Archive | February, 2013

The LegenDerry City

19 Feb

As soon as I found out that we had finally reached Derry, one of the first structures I saw was a curved bridge with two enormous beams on top of the bridge located very strangely. The angles of these beams looked very bizarre and I was very surprised to find out that they actually symbolized something. The next day on our walking tour, our guide Garvan mentioned that the bridge was only coming up on its 2 year anniversary since it was built and said that it had cost over 14 million Euros to construct the bridge. He then stated that those two beams actually represent a handshake between the unionists and the nationalists. It is meant to bring the people of both parties together and give them a sense of unity. After doing some research, I have found that the bridge was made to try and unite the predominantly unionist east side of Derry and the predominantly nationalist west side of Derry. The architecture of this bridge was an incredible idea and I love how it means something to these citizens of Derry. Crossing that bridge by walking or by taking a bike tells me that the citizens of Derry are taking that next step towards harmony between the two groups. This is the reason why I love that the name of this structure is called the Peace Bridge.


Unfortunately, Derry is far away from becoming a peaceful community. There is so much history and conflict between the two sides that it is hard to see a union in the near future between the groups. Actually, on Monday December 10th 2012 around 300 loyalists assembled on the Peace Bridge and showed their pride for the United Kingdom by flaunting Union Jack flags for multiple hours. This protest was started as a result of the Belfast City Council only allowing the Union Jack flag to be flown on designated days. This is very unfortunate that these protestors have so much passion and pride for their country. I know that is a biased statement since I am studying in Ireland but this concept is very strange to me. I mean basically these two groups have one difference and that is their religion. It seems to me that it is always about the Catholics versus the Protestants and somehow religion has that much focus on politics. I couldn’t even imagine if America was engaged in a situation like this with how diverse and multicultural it is.


I know the history of Northern Ireland has greatly affected this situation but I would like to seeNorthern Ireland be united in one way or another. Whether that means staying with the United Kingdom or whether that means it becomes part of the Republic of Ireland, I just hate to see one nations’ people be so divided. The Peace Bridge will hopefully join these two groups together in one way or another to eliminate further clashes between these two groups.




A Tale As Old As Time

19 Feb

When I was a young child my mother would always read me old folktales as my bedtime stories. She would read me stories about Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the giant bean stock and everything in between. Never in my life did I ever think that I would get to visit the sight of one of these folktales, but this weekend I was able to. I remember my mom telling me the story of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his fight that he was supposed to have with the Scottish giant, Benandonner. Fionn was able to out smart the Scottish giant by pretending he was a baby and thus the legend of the Giants Causeway was born. Never in my life did I think it was possible for the fairy tale to come to life.


When I arrived at the Giants Causeway it simply took my breath away. I truly believed that something so beautiful and perfect could have only been created by giants. As I took the tour of the 50 million year old formation I learned how volcanic activity caused the formation with molten basalt, which cracked like tempered glass to create the formation, which is seen today. Walking around the causeway and seeing all the rock formations that fit perfectly into the story of Fionn was incredible. From Fionn’s camel to the giants gate it all plays perfectly into the legend that I was told about as a child.


Walking around the base of the causeway was an incredible experience walking on the rocks as far down as I could go, climbing as high as I could, all were necessities to really experience all the causeway had to offer. However, climbing the hundreds of feet to the top of the causeway is when everything was truly put into perspective. Seeing the formation from above you really get a sense of the causeway that you cant get from the ground. It became easy to see why in 2005 it was voted the fourth best natural wonder of the UK. Being able to see how millions of years ago the causeway was actually underwater and the cliffs were a drop off to the bottom of the sea is something that could only have been witnessed from the top. One can only get so much out of hearing about the legend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill or looking at picture of the Giants Causeway online. Actually being there, with the wind swirling around you and feeling the slipperiness of the rocks under you feet is simply second to none. Image

“We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’ clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

19 Feb

After a fantastic weekend of three-course meals and swanky hotels, coming back to my simple life in Dublin proved an excellent time to reflect on what I learned in the North. Thinking about how lucky I have been my entire life to live in a place where neither myself nor my family members have been persecuted for race, religion, or political belief is incredibly powerful after visiting a place in which my parents and my grandparents would have almost certainly been endangered by political and religious conflict. Walking around the Bogside in Free Derry helped me to realize just how small my world is and understand how much of a need there is for acceptance and equality in so many spheres of life.

