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A thanksgiving shrine in heart of N. Ireland

In the new millennium, Belfast, Northern Ireland, will have something in common with Dallas: a thanksgiving square.

The one-third acre architectural project is to be a place where all sections of the community in Northern Ireland - of any religion (of no religion), of any culture or tradition - can come to give thanks in their own individual way.

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The idea behind Belfast's very own square came from a native, Myrtle Smyth, who had visited the square in Dallas. She thought a shrine to thanksgiving in Northern Ireland would make a major contribution to the region's ongoing reconciliation process between Catholics and Protestants.

"The focal point of Thanksgiving Square is to have a place for hope and thanksgiving, given the recent moves to peace ... a place to take people away from the pain of the past of Northern Ireland and unite them in hope for a better tomorrow," says Glasgow artist Andy Scott.

Mr. Scott and his team members, architect Brian Paul of Hurd Rolland Partnership and landscape architect Paul Morsley of the Derek Lovejoy Partnership, were chosen for the project among stiff Europe-wide competition. Their design is to produce a totally integrated landscape garden and public building - the latter designed to incorporate a beacon.

Belfast's Thanksgiving Square will be similar to the Dallas original in idea and theme. Both sport a garden, a building for meditation and meeting facilities, and a "Thanksgiving Ring."

But the Belfast square differs in design and is bound on one side by the River Logan. The "Thanksgiving Ring" in Dallas is a 14 feet diameter gold-plated band of aluminum set inside a landscaped area. In Belfast the ring will be held aloft by a stainless steel lattice figure of a woman.

The woman beacon will be approximately 20 meters high and illuminated at night to reflect off the river, "providing a strong light source visible across the whole city, reminiscent of Liberty's torch in New York," says Scott, designer of the figure.

People may come on their own to the square, to be quiet and at one with themselves, or come as a group and participate in music, drama, dance, and poetry readings and the general enjoyment of visual arts. The garden and beacon are scheduled to be completed by mid-2000 to coincide with the United Nations Year of Thanksgiving. Owing to slow funding, the building will have to be delayed, but the overall design of the square will allow for this. Total cost will run about $4 million.

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The City of Belfast was chosen because of its exposure: The principal city in Northern Ireland with a third of the population, it is also the main point of travel for residents and the main entry point for visitors to the province.

Ms. Smyth, patron of the Belfast square, says she followed advice 14 years ago from someone in Dallas: "Open the idea of a thanksgiving square in your heart, if you can't open one in your community."

"I opened one up in my heart, and the idea just unfolded," Smyth says.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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