Faith & Reason: When 30ft icicles hang by the wall

Paul Handley considers the formidable Liverpool partnership of Derek Worlock, who died last year, and David Sheppard, who this week announced his retirement.

The link between the Bishop of Liverpool and home maintenance is not a strong one, unless David Sheppard finds himself doing more of it when he retires in October. But it's my home I'm thinking of; and something the Bishop said when he announced his retirement this week.

I mention home maintenance with trepidation, knowing how dull it can be. When I was a teenager, my parents spent many hours deep in conversation with their friends about central heating and loft insulation, interspersed by occasional antiphons on the merits of anaglypta. I counted the minutes till I could slip upstairs with their sons to talk football and look at pictures of naked women. (Just imagine, though, if my parents and their friends had talked about football and naked women: I would have died.)

Now I am a home owner myself, the cupboards upstairs are full of tools, even though I try not to talk about them too much. None of the tools was any use, however, when a damp patch appeared on the wall in the baby's room during the cold spell last month. The cause remained a mystery, until our neighbours reported a 30-foot icicle hanging right down the side of the house.

My older children took me to see it when I got back from work. It was not a thin pointy one, but an uneven, ugly, wide thing. Tom, 12, pulled it, to see if it would move. Suddenly the thing broke off, and huge, heavy blocks of ice smashed down. They missed him by inches.

At the weekend, I leaned out of a top-floor window to discover the cause. An overflow pipe from the water tank was going drip . . . pause . . . drip . . . pause . . . drip. Those lazy, off-hand drops of water could have killed my son.

David Sheppard was talking about the sectarian hatred that existed in Liverpool within living memory. "Don't trust Mrs Murphy: she's a Catholic"; "Don't play with the children next door: they're Jews". When he and Derek Worlock, his Roman Catholic counterpart, arrived in the city, they were both told, "Things have calmed down; don't rock the boat." What existed, however, was not unity and friendliness, but rather what Sheppard calls "polite separate development". Sheppard and Worlock decided not to rock the boat exactly, but to push it towards the shore. The boat has swayed a few times. But, after years of steady pressure, it is now beached.

What was impressive was the quiet, determined way Sheppard and Worlock operated. They ensured that they acted as one: speaking together, campaigning together, even writing together. The only thing they weren't able to do was quit together: Derek Worlock died last year.

This is where the icicle comes in. Irish Catholics have suffered for centuries from lazy, off-hand drips of cruelty at the hands of the English. They have responded, particularly in this century, and so the icicle has stretched across the Irish Sea, to Liverpool in particular.

The easiest solution to an icicle is to wait for a thaw. The problem is, though, that the thaw may be a long time coming; in the meantime, the icicle is damaging the building. Another option is to try to pull it down: quick, but dangerous, as my son discovered. Sheppard and Worlock found a third way - to apply a gentle but steady warmth.

I used to think that the hatred and fear expressed by whole communities was simply individual hatred and fear duplicated. I now see it as almost a different element. Whereas individual animosity can melt quite quickly when warmed by repeated contact with the object of that hostility, group hatred works as a sort of permafrost. When enough people believe the same thing and act in the same way, those beliefs and that behaviour become part of a community's story, to be retold to successive generations.

In such circumstances, to wait for a thaw is vain; to attempt force is dangerous, as the British government found 25 years ago this week. The only solution that I can see working is when the true leaders of opposing communities, leaders who have the respect of their own people, agree to work together towards unity and peace. To be successful, they need a partner of similar stature whom they can trust; they need persistence; and they need time.

Because of Sheppard's surprising lack of preferment, he and Worlock had that last, precious element. Few other leaders do. Mandela and de Klerk did; Arafat and Begin didn't. Elsewhere, no partnership exists. Sheppard and Worlock have pulled a city together. But who is there in Ireland who will do such a thing?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy