Following a long day of classes on Monday with Professor Arthur preparing us for Northern Ireland we said our goodbye’s to Dublin and our wonderful Student Life Assistant Sarah. Early the next morning we made our way to Derry/Londonderry for a full day of tours and experiential learning with our other assistant Ruby. We first did a city walking tour where we were able to walk the original city walls and see some of the historic murals. It is fitting that we visited following the nationalists painting the Free Derry sign the colors of the Palestinian flag as a sign of solidarity for their struggle (the sign is frequently painted different colors for different events like Pride Month or cancer awareness). We also had the opportunity to visit the Apprentice Boys Museum and the Free Derry Museum. Comparing these experiences was especially enlightening considering they are on opposite ends of the spectrum when remembering the troubles.
After staying the night at the Bridge B&B, we embarked on our journey to the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. These two locations cannot be done justice with words alone. Hopefully the pictures provided will help illustrate the beauty of Northern Ireland. We were especially fortunate to have a beautiful day considering the weather in Northern Ireland is frequently rainy. To conclude the day, we went to the Theatre of Witness where we sat in a room with a UVF fighter, a IRA woman fighter, and a Royal Ulster Constabulary Police Officer. Having three people from the different sides of the conflict talk to us, and us having the opportunity to ask them questions was one of the most enlightening portions of the experience.
We got up early in the next morning and proceeded to Belfast. We immediately started a driving mural tour where we went into the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and saw murals depicting the divisiveness of the time. The light blue mural depicts a fighter in the UFF who was praised for killing the most Catholics. We also had the opportunity to visit the Stormont Parliament Building and meet with several Members of the Legislative Assembly to learn about the current condition of Northern Ireland and the peace.
Perhaps my largest takeaway from the Northern Ireland experience was how real the conflict still is. Both physically and figuratively, the tension is still in the air. As you can see in the photo, there is a graffiti wall that still physically divides the neighborhoods of Belfast. I felt like I was in Berlin pre-1989. Even the simple interactions with people showed us how the conflict is still present. I asked the Apprentice Boy guide if he was born in Derry and he replied, “Londonderry, yes.” Even making small talk with a waiter about the World Cup and the United Kingdom he made a point to correct me by saying that he identifies with the Republic of Ireland. These experiences are something that you cannot read in a textbook, nor can you get them from any news outlet. Having seen the sides to the conflict in person, I am very interested in seeing how the Northern Ireland Conflict continues to play out throughout my lifetime.