Derry Peace Bridge

Thumbs up for equality?

The Peace Bridge in Derry stood out to me as an interesting symbol because Garbhán told us on the tour that the bridge was designed to resemble a handshake with the two spires symbolizing thumbs. Further, the spires are located exactly the same distance from each shoreline on the river to imply equality among the city. Both the British and Irish governments funded it, so there is financial unity represented as well.

Derry peace bridge

Opening day on the bridge

However, when talking to people in Derry, the bridge seemed to be a contradiction in itself rather than “the beginning of what is a whole new opportunity for this city,” as stated according to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in a 2011 article in the Irish Republican News. Derry mayor Maurice Devenny was quoted in the same article saying that the bridge would “help bring the city’s communities together.” However, our tour guide told us later that on the west side of the bridge lives a population that was 97% Catholic and only 3% Protestant; the east side was closer to 50-50%. This division implies that the people of Derry, in spite of the bridge’s iconic name and symbolism, see it as a structure useful in establishing boundaries. Many people who I talked to in Derry referred to “the other side of the bridge,” or “the Protestant side of the bridge” and warned us not to cross it.

It seems as though while the peace efforts are grand and could be potentially productive to the unity of the city, it is going to take more than just architecture to create peace. Unbiased educational perspectives that help people feel more empathetic towards those who they consider “the other” would be paramount in any peace effort. In the United States, many towns and cities are still working to overcome racial segregation and encourage equality. At my home university, there are programs in place run by different student organizations to promote racial and religious education by taking students on trips to historically black or white Baptist churches in the south.

Church Diversity

It’s a book and a movement!

Sunday is known as the most segregated day of the week in America because of an unspoken racial and religious divide between different Christian sects; it is through education and positive encounters with “the other” that the situation may someday be remedied. The same may hold true for Derry. A Catholic friend I made here from Belfast said that when she studied abroad in America, one of her favorite things to do was to go to different Christian denomination services with her friends at her university. Visiting a friend’s gospel Baptist church was the first time she had ever been in a Protestant place of worship because she was so afraid to do so in Belfast. Coming from a place where religious freedom is our first inherent right as citizens, this is saddening to me. Fear does not breed equality, nor does clever architecture.

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Conradh na What?

18 Feb

Due to my internship at the Special Olympics of Ireland, I am unfortunately not able to make it to many mobile seminars that FIE requires us to attend. This Tuesday however I was able to go to one at the Conradh na Gaeilge near Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. As soon as we walked in, we were taken to this small classroom where a woman told us the history of the Irish language and its’ impact on the Irish culture today. After that 30-minute lecture, another person came in to the room and defined himself as our, “teacher.” Unfortunately, I don’t think any of us learned any Irish accept “Is mise  _______”. He really rushed through a lot of things and didn’t really tell us any of the basics. I had come into this mobile seminar thinking and hoping that we would learn (and remember) common uses of the language like hello, how are you, thank you, please, and other everyday expressions. None of this happened. Instead, we looked at a conversation between a boxer and an actor and learned nothing from it. I really wish he had actually taught us some Irish so we could actually use it in pubs or other places. Afterwards, we all went downstairs to the bar and even though I was only there for five minutes, the bartender taught me more than the actual teacher. I had heard from multiple sources that Irish is not taught the right way in primary and secondary schools so I decided to bring this topic up to my Irish co-workers.


