Belfast Telegraph

Oh crumbs! Meet the woman who bakes bread for peace... and has even taken her flour power to Stormont

Ivan Little joins Breezy Kelly as she warms up the griddle in singer Tommy Sands' kitchen to hear how her recipe for building better community relations has garnered worldwide interest

Breezy Kelly
Breezy Kelly
Breezy Kelly bakes and tells stories to the audience in Tommy Sands' kitchen in Rostrevor
The singer Tommy Sands
A message of peace written in flour
Breezy Kelly
A prayer for bread by Breezy
Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini and Pastor James McConnell

The amiable elfin-like woman making scones and singing songs in Tommy Sands' commodious kitchen overlooking sun-kissed Carlingford Lough reckons baking bread is the perfect recipe for peace.

Breezy Kelly, a colourful Donegal woman with an infectious smile, thinks her great Irish bake-off can play its part in creating a climate for a piece of peace, not just here but everywhere.

Breezy, who hit on her Bake Bread for Peace idea a couple of years ago, has journeyed hundreds of miles around Ireland - including a couple of trips to Stormont - promoting her new vision of flour power and its potential for providing the ingredients for resolving differences.

Breezy has hitch-hiked her way all over Northern Ireland, sometimes with her dog Sheila, thumbing her nose at more conventional forms of transport and she says people here have welcomed her, and her baking, with open arms.

She adds: "In return for a bed for the night, I have encouraged my hosts to invite friends, family and neighbours around to their homes for an evening of baking, singing and storytelling.

"I got a great response."

At her latest stop in Tommy and Catherine Sands' idyllic home in Rostrevor, friends from near and 'farl' gathered to hear and see Breezy going about her peace work in a kitchen with shelves groaning with spice jars and cooking utensils and walls adorned with the tools of Tommy's musical trade.

Breezy, a little slip of a woman with an embroidered hat on her head, blew in with a song or 10 and a treasure trove of stories to encourage her audience to join her in the unusual campaign.

She even had them dancing in the middle of what might have seemed at the outset a rather kooky cookery lesson.

But her philosophy is simple. And few of her guests disagreed with her contention that breaking bread is better than breaking bad.

Breezy, who's from Glenties, Co Donegal, says that nothing beats the smell of bread baking in the oven or on the griddle. A universal truth, she calls it. And a memory that most people have from their childhoods.

She says she was spurred into launching her peace drive after watching a night of relentlessly grim news on the TV.

She explains: "I felt afraid and as I went into the kitchen for tea it suddenly struck me that breaking bread and baking bread are things that people do all over the world."

Breezy set up a Facebook page, was astonished by the reaction from across the globe and she decided to designate October 24 every year as International Bake Bread for Peace Day.

Her mission statement says: "The simple crumbs of an idea, a gesture, have gathered and spread across the world with individuals and communities coming together to promote harmony, inclusion and joy in a tangible way, at a time when there is increasing confusion and conflict in the world.

"This is a statement we can all make, a real gesture of peace during these turbulent times."

Thousands more are backing the baking call every year and Breezy's been given a fair wind from Taiwan to Tallinn and from Amsterdam to Aberdeen.

Breezy loves to quote Bulgarian baker Silvia Nedelcheva who is linked to an organisation called the Bread Houses Network and who said recently that the "smell of freshly baked bread is the aroma of peace".

She also talks up a report from the Journal of Social Psychology that actually pointed to a study by scientists from the University of Southern Brittany in France which said that the smell of baking bread can make people kinder.

No one is holding their breath waiting for war-mongers to swap their guns and bombs for aprons and mixing bowls. But Breezy says her bread mission can plant a seed.

"We can't do anything about what is happening in hotspots like Syria or Afghanistan," she says.

"But peace begins at home and in our communities. We can do something on own doorsteps to repair the awful disconnection. Community spirit and neighbourliness is getting thinner and thinner on the ground. But breaking bread together can make a difference.

"Just look at what happens when someone wants to bring a family closer together. What is always broken apart to achieve that? Bread."

In Rostrevor, Breezy had her audience eating out of her hand as she invited them to help her with the baking or with the entertainment.

One willing participant was Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini, a Muslim cleric and senior fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute.

He hit the headlines last year when he offered to appear as a defence witness in the trial of Pastor James McConnell who was charged and eventually acquitted of charges linked to an anti-Islamic sermon.

Muhammad is an avid supporter of Breezy and a passionate campaigner for peace, but he also showed in Rostrevor that he's an accomplished singer of sean-nos, which are unaccompanied Irish traditional songs.

Muhammad, who has in the recent past joined Pastor McConnell and Catholic priest Father Patrick McCafferty in Rostrevor for Tommy Sands' Music for Healing events, says: "Breezy and I have become very close friends and I was in Ardara in Co Donegal just a few weeks ago to support her at a celebration of bread event in the festival there. She's amazing."

Another 'volunteer' in Rostrevor was Dolores O'Hare, whose contribution to peace-building has been to beat the drum for harmony with Different Drums of Ireland, a group who have brought the music of the bodhran and the Lambeg drum all over the planet.

As Breezy forged on with her baking Dolores played Irish jigs, reels and Orange tunes on the tin whistle.

Breezy insists that any steps, big or small, towards peace are worthwhile.

She illustrates her point by repeating the fable of an elephant asking a humming bird why he was lying on the ground with his legs in the air.

The bird said he'd heard the sky was about to fall in and he wanted to hold it up but the elephant was sceptical about how his tiny limbs could achieve anything.

The bird replied: "If I do my wee bit and everybody else does their wee bit all will be saved."

And that says Breezy is the very essence of what she's preaching for peace in homes and schools across Ireland.

She says some children have been particularly difficult to convince but she says the most difficult boy she encountered mellowed as he sifted flour in front of her saying: "It's like running your hands through a cloud."

She says she was well received at Stormont by politicians.

But she only got to break bread there at her second attempt.

"The first time I went I couldn't get anywhere near the building because I hadn't realised that I needed a sponsor from within the Assembly," Breezy explains.

"But on another occasion Colum Eastwood of the SDLP sponsored me and I met a lot of politicians on the steps and they scoffed the scones."

She describes Northern Ireland as a flagship for peace, adding: "Despite the ups and downs and the disagreements between people at times, they are holding it together.

"People in the north want peace. They experienced war first-hand and peace is foremost in their minds."

Breezy, who is hoping to take her message to America in the not-too-distant future, hasn't had the easiest of lives. She recalls how she sought sanctuary from her "cruel" father in the kitchen of her family home as her mother did the baking.

She adds: "When the drink got my father we would walk around on eggshells. But the one place where I felt secure was in the kitchen with mammy."

She says her mother taught her that there was no mystery to baking and that the most important ingredient was taking time.

Even though she was in the Sands' kitchen for two hours few people noticed the time pass by as Breezy regaled them with songs and anecdotes which ranged from fairies, trees, cows and blind marksmen to the Irish famine and Mother's Day, which she says was originally devised as a peace initiative.

She also shared anti-war poems written by mothers for their sons in conflict zones and she borrowed a song from the Sands Family repertoire called Fresh Bread.

It was written by Colum Sands and his brother Tommy is clearly a fan of Breezy Kelly.

Tommy says: "She's a natural. It's her ordinariness which is extraordinary as she dips into the riches of her past."

The proof of Breezy's pudding in Rostrevor was most definitely in the eating as she passed around her still-warm scones and soda farls straight from the oven and griddle for her audience to sample after her talk.

Not a single morsel was left on any of the plates.

Belfast Telegraph


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