Irish poet to visit St. Stephen for winter festival

Trevor Brady photo Irish poet, storyteller, and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama will be in St. Stephen at the end of January for a winter event being put on by St. Stephen’s University. BBC Journalist William Crawley called Ó Tuama, “the best public speaker I know.”

St. Stephen – At the end of January, a renowned Irish poet and conflict resolution mediator, Pádraig Ó Tuama, will be in St. Stephen as part of a winter festival being organized by St. Stephen’s University (SSU).

Matt Balcarras, the new Associate Dean of SSU said that he became interested in meeting Ó Tuama when he read one of his books while vacationing on Vancouver Island.

“Originally I was thinking I would go to the U.K. and attend one of his writing workshops, or one of the cool retreats he puts on,” he said.

But after emailing back and forth a few times, Balcarras said that his wife, Deanna, suggested that he invite the poet to St. Stephen. Ó Tuama accepted the invitation, and Balcarras thought it was the perfect opportunity to begin a new festival in southwestern NB centered on art and reconciliation.

The festival will be broken up into four sessions on Friday, January 31, and Saturday, February 1. The first session, at 7 p.m. on January 31, will feature Ó Tuama and give participants the opportunity to engage with him in an attempt to imagine what reconciliation might mean in the context of our community’s colonial roots. The session will focus on reconciliation, trauma, arts and religion in the context of post-colonial conflict resolution.

From 2014 to 2019 Ó Tuama was the leader of the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation community. A profoundly engaging public speaker, Ó Tuama has worked with groups to explore story, conflict, their relationship with religion and argument, and violence. Using poetry, group discussion and lectures, his work is marked both by lyricism and pragmatism, and includes a practice of evoking stories and participation from attendees.

The second session, called “a winter’s journey” will take place on Saturday, February 2 at 10 a.m. This session is intended to be an opportunity, in the depths of winter, to encounter and contemplate an experience of this bleak and beautiful season, both literally and metaphorically. Participants will make a “winter’s journey” through guided reflection and mindful movement, along with some creative, experiential options for responding to and exploring the challenges and invitations met along the way.

The third session is open to the public, but will be of special interest to professionals or students who work with or study victims of trauma. Starting on Saturday at 1 p.m. it will take place over three hours in the Red Room of Park Hall, and is composed of two parts led by two separate facilitators.

In the first part “Deconstructing the Victim-Only Identity: Creating safety, inviting agency and facilitating justice with those who have harmed and those who have been harmed” will be led by SSU alumni and current Bridges Institute and Dalhousie University staff Leland Maerz.

Drawing insight from theory and using examples from front line work, this presentation will address the challenges that victims, perpetrators and community workers have in navigating the effects of trauma to create safety, invite agency, repair harms and facilitate justice.

In the second part of this session, Dr. Walter Thiessen, will guide an exploration of the wide diversity of ways in which an experience of compassion can be combined with the recalled experience of trauma in order to re-integrate our embodied relationship to reality. In addition to teaching at SSU, Thiessen has had a counselling clinic in St. Stephen since 1994.

Finally, the fourth session, participants will hear from storytellers and musicians, both local and international, celebrating and reflecting on the theme of ‘finding a home.’ Starting with an hour of live storytelling by Ó Tuama and Margaret Anne Smith, followed by a brief break and then two hours of music, by Jake Rose, Hayden Wiebe, Brent Mason, and Colourful Language.

For more information on the sessions, and their locations, check out the guide at