connect 2018 • 19 Growing up, my family’s heritage was never discussed, so what a surprise recently when my older sister shared that one of the things our grandfather was known for was his repeated and fervent declara- tion that he was Irish. It was news to me. Does it explain my almost lifelong passion for peacemaking in Northern Ireland? Who can say? In 1971, as a teenager growing up in south Arkan- sas, I came across a newspaper article detailing the ongoing violence in Belfast and surrounding areas. My reaction was swift and visceral. I was desperate to pack a bag, fly over and help in any way I could. In reality, I knew that wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t imagine that it ever would. So at 17, I began to pray for peace, thinking that would be my sole contribu- tion toward reconciliation in a country with which I suddenly felt an inexplicable connection. Decades passed, and in my 40s, as the new Direc- tor of Youth at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, our senior pastor, Bill Carl, asked, “If you could lead our youth anywhere in the world to make a difference, where would you take them?” I sat bolt upright in my chair and without hesitating blurted out, “Northern Ireland!” He smiled and suggested I explore that notion. From that conversation in 1996, doors gradu- ally began to open which would give me and a community of others repeated opportunities to support the work of reconciliation. It began in ear- nest the year I was introduced to Netta Blanchard, who was then Director of The Ireland Funds Texas chapter. To this day, I consider her my Irish faerie godmother. Netta introduced me to Jean Kelly, founder and director of Speedwell, an environmen- tal education program teaching respect for each other and our world to children from all back- grounds in Northern Ireland. We remain Anam Cara, or soul friends, to this day. Anam Cara: Soul Friends in Northern Ireland BY CA M I L L A E L L I S BA L L A R D