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The Final Chapter in Carrickfergus

November 13, 2012

liz orndorffThis week we’ll hear about the final days in Carrickfergus from guest-blogger and newly-minted Northern Ireland expert Liz Orndorff. Enjoy!

Hello friends!

Well, I ran out of time on my last day in Carrick, so I’m delivering this final entry from my office back at home. So here goes–the last week of our four-week stay was nothing short of amazing.

On Wednesday (October 31) I spoke to the Rotary Club at lunchtime, where I showed a 20-minute slideshow of Danville and talked about what I had been doing in the schools in Carrickfergus. Rotarians had lots of questions, including those about how we handled economic down-turns, and would have stayed longer for more conversation if not for work calling.

ulster covenant posterThat evening Fiona Surgenor, the director of good relations for Carrick, took us up the road to Larne and the Drumalis Catholic Retreat Center. There we saw a play by Carrick playwright Philip Orr called “1912, a hundred years on.”  We thought it might be about the Titanic, but it turns out that other important things happened in 1912–including the signing of the Ulster Covenant, which was a protest against Home Rule (see left). Almost half a million Ulster folks (Ulster was the primarily Protestant province in the north) signed the covenant. The play was fascinating, but what happened afterward was even more so. We retired to a fellowship hall where we were seated at tables of eight, served tea and scones, and then were encouraged to talk about what we had seen. For the next hour there were lively discussions among the 100 or so people. We met some very lovely Catholics from Larne, one of whom was a transplanted American from Buffalo!

On Thursday we attended a one-act play competition in Newtonabbey, where community theatres presented their plays. Outside the theatre was a plaque that commemorated Newtonabbey as the home of “International Film Star Stephen Boyd.” Who knew?

Dan Gordon playwright northern irelandFriday was a real treat as Nancy and I had coffee and a 90-minute visit with Dan Gordon, an actor, playwright and director from nearby Greenisland (right). We had seen him the previous week in his starring role in “Paisley and Me,” and I wanted to talk with him about playwriting and about possibly coming to Danville to be in Pioneer Playhouse’s “The Search for Tinker Doyle,” which will go up July 9-20 in 2013. He seemed intrigued, and I think he will seriously consider it because he had not done anything like it before. Here’s hoping he will–it would be a real coup for the Playhouse. Dan Gordon is quite famous in Northern Ireland. Plus he has these really cute blue eyes. And don’t even get me started on his accent!

antrim-coastJanet Crymble, Carrick’s artist just returned from six weeks in Danville, met us for lunch Friday and we spent most of the next few days with her. On Saturday we went into Belfast and took the city bus tour, shopped, had tea at the Merchant, an ultra-luxury hotel, and saw a play at the new Metropolitan Arts Center (The MAC). On Sunday, after church at Woodlands Presbyterian,  Janet took us for a ride up the Antrim Coast (left) to such picturesque villages as Glenarm and Carnlock. Then she cooked us an amazing dinner of sea bass and Mediterranean vegetables at her home, where we got to meet her delightful husband, Jim.

Monday was spent all day at Ulidia College, one of the first integrated schools in Carrickfergus (integrated referring to educating Protestants and Catholics together). We had a wonderful time discussing plays and writing with older teenagers, some of whom are determined to come to Danville next summer for my play!  Monday night we went with Janet and her husband and a friend to a pub quiz at Owney’s, one of the oldest pubs around. We came in dead last, but I don’t think anyone had more fun than we did.

Belfast-Titanic-MuseumOn Tuesday we were guests of David Hilditch, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and also a counselor in Carrick. After a tour of Stormont, their legislative building, and lunch in the Members Dining Room with David and Elaine, his assistant, Elaine accompanied us to the spectacular new Titanic Museum (right), which is absolutely incredible. We were there for three hours and still could not take it all in. Absolutely worth seeing and experiencing! Later that night we were guests of the Whitehead Reading Club, held at the Whitehead library. Nancy and I each read one of my short stories and we talked about my plays–several had even been to my web site. Then they put out quite a spread for tea. Another lovely bunch of people, like we’ve met all over Northern Ireland. And very well read!

On Wednesday, our last day in Northern Ireland, we went back to the drama class at Carrickfergus Grammar School to see the 10-minute play they had written and performed. It was a real hoot and the kids did a great job. We exchanged gifts and made a party of it.  That evening was the wonderful Final Reception held at the Town Hall. A catered “hot fork buffet”, it was delicious and beautiful, with everything from roast beef in cream sauce with mushrooms to tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and a wide choice of wines. After Janet and I each spoke and showed our slides, they gave us many lovely gifts. There were about 50 people at this final dinner–all those with whom we had worked and met during the last four weeks. It was a very, very special evening.

On Thursday morning we had left the apartment by seven o’clock to begin a taxi ride to Belfast, a bus ride to Dublin, by air to Chicago, and by air to Lexington, followed by the final car ride to Danville. After staying up to talk to Robert until 3:00 am, I finally fell into bed after having been up for 26 hours. Whew!

Thus ends an incredible four weeks that I will never forget. Thank you to the Sister City Commissions of both Carrickfergus and Danville, for making it all possible. And to all you artists out there–if they do this Artist Exchange again, be sure to apply for it. You will never regret it.

(and Nancy says hi, too)

P.S. If you are in a group that would like to hear my talk and see slides of the Carrickfergus adventure, please let me know.