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  • We drive into Belfast.

    For someone who comes from Ireland, as I do, it is impossible to hear the name Belfast and not make an immediate stomach-churning association with the theatre of carnage and grief, euphemistically know as "the Troubles", which occured in Nothern Ireland over a period of thirty years, and which was a given constant during my formative years growing up in Ireland.
    An 'eye-for-an-eye' war between Protestants who wished to remain loyal to the British crown, and Nationalist Catholics who wished to create a 'united' Ireland.

    It is one reason I choose no longer to 'follow' any particular religion. I seek inspiration in the mindfulness teachings of the Vietnamese zen Bhuddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh (also known as Thay, meaning teacher).
    Thay's teachings, unlike my Irish Catholic upbringing, can sometimes feel like a picnic.

    So we drive into Belfast.
    But this is another Belfast, in another time, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
    A quiet and peaceful, if not sleepy town the morning we arrive here. Belfast exudes Old World charm, with beautiful old red-bricked buildings cascading like domino stones along the steep hill towards the harbour. It seems to be a haven for artists and artisans alike, judging by the many galleries and crafts shops along the main thoroughfare.

    'Please be seated' gets us smiling. This is a combination of Public art and public furniture; functional sculpture in the form of seats and benches placed along Belfast's streets, created by local artists; humouristic with an unusual combination of materials.

    And then we meet this old couple with benevolently smiling faces. A woodsman and his wife, got up in their arboreal attire. They have an inward gaze and exude the calm and wisdom of ancient forests.
    Ron Cowan, a local sculptor, is their creator. He carves old wooden beams, and tree trunks. His sculptures capture glimpses of the human spirit, each one as unique as a portrait.
    In Belfast harbour is another of his works called 'The Long Breath'; seven carved trees/beams which stand as sentinels guarding the harbour. Twice a day they are completely sunmerged by the incoming Atlantic tide.
    Looking at Cowan's sculptures one becomes aware that he too has 'the long breath'; the patience and love and dedication and calm needed to nurture a relationship of understanding and dialogue with each work.

    Having grown up in Ireland, with it's history of violence, I imagine too, that a 'long breath', and the qualities of love, patience, dedication and calm also need to be brought to the negotiation-table when attempting to carve a lasting dialogue of understanding and peace between conflicting communities, where ever they may be.


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    Here are other works by Ron Cowan
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