Members of the Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast lost their practice home on 3 October after a fire destroyed the Old Cathedral Buildings in the city center.
The fire broke out just after 5:30 a.m. and took more than 50 firefighters to finally douse. The Zen community was just one of several groups using space in the old buildings. An 18-year-old man found at the scene has been charged with burglary and arson.
Myogan Djinn Gallagher, resident priest and teacher at the Black Mountain Zen Centre, said that everything in the building had been destroyed. “We were situated on the first floor above the café,” Gallagher said. “The damage seems to have devastated our two rooms. A fire officer told me there was nothing left in our room.
“I could see the windows were broken and I googled the temperature that destroys glass and it is pretty much off the charts. Most of what we had in the room were items like fabric, paper, meditation cushions, wooden stools, bells, and statues. None of that would have stood a chance. It was a really lovely space. Part of our mission was creating a space of refuge and calm for people in Belfast. It is a devastating loss.” (Belfast Media)
Belfast councilor Carl Whyte was at the scene of the fire the following morning. “The fire at the Old Cathedral Building has caused significant disruption in Belfast . . . as firefighters tackle the blaze,” he said. “My thoughts are with the many businesses and organizations who use office space in the building and those in the surrounding area who have been impacted by the fire.” (Belfast Media)
The tenants of the building said that the community response had been overwhelming, with businesses and individuals offering space and help to those affected. Other tenants included a violin repairman, a café, a hairdresser, and a garment alterations business.
Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District manager Damien Corr assisted in coordinating efforts to help those devastated by the fire: “One side-effect of this is to see all the other creative industries—like the [Metropolitan Arts Centre] and the Circus School and private businesses . . . offering space immediately. Everybody is rallying around to help.” (BBC News)
Corr added that they hoped to place the businesses and organizations in new premises near the building as soon as possible. “We want to keep these people in the Cathedral Quarter. The creativity and the art is the heart of what we do and we want to keep it here.” (BBC)
Black Mountain Zen Centre, which practices Soto Zen in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, will return to online offerings for the time being, a format that carried them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gallagher noted: “During lockdown, we kept the space and created an online presence. We had meetings and talks every day to keep things going. We only re-opened in person in July. We still have online to fall back on.” She continued: “This was a project for Belfast. I came here from California nearly six years ago to try and teach people how meditation can help with PTSD, anxiety, addiction, and mental health issues.” (Belfast Media)
The Black Mountain Zen Centre was founded by Ryushin Paul Haller, an authorized teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and a former abbot of San Francisco Zen Center.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to support Black Mountain Zen Centre.
Black Mountain Zen Centre
Buddhists without a home as Zen Centre goes up in smoke (Belfast Media)
WATCH: Fire rips through historic city centre building (Belfast Media)
Belfast Cathedral Quarter fire: Man charged with arson over blaze (BBC News)
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