The next day, I did exactly that and brought up the Irish language issue to my two co-workers when we were eating lunch. They agreed with how the Irish language is not taught very well even from a young age. One mentioned how the teacher you have in primary school and how good he or she teaches it really impacts your whole Irish learning experience. They both agreed on the fact that they rarely used this complex language anymore. One of my co-workers said that she was actually a very good Irish speaker when she was younger and said that she went to this Irish summer school experience. She said that she loved everything about it because there were activities and she got to live with a host family as well as the chance to take a class and speak Irish the entire time. To my surprise, she said that English was not allowed in these places at all. Even more so, she mentioned that some of these places would send students home immediately if they spoke any English.


It is interesting for me to see how strict the Irish language is forced upon young students. It is unfortunate that students are not taught the Irish language the “right” way. I would love to see more people speak Irish in Ireland. That way they would be holding on and passing on a piece of their heritage and culture. The only part of this mobile seminar that I really enjoyed was when our “teacher” said an idea on how to teach the Irish language. He said that students should take a really easy class but have it taught in Irish. This way, students will be learning a subject while also learning how to use the Irish language conversationally. This is a brilliant idea and I believe that this should be administered into secondary schools as soon as possible. I am thoroughly excited to hear some more of the complicating Irish language spoken around St. Patrick’s Day and maybe be even to read a street sign in Irish…. I wish



The Giant’s Causeway

18 Feb

The trip to Northern Ireland was amazing. The more I see of Ireland the more I love it, and the north was definitely no exception to that. While the North has its fair share of violence, injustice, and rivalry within it, it is also filled with plenty of beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and hope for the future. The weekend included learning about the political history of the north, and it also contained a days’ worth of just seeing the natural beauty in Northern Ireland. Friday we went to Belfast and by Saturday night we ended up in Derry. One of my favorite parts of the trip was the journey from Belfast to Derry, where we got to make detours and see the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I enjoyed the rope bridge and the area around it, but I was completely fascinated by the Giant’s Causeway. Not only was it amazing just to look at all of the odd shaped stones clumped together, but getting to climb around on them was really fun as well.   Northern Ireland 170

Most of the stones that make up the Giant’s Causeway are shaped like a hexagon. They form these columns that rise up in various heights. These columns were formed long ago by lava coming through cracks in the earth. As the lava was cooling, cracks traveled through it and created the columns. More eruptions occurred after the columns were created and it caused the columns to be covered, it’s only because of years of erosion that we are able to see the columns today. They became visible 15000 years ago, after the last ice age.

There is also a bit more interesting story of how the Causeway came to be. A myth says that Finn McCool, an Irish giant, created the Causeway. He did so in order to fight his enemy, a Scottish giant. He created the Causeway so that the Scottish giant would be able to cross the channel and fight Finn McCool, but after creating the causeway Finn was too weak to actually fight him. Finn McCool was quite clever though so he wrapped himself up like a baby before the Scottish giant saw him and McCool’s wife convinced the other giant that the wrapped up Finn was really Finn’s baby. Seeing how large Finn McCool’s baby was, the giant feared how huge Finn himself would be so he hurriedly headed back for Scotland, tearing up most of the bridge as he went. Leaving behind what we see today. No matter which story you choose to believe it’s hard to deny the uniqueness and beauty of the Giant’s Causeway.Northern Ireland 178

“Is there Wi-Fi here?!”

18 Feb

After nearly two months of living in Dublin, I believe it’s time for a confession—I am a Wi-Fi junkie.  Miraculously, the day before Valentines Day, the love of my life came into town.

On February 13th, 2013, Dublin City Council announced that free Wi-Fi would be coming to various locations throughout the City Centre. Until now, Wi-Fi has been primarily available in various shops, cafes, and business and academic buildings; however, they’re hasn’t been a significant amount of public access to Wi-Fi hotspots. So, the news of twelve 24-7 hotspot locations was rather exciting for locals and visitors alike.

