Ireland is an island separated by culture, politics, and religion that has been at war with itself for eight centuries. Since 1921, there have been two political units:
The REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: an independent nation, predominantly native Irish and Catholic and mostly peaceful.
NORTHERN IRELAND: six counties of the province of Ulster, located in the northeast corner of the island, and still a part of the United Kingdom. It is here that the polarization of the two factions comes most sharply into focus in the form of politically directed violence, tension, and self-isolation by cultural and religious communities.
Catholic vs. Protestant
The terms “Catholic” and “Protestant,” used in the context of Northern Ireland, designate sides of a political conflict telescoped into religious terms rather than doctrinal controversy within the Christian faith.
CATHOLIC there designates one who is of the indigenous Irish population. CATHOLIC refers to a member of a large minority once discriminated against in housing, employment, and opportunity. CATHOLIC means wishing to preserve the ancient Irish heritage and to unite Ireland outside the United Kingdom.
PROTESTANT refers to those who, though their families may have lived in Ireland for centuries, are labeled foreigners, loyal to their British roots. PROTESTANT refers to a member of the former ruling class, fearful of what the loss of their majority might mean. PROTESTANT means those who seek to preserve their ethos by keeping Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom.
Exploitation of old animosities by militant radicals has so complicated the socio-political scene that there was little hope of any just solution until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The “Catholic/Protestant” line is still such a barrier that “cross community” contacts are quite limited. Despite the hopes raised by the 1998 agreement, there is no real political agreement, and tensions remain high. Violence is still regarded as a political tool by extremists on both sides. Acceptance of diversity and real peace have yet to come to Northern Ireland. The power-sharing government which came out of the 1998 agreement barely continues now, and it could fail at any time.
The teens who come from Northern Ireland as a part of the Ulster Project are still from sub-communities where isolation and separation from “the others” is normal. In general, teenagers still do not make friends with those of a differing Christian tradition, except through such cross-community programs as the Ulster Project.
Clearly, a need exists for the fostering of tolerance, understanding, and friendship between these groups.
It is from this need the Ulster Project was formed.
Following an extended pastoral exchange with a clergyman in Manchester, Connecticut, Father Kerry Waterstone, a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest, received a request from two congregations in that city asking him to formulate a plan in an effort to help ease the tensions in Northern Ireland. After the experience of his own family in America, Canon Waterstone felt that the attitudes of teens from Northern Ireland might be changed. If they could see and experience the way Americans have learned to live together in their “melting pot” society, they might influence the future in Northern Ireland.
After obtaining approval from church leaders, Canon Waterstone traveled into Northern Ireland to secure the cooperation of clergy willing to help in the implementation of his plan. Forming the original guidelines for the Project, he focused on the prejudices and stereotypes, which are the root cause of the bitter strife labeled “Catholic/Protestant”. Nationally, the Project began in the United States in 1975. By 2003, Ulster Project International will have grown to 28 active American host communities paired with 8 Northern Ireland communities. Since 1975, over 6100 teens from Northern Ireland have participated in the various Ulster Project programs.
Many people in the United States share a strong Protestant or Catholic heritage. Our mission is to do something actively to help heal the wounds in Northern Ireland. The people there are both weary and isolated. There now seems to be a glimmer of hope, although the cease fires are fragile. We offer one idea which, with time, determination, faith, and God’s providence, will work.
There are few times when an individual, a family, or a parish, can be a true agent for peace in a seemingly endless international conflict. In this instance, however, churches and people of this area, acting with good will, can make a difference in helping to convert the limited suspension of warfare to a real peace.
The Ulster Project International, and participating city Projects, is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) organization.
1. To promote reconciliation between Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants by fostering tolerance, understanding, and friendship among teenage future leaders;
2. To present a program that brings Northern Irish teens of differing Christian faiths together in a strife-free atmosphere that emphasizes acceptance of all people, regardless of creed;
3. To educate and encourage persons, particularly supporters, committee members, and American Host Families, to appreciate their roles as peacemakers and mediators and to understand the purposes of Ulster Project;
4. To encourage Northern Irish leaders and clergy involved in the program to continue to foster the spirit of Ulster Project among the Northern Irish participants following each program;
5. To promote a spirit of community and commitment among American Ulster Project participants.
Ulster Project Cincinnati has hosted teens from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, since 1989. The teens come for the month of July and live with host teens and their families; Enniskillen teens are paired with Cincinnati host teens of the same sex and age. The idea is that they learn to appreciate and respect one another’s differences here on neutral ground. During the month, all of the teens (both Northern Irish and American) participate daily in a variety of service projects, social activities, and discussion groups. Learn more in Hosting.
Before moving to Cincinnati, Marybeth Kantner had been involved with the Milwaukee Project (1979-83) and DuPage Project (1983-86). With the help of Crestview Presbyterian Church, Marybeth contacted the Waterstones and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. In 1987 an Ulster Project International conference was held in Massillon, Ohio, where Marybeth met with fellow Cincinnatians Dan and Chris Bissmeyer (formerly of the Lafayette, Louisiana Project) and Dave McHenry. Meetings were then held with the Waterstones in Cincinnati at the Archdiocese, Presbytery offices and local churches.
The first Ulster Project Cincinnati went exceptionally well in 1989, and fine-tuning has taken place each year since. Marybeth continues to be a benefactor of the Project.