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Well-known Northern Ireland faces share their plans for Easter with a difference

As we prepare to mark this holiday weekend in lockdown, Stephanie Bell asks some of our best known faces how their plans for catching up with family and attending church have changed

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In St Anne's Cathedral

In St Anne's Cathedral

Noel Thompson

Noel Thompson

Virtual church: Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde

Virtual church: Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde

Staying positive: Noel Thompson (also left) with his wife Sharon

Staying positive: Noel Thompson (also left) with his wife Sharon

Faith matters: Carla Lockhart MP

Faith matters: Carla Lockhart MP

With son Charlie

With son Charlie

Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr. Brian D'Arcy

In St Anne's Cathedral

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, has been conducting Easter services on a live stream over the internet from his home throughout the week.

For him and his fellow clergymen, it is certainly proving to be a very different Holy Week but one which they are striving to make as special as possible for their congregations with online technology.

Rev Forde is currently on lockdown at home with his wife Fiona, a paediatric nurse, and his daughter Amy, a dietician with the Belfast Trust, her husband David Knox, a school teacher, and their daughter Eloise who is soon to turn two.

Rev Forde has another daughter, Rachel, who works in the health service in Dublin as an audiologist, and a son, Michael, a primary school teacher in Lancaster. All the family were due home to celebrate Easter together.

As plans changed dramatically with coronavirus, Rev Forde says he has been getting to grips with technology to keep services going during this very special week for St Anne's Cathedral.

"It has been very busy with services each day live-streamed from different rooms in my home.

"We will still have our Good Friday service, our Holy Saturday service and our Easter Day service on Sunday which will all be streamed on our website.

"I have just finished recording the service for Easter Day and grappling with technology to do it at home.

"We have a number of people doing readings and everyone recorded their part from home, and we have a member of our wider congregation in Portsmouth who is putting it all together for us.

"It is an entirely different experience trying to get on top of the different aspects of the internet and technology which have made it possible for us to have our services.

"Throughout Holy Week, each day we have had live services and it has worked three days out of four as the technology didn't connect on day four but we will be putting that online for people to watch.

"A large part of our congregation in the Cathedral would be older people who aren't necessarily confident around technology and the internet, so this week I have sent them an Easter letter and a copy of the order of service."

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Virtual church: Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde

Virtual church: Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde

Virtual church: Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde

Throughout the week, as worship has continued through the internet, Rev Forde and his congregation have had special prayers for people working on the frontline to combat Covid-19.

He explains: "We are very much holding in our prayers all the people in the intensive care wards, patients and doctors and medics as well as frontline carers, shopkeepers and people working to keep our distribution network going."

At home, he and his family will be sitting down to Easter Sunday dinner - with some members missing.

However, once again the internet will help get everyone together.

"This year we had planned all to be together but will be tuning into a video message to have a virtual Easter egg which Eloise will happily hold to the camera for the others to take," he says.

Veteran broadcast journalist Noel Thompson (64), officially retires from BBC Radio Ulster today, however, with some annual leave outstanding, he hung up his microphone last week.

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Noel Thompson

Noel Thompson

Noel Thompson


He has started his retirement under the most unusual of circumstances, in lockdown with his wife Sharon (64), a yoga teacher.

The couple have two sons, Matthew (33) and Patrick (28), who both live in London, and family scattered across the UK and in the West Indies who traditionally they spend the Easter weekend with.

Noel is also a member of the Belfast Philharmonic Choir, which was due to appear in the Ulster Hall today for a special Good Friday concert with the Ulster Orchestra.

"The biggest disappointment for me is not getting to do our Good Friday concert in the Ulster Hall," he says. "For months we have been learning Bach - Mass in B minor, which is a very long and difficult piece and we would have been rehearsing all of this week, so, sadly, that has left a big gap.

"Normally if family didn't come to us at Easter we would go to them. I have a brother in the West Indies and one in London and Bristol, and Sharon has a brother in Manchester and we always try to get as much of the extended family together at Easter as we can.

"This year it will be just the two of us.

"I have just taken delivery of a big load of tree bark which I will probably spend Easter Sunday putting on the flower beds.

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Staying positive: Noel Thompson (also left) with his wife Sharon

Staying positive: Noel Thompson (also left) with his wife Sharon

Staying positive: Noel Thompson (also left) with his wife Sharon

"This enforced isolation has been good for the garden and of course we feel really fortunate that we have a garden."

