Northern Ireland

Our connection with Northern Ireland started we a made-for-television movie called “Children in the Crossfire.” We watched it and wished we could be part of it. It was about children in Northern Ireland and a program started by Vincent Laherty called “Children’s Committee 10” that aimed to change attitudes among children by bringing children to America for the summer to stay in homes here in pairs — one Catholic and one Protestant — to get to know one another in a non-threatening environment. A few weeks later, there was an article in the Houston Post about a woman named Elinor Ward, who was trying to raise funds to get a group of children here in Houston through Children’s Committee 10. I called her to volunteer to host two children. Each family had to raise the funds themselves for hosting the children. Emerson Unitarian Church had fundraisers for us and raised all of the money we needed. The children assigned to us were Margaret Moore and Stephen Rush. We began corresponding with them and their families. Stephen’s mother, Veronica, and I became friends very quickly by mail. We thoroughly enjoyed that summer with Stephen and Margaret. We even found ourselves with two more  — Carmel McKinley and Helen Gregg. They were hosted by a family who lived nearby, but the family did not have much planned for them. The girls were not having much fun. So we started having them come places with us. They were lovely girls and we were so glad to get to know them, and later their families, too. It was a dazzling, life-changing summer for all of us.

Participating in the Children’s Committee 10 program was a wonderful experience, but as so often happens, I could see ways that it could be better done. Elinor Ward had the same idea. We got together and discussed this and decided to form a separate group for essentially the same purpose. We named it Shamrocks and Bluebonnets. I traveled to Northern Ireland in November 1985 to meet with a Presbyterian minister and a Catholic priest  — Rev. Ruth Patterson and Fr. John O’Donovan — who had agreed to work with our group. I stayed with the Rush family, whose hospitality can never be repaid. They, especially Veronica, were amazing. I was introduced to the joys of tea and that joy has become a passion over the last 19 years. I was astonished being there and waking up to soldiers aiming rifles right outside my bedroom window and looking into the kitchen window. Because of car bombs, cars are not allowed downtown, so everyone walks into downtown and every person must go through checkpoints where they are frisked. So much of “normal” there, in terms of military occupation and the constant threat of terrorism, was foreign to me. Still, I fell in love with the place and to this day, no land has ever felt so much like home to me. In the spring of 1986, I returned to Northern Ireland and this time, Tom, Danny, Kendra, Colin, and Sean came with me. We spent Easter in Belfast. We met the children who had been selected by the clergy to come to Texas. I met with each of the children in their homes. The hospitality was generous. Leaving Northern Ireland was so difficult, but I knew I would be returning and that was a comfort. Now its been 18 years and I have not returned. The pain of that sometimes squeezes my heart because I long to return.