Currently located in Dublin, Ireland, Ron Campbell and his partner Vicky have been members of the UU Congregation of Princeton for over 34 years. Below, Ron shares their moving experiences with the Dublin Unitarian Church.
I have thought of myself as a Unitarian Universalist (“UU”) ever since my college days over 50 years ago. In fact, I entered through the Unitarian door prior to our 1961 merger with Universalism. My wife Vicky and I were married in a Unitarian Church over 48 years ago in Detroit, MI.
Thus it was that, when I was offered an assignment from my company to work in Dublin, Ireland, we were delighted to discover the Dublin Unitarian Church (“DUC”) on St. Stephen’s Green in the City Centre of Dublin. We were warmly welcomed when we went there the first time last November. Especially inspiring was witnessing the DUC’s strong and active leadership in the greater Dublin community, working to heal the wounds and scars of the decades-long religious and political difficulties, commonly referred to as “The Troubles.”
Not only were we welcomed, we immediately had the opportunity to attend a seminar recognizing Francis Hutcheson, a long overlooked native son of Ireland, who had spent several influential years in Dublin at the start of his prominent early 18th century career. This seminar was organized in large part by members of the DUC and involved the unveiling of a plaque honoring Hutcheson on a historic old church. Hutcheson seems to have been overlooked as one of our key pre-Unitarian forbearers, who had espoused and strongly influenced the free thinking egalitarian principles of our 18th century Unitarian founders and spiritual ancestors.
The organizers used the occasion to invite and include about twenty ex-prisoners from “the other side of the border to the North.” Members from opposite sides of “The Troubles,” some of whom have spent 20 years in prison, came down from the Belfast area to attend the event. We learned afterwards that they came here on the same bus to participate in this process of reconciliation. A photo was taken of them, all standing together with their warm smiling faces, standing in apparent celebratory unity. Later that evening, my wife and I were honored to be invited to join everyone in an Irish pub, together with the ex-prisoners, to listen to some traditional Irish music, with contributions from a mixture of highly talented musicians, and, of course, drinking a pint or two of Guinness.
A couple of days ago, the DUC had its 13th annual Good Friday reading of the names, alphabetically, one-by-one, to commemorate all those killed in “The Troubles,” now a total of about 3,500 names. It takes about 3 hours to read all the names. Different congregants take turns reading the names. No commentary, just the names. If two names are the same, the year, and the month, if needed, of each death is given, making certain that the inherent worth and dignity of every person whose life was cut short by “The Troubles” is truly commemorated individually.
Being of Northern Ireland descent, I listened closely as they approached the part of the alphabet when the name of a Campbell might be read, wondering whether a single Campbell name would be included. I counted the names of 27 Campbell’s. That’s almost 1% of the victims. Some are likely not-so-distant relatives. As I sat there, I wondered if I could have read through all those Campbell names, without stumbling. The mere thought brought tears to my eyes. In that moment, I felt deeply connected to all 3,500 people killed. I also felt deeply connected with this Emerald Isle, whichever side of the line I may come from. In addition, I felt privileged to be sitting in that pew, connected with the DUC.
The Dublin Unitarian Church is walking the talk of our common traditions, boldly, simply, and powerfully. We are proud to be a witness to the DUC’s active leadership in promoting love, acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness.
As one final note, the DUC is now celebrating the 150th anniversary of the building of their traditional Christian church structure, with its large and magnificent stained glass windows, standing as a historic site right on St. Stephen’s Green in the City Centre of Dublin. They are also now heavily engaged in the start of their ambitious 250,000 Euro restoration of their impressive organ.
I am writing this with the hopes that others of our UU or Unitarian backgrounds, from the US or elsewhere in the world, will be motivated to make a point of including the DUC in their itinerary when they come to Ireland, and certainly if they come to Dublin. I’m sure our many new Irish friends, the Minister Bridget Spain, Chairman Rory, Josh, Fergus, Mary, Tony, Jennifer, Aubrey, Ray, Caroline, Marcus, Dorene, Jane, Allison, Betty, and many others, would warmly welcome you as they have Vicky and me.