Noel plans to spend time with his family over the weekend via online video calls and he and Sharon will go ahead with a traditional Easter Sunday roast dinner as usual, even though there will only be the two of them to enjoy it.

Overall though, he says he and Sharon have been coping well with being confined to home.

"We've been using Zoom a lot to talk to family and friends and have probably talked to them more than we usually do," he says.

"When you watch the news you think of all the people whose lives are being turned on their heads, the NHS heroes and all the other people having to work in very trying circumstances and your heart goes out to them all.

"I have felt a bit guilty not doing something and would like to volunteer in some capacity so I am going to be looking at that after Easter."

Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart from south Tyrone will be spending a very different Easter this year away from her wider family circle. Carla (35), who is married to Rodney Condell, a quantity surveyor and part-time farmer, has one son, Charlie, who is 11 months old.

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Faith matters: Carla Lockhart MP

Faith matters: Carla Lockhart MP

Faith matters: Carla Lockhart MP


With Parliament in recess for the holidays, she should be off work but because of the impact on her constituents of the current crisis she plans to work through most of the weekend.

"Every year on Easter Monday we head to the north coast with my mum and dad and brother and sister and their families and of course this will be a 'no no' this year.

"We have all had to change our habits and stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS.

"I would urge everyone to listen to the message and appeals to stay at home, and not be tempted by the good weather to head out.

"It will be a very different Easter for me as I will probably spend a good part of it working through the deluge of calls from people whose businesses have been affected and individuals who have been impacted by Covid-19.

"I will also be making sure I get to enjoy some family time with Charlie and Rodney."

A devout Christian and member of the Free Presbyterian Church, Carla says she will be taking time to listen to her church services on Easter Sunday morning and evening.

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With son Charlie

With son Charlie

With son Charlie

"Easter is a very special time in the Christian calendar as we reflect on the Cross and the sacrifice the Lord made for us all," she says. "I will take time personally to reflect and if this situation has taught us anything, it is that we can do things differently.

"I haven't been to church for three or four weeks but I have been able to stay in touch with my Christian family online and get a blessing from that.

"Our minister, Rev Peter McIntyre, has been good in sending us messages that he would normally be giving in a church setting."

With the sun set to shine this Easter weekend, the family will also be spending time outdoors on their farm.

Carla adds: "It is a great time of the year for farming as the cows are calving and the lambs are being born, so on Easter Monday and Tuesday I am sure our time will be filled with activities on the farm."

Well-known Catholic priest and broadcaster Fr Brian D'Arcy OBE, who is based in Crossgar, urges people to use this very different Easter to focus on others and on the goodness around them.

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Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr. Brian D'Arcy


Fr D'Arcy plans to hold a small Mass online for 20 people who have recently been bereaved, to bring them some comfort on Easter Sunday.

"The whole essence of Easter is desolation and living without hope," he says. "Jesus hung on the Cross between two thieves and in the eyes of those who followed him he was the greatest failure ever and they were utterly without hope.

"We do need to have hope at this time. We keep saying we will get through this and what do we mean by that? How will we get through it - will we be alive, will our loved ones survive it?

"I think we need to be good to ourselves as far as possible and get into nature and look at the flowers and the greenery and enjoy what is good in our lives and not talk about the bad. "We can use technology such as Zoom and Skype and Whatsapp to keep in touch with our families and make the best of what we have.

"Spend this Easter doing things we enjoy and just keep believing that we do have hope and we have a future.

"It is not impossible to get through this and if we can all get out of our own selfishness and focus on the decency and goodness of human nature, it will be a different Easter - but it will be our first real Easter when instead of commercial things like cards and eggs we will enjoy peace with ourselves."

While he is continuing his radio broadcasts, Fr D'Arcy has been spending most of his time on lockdown ministering to the families of bereaved people via modern technology.

He adds: "In the church this Easter our services, Masses, confessions and sermons have all gone. There are four of us in Crossgar and we will have a special Easter service together. We can manage to pray in the church without being too close to each other.

"Most of my time now is ministering to the sick and dying, and saying prayers on the phone, through Zoom.

"It is not just people with Covid-19 but people are still getting sick and dying of other illnesses and all death is the same and just as lonely for people who can't be with their loved ones in hospital."

Belfast Telegraph