that time.
The next chapter in the CHIPS story was however already being written – on the other side of the world…