‘If Martin McGuin­ness can meet the queen I think we can sit down and watch a wed­ding’

There’s sup­port across the Belfast com­mu­nity for Harry and Meghan

The Irish Times - - Home News - Amanda Fer­gu­son in Belfast

For more than 30 years the Shankill Women’s Cen­tre (SWC) on Belfast’s Shankill Road has been at the heart of the com­mu­nity, a haven for women dur­ing of­ten dark days, where many have stud­ied, learned skills, or sim­ply built ties with neigh­bours.

Its sym­bol is the hum­ming­bird, the tiny lit­tle bird which baf­fles sci­en­tists with its abil­ity to fly for­wards, back­wards, side­ways, up­side down and hover. In the eyes of the cen­tre, that roughly ex­plains the role of women.

In bright sun­shine, the women in the cross-com­mu­nity group are not short of opin­ions as they dis­cuss iden­tity, Brexit, this week­end’s up­com­ing royal wed­ding in Lon­don and what they make of Prince Harry’s wife-to-be, Meghan Markle.

They like her. A glam­orous ac­tor she may be but she’s “nor­mal” and will be “an am­bas­sador” for women: “She’s lovely and I think she is go­ing through a tough time with all her fam­ily stuff,” says Donna Bates (43).

To­mor­row, there will be a wed­ding street party on the Shankill. Tick­ets were “like gold dust”, but Bates got some. Over the past few days she has set about repli­cat­ing old pho­to­graphs of her fam­ily celebrating pre­vi­ous royal wed­dings.

She has searched through the lo­cal 50p shop for ban­ners and flags, while she and her fam­ily de­lib­er­ate over which red, white and blue out­fits they will wear.

Lik­ing for princesses

SWC worker Grainne Magee (43) from Hightown, who iden­ti­fies as Ir­ish but has a love for the late Princess Diana and a lik­ing gen­er­ally for princesses, jokes that the wed­ding is an “ex­cuse for a party”.

“We had a tea party in the Cliftonville [a na­tion­al­ist area] for the queen’s ju­bilee af­ter we got coun­cil fund­ing,” she said. “We are in­de­pen­dent and have our own views. If I want to have a royal party for Prince Harry, I’ll do it.”

Ros­aleen Tolan (66) from the Tal­bot Women’s group in Up­per Spring­field is pleased to see that the Bri­tish royals have em­braced Markle, given that it had pre­vi­ously in­ter­fered in the love lives of Princess Mar­garet and Prince Charles.

“I am glad to see Harry has taken up his mummy’s role and won’t be dic­tated to,” Tolan says, adding that the Amer­i­can ac­tor is be­com­ing part of a priv­i­leged fam­ily but will now face the pres­sure that comes with that.

“She’s not go­ing in with her eyes closed the way we all did,” she says. Laugh­ter erupts from the rest of the women as they sit in the de­light­fully ti­tled “Big Room” with artist Ur­sula Burke (43), orig­i­nally from Tip­per­ary.

Burke is lead­ing a craft class for women to sew hum­ming­birds and rose­buds for a ban­ner to be used on June 10th dur­ing UK-wide pro­ces­sions mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the vote for women.

Tina Con­lon (63) from the Tal­bot group says the ad­di­tion of Markle to the royals is wel­come, but par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for Bri­tain’s black pop­u­la­tion as “maybe it will make them feel a bit more wel­come and in­cluded”.

Loy­al­ist Ar­doyne

Women from na­tion­al­ist and re­pub­li­can ar­eas should not have to de­fend, or ex­plain their in­ter­est in this week­end’s cel­e­bra­tions, she ar­gues: “If Martin McGuin­ness can meet the queen I think we can sit down and watch a wed­ding.” But the royals should “be foot­ing the bill them­selves”.

In agree­ment is Jan­ice Dalzell (54) from Up­per Ar­doyne. She doesn’t feel Bri­tish or Ir­ish but iden­ti­fies as North­ern Ir­ish, and clar­i­fies “it’s loy­al­ist Ar­doyne” when a na­tion­al­ist friend asks where she lives.

The pho­tog­ra­pher sets about get­ting an im­age, as the women ex­change cracks about en­sur­ing that there is a good mix of “Fe­ni­ans and Prods” in the picture.

Eileen Weir has no time for any­one who would use the wed­ding to di­vide, rather than unite: “With cul­tural cel­e­bra­tions no mat­ter what side it is the politi­cians hijack it and make it out to be ‘us and them’ to try to keep the divi­sion.”

“But we cel­e­brate ev­ery­thing here,” says Weir, who works in com­mu­nity cen­tres across north and west Belfast, adding that it is a myth that Catholic and Protes­tant have been mix­ing only since the Belfast Agree­ment in 1998: “It was al­ways hap­pen­ing, just in the past some of it was un­der the radar,” she said.

“Peo­ple ac­cept we all have dif­fer­ent opin­ions about things, we have the free­dom to do that. We thought we were all go­ing to be treated equally but all [it] did was bring Protes­tant and Catholic into the same un­equal so­ci­ety,” she says.

‘‘ I am glad to see Harry has taken up his mummy’s role and won’t be dic­tated to

PHO­TO­GRAPH: COLM LENAGHAN/PACEMAKER

The cross-com­mu­nity group at the Shankill Women’s Cen­tre in Belfast.

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