Monday, July 18, 2011

Northern Ireland

Our class trip to Northern Ireland was really interesting. We stayed at a hotel in Belfast City Centre and did different tours every day. Belfast has a completely different vibe than Dublin, and the impacts of “The Troubles” and the tension between Protestants and Catholics are still very prominent. Beginning in the 1960’s, The Troubles came about due to tension between Catholic Nationalists who wished to be part of the Republic of Ireland, and Protestant Unionists who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. The tension of the two cultural identities led to many problems in the North. The violent sectarian conflicts between these two ethnic groups continued until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in which the right of self-determination and the recognition of the birthright of all people to identify and themselves and be accepted as British or Irish was established. Although this brought about a ceasefire, the culture of Northern Ireland is still very divided. 
Belfast City Hall

The first day in Belfast we took a tour of different political murals and we walked along the “Peace Wall” which separates the Irish Nationalists and the British Unionists. The peace wall is covered with graffiti written by people from all over the world who also wish for peace in Northern Ireland. I’ve never seen a city like Belfast before; the division between the two groups is very prevalent and affects everyday life. Even some of the pubs have a similar kind of peace line in which one side of the building an “Ethno-British” pub and one is an “Ethno-Irish” pub and it is clear that the people in these different pubs do not mix, even though they are literally one doorway away.
Bobby Sands mural

Graffiti on the peace wall
Peace Wall

 On a happier note, later that day we went to the dockyards where Titanic was built. We got to walk through the rooms in which the architects of the Titanic drew the blue prints, and we also stood in the room where they made the decision to not put enough lifeboats on board. It was a tad bit eerie, but nonetheless was really cool. Our tour guide made it fun and he pretty much quoted the movie Titanic word for word verbatim. He also made sure that we knew the old Belfast saying, “She was fine when she left us” and he made it clear that it was not their fault that she sank.   

Building where they designed the Titanic

The second day of our trip was spent in Derry, or Londonderry depending on whom you ask. Derry was an important city during The Troubles and was home to the Battle of the Bogside, which was a violent riot that resulted in many deaths, and was also home to Bloody Sunday. We walked around and looked at the murals and memorials dedicated to the sad events that took place there and then we went into the Bloody Sunday Museum. The museum is run by a man named John Kerry. He was there on Bloody Sunday and his younger brother Michael, was killed. This really hit home for me; the reality of how The Troubles impacts real people’s lives. The museum was sad and our group was pretty somber. We also walked along the city walls where the loyalist Apprentice Boys had marched, leading to the rioting of the Irish nationalists, which ultimately resulted in the Battle of the Bogside. At the end of the day a few friends and I stopped into a pub in Derry to relax while we waited to go back to Belfast. Upon arriving into this pub you are immediately welcomed with a big painting of Bobby Sands, the famous hunger striker, and a Republic of Ireland flag; it is obvious whose territory you are in. The cultural division runs deep and is made very clear wherever you go.


The third day in Northern Ireland was much more relaxed. In the morning we went and toured Carrickfergus Castle, which is an old Norman castle. This was a lot of fun frolicking around an ancient castle and getting to look at the different armor and weapons that were used. My inner nerd couldn’t help but think of the Lord of the Rings, it was awesome. 
Walking along the walls of the castle
Carrickfergus Castle
Trying on the armor

Our next stop that day was to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This is a small rope bridge that allows people to walk over the ocean to a small landmass on the other side. The weather was great and it was beautiful right along the ocean. We considered staying on the little island and living there the rest of our lives, an idea most welcomed by a couple people that were a little bit terrified to have to cross back over the bridge. 
Our whole class after crossing the rope bridge

Our last stop for the day was to Giant’s Causeway. Giant’s Causeway is on the ocean and is made up of naturally occurring basalt columns. This was caused by a volcanic eruption, although according to Irish legend it was a bridge built by a giant named Fionn so that he could get to Scotland. It was beautiful and the rocks looked like they were shaped and stacked so perfectly that I almost didn’t believe it wasn’t manmade. 
Giant's Causeway

All in all, Belfast was a very interesting city and it was a great trip. The bus ride home was a little bit depressing, not only because of no longer getting free three course meals at the hotel and returning to cheap pasta in the dorms, but because our trip in Ireland is winding down. Returning to Dublin from any trip, including around Ireland and even when I traveled to London and Rome makes me appreciate Dublin so much more. Every time I’ve returned, I kind of have a feeling of going back home, and I have an ache in heart thinking about having to leave for good in three days. I can’t think about that for now though, I have three days left and I plan to enjoy them!

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