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Road notes: Giant footsteps of faith in Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Blogging live from Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Giants once roamed here.

Sure, geologists will tell you that the interlocking stones that comprise the Giant’s Causeway are nothing more than columns of something called basalt, formed millions of years ago by a volcanic eruption. But the locals here — or at least the guide on my audio tour — will tell you that the stones were put here by an Irish giant, Finn McCool, as he built a bridge to Scotland.
I took a break from reporting this afternoon to view the Causeway, which is just a few miles from the home of Bert Ritchie, minister for the Coleraine Church of Christ. He and his wife are my gracious hosts as I visit Northern Ireland. This morning I worshiped with about 20 members of the congregation.


A close-up look a the nearly uniform basalt columns that comprise the Giant’s Causeway on the coast of Northern Ireland (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

I arranged a stopover here on my way back from Benin in West Africa, where I attended graduation at the Center for Bible Training.
“I have to change planes in Europe anyway, so why not stop there for a few days?” I thought. I try to do that when I can, although it’s much tougher — and pricier — than it should be, working it out with the airlines. This time I got a little creative with the booking. Lord willing, I’ll make it home later this week.

Volunteers begin the set-up for Camp Shamrock near Newcastle, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Getting here via London’s Heathrow airport proved more challenging than I expected. There are extra layers of security in traveling to Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and the focal point of years of conflict between supporters of the British crown, mostly Protestant, and those of a Catholic background, desiring unification with the Republic of Ireland — south and west of here.
“The Troubles” is a common name for the conflict, which has eased since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
There’s a lot of distrust — generations of it, in fact — to overcome. Ritchie has played a vital role in faith-based reconciliation. (Read our 2006 coverage of his meeting with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. He’s also met with the president of Ireland.) This morning members of the Coleraine church told me that Ritchie’s involvement as a peacemaker benefits the church and the people of Northern Ireland.
Camp Shamrock plays a part in that reconciliation. For more than 40 years, church members have hosted the summer youth camp in Newcastle, about two hours south of here. We traveled there yesterday to help with the setup. The boy’s camp starts tomorrow, July 8, and the girl’s camp a week later, July 15.
In the next two weeks, a generation born after the Good Friday Agreement will hike, play soccer and get to know each other. By the time they figure out what their parents believe — religiously and politically — “it’s too late, they’re friends,” Ritchie says.
It takes big faith to think that a little Church of Christ can play a role in such a monumental task — bringing healing to a place that has endured years of terrorism and conflict.
But this is, after all, a land of giants.

Tents are set up and waiting for campers at Camp Shamrock. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Another view of the Giant’s Causeway (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

  • Feedback
    I worked at Camp Shamrock 38 years ago when my wife and I were involved in church planting in Ireland. We remember hearing the car bombs explode in Belfast from the campsite. It is good to see the impact that this camp and the efforts of men like Bert Ritchie have had on the peace process.
    Joe Bright
    July, 10 2013

    All the photos bring back such good memories of my time in N. Ireland in summers of 75-76 with Bertie as my gracious host just before he married. Camp Shamrock was very interesting and exciting for the kids and us adults that attended. Good to see it’s going strong
    bill visalli
    July, 10 2013

    Many of us Scott-Irish folk have strong roots in Northern Ireland, once known as Ulster Plantation. One of my family patriarchs was one John “Justice Gaston.” His brother was one Hugh Gaston who was once the rector at Ballywillan Presbyterian in County Antrim. He wrote what was the most famous Presbyterian book of his day in 1763, “A Scripture Account of the Faith and Practice of Christians.” It’s a unique systematic theology / topical Bible combination. Hugh came to America just 3 years after publication and both he and his brother are buried an hour south of Charlotte, NC in “Burnt Meeting House Cemetery” in Chester County S.C.
    On a more “close to home” note, Thomas Campbell was also a Presbyterian rector in Ulster Plantation. It’s a small world. Glad you were able to go!
    Russ McCullough
    July, 10 2013

    I once been to camp shamrock a few years ago and l was suppose to be there this year but l could not get a visa to go over. Its the best Christian camp. Wish the best to all those who are at camp this year
    Fred Abraham, Zimbabwe
    July, 11 2013

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