Over the next few weeks, Wi-Fi hot spots will be available in nearly all the central parts of the city: Smithfield Square, St. Patrick’s Park, O’Connell Street, Temple Bar Square, and Grafton Street just to name a few.

Free Wi-Fi locations are identified by various wall mosaics that feature modern and historical digidub characters (characters made of oversized pixels, or squares).  A few mosaics include: Street Cleaner, Viking, Rugby Guy, Pyjama Girl, GAA Man, Oscar Wilde, Tourist, Flower Seller, and The Spire. Each of these mosaics relate to the unique and growing culture that defines Dublin.  


On the surface, the council promotes “free” Wi-Fi; however, there is a bit of a catch. Not all services are free. Premium services, such as a 24-hour rate, a one-month rate, and a flat rate, are each available for less than 10 euro. Nonetheless, the free connection will suit just fine to post a picture to Facebook, send a tweet, or read an email on a smart device.

For a city so rich in history and tradition, Dublin has been sure to keep up with modern technology and advancements. Most Dubliners are proud of such beneficial services, although some are certain to express their apprehension (noting some comments made on the article in The Journal). Nonetheless, I know I’m certainly thrilled to be able to get my Wi-Fi fix without having to isolate myself in the lobby of DBS.  





The People’s Gallery: Murals of Northern Ireland

18 Feb


  Although I had studied the history and violence in Northern Ireland before my trip there this weekend, actually being in the towns of Belfast and Derry deeply influenced my understanding of the conflict that has long existed in these cities. One of the most striking parts of this trip for me was seeing the murals on display throughout the north. These murals are painted on the sides of many buildings and can be seen when simply walking down the street. However, this artwork is not just simply decoration, but sometimes a method of protest or a way to keep memories of the past alive. On our tour through Derry, our tour guide said that the murals are sometimes referred to as “the people’s gallery”. As we learned more about the purpose of these murals, this name became more and more fitting. I was really struck by what this art had the power to communicate about the past and future of Northern Ireland. Image


The above picture is a mural in Belfast in memory of Bobby Sands, a republican who died on hunger strike. Seeing this mural conveyed a lot to me about the importance of Sands to the republicans. Although I had heard of him and the other hunger strikers before, the fact that his memory has been preserved as a mural shows how much the hunger strikes and the violence in Belfast have remained significant in the hearts of the Northern Irish.



I was similarly struck by many of the murals in Derry. The the gray image of the young boy wearing a gas mask and holding a petrol bomb was very haunting, and it held testament to the suffering faced throughout The Troubles of Northern Ireland in a way words cannot. Similarly, the image of one of the victims of Bloody Sunday being carried away shows how the memory of this violence in still alive and important in modern Derry.



Not only is this artwork significant in preserving memories, but it is also a means of protest. Above is a mural in front of the last remaining Protestant area in west Derry. This image was also very striking. I knew that the struggle between republicans and unionists was still alive in Northern Ireland, but seeing the “no surrender” on this mural made me recognize how strong the conflict still is. 

Similarly, I learned a lot about Irish protest in the many murals that stretched across a wall in Belfast. 



The above murals address many political and social issues, both inside and outside of Ireland. Many of then oppose the imprisonment of Marian Price, and some protest Cuban hostages and discrimination. It was really interesting to see how this art is used to protest current world issues as well as those in Ireland.



Many of the murals also indicated the possibility of peace for Northern Ireland. The image of the hundredth victim of The Troubles, a young school girl, has been changed to show a broken red rifle instead of a solid black one, indicating the possibility of peace. There is also a butterfly in the upper left hand corner. The other pictured mural was designed together by Catholic and Protestant school children, and it portrays a dove, indicating peace, and an oak leaf, representing Derry. These two murals convey a powerful sense of hope for the future.

This people’s gallery shows the power art has to convey a violent and torn history and to make sure that history is recognized, even by a foreigner like me. It also shows art’s power to protest and to fight oppression existing both in Ireland and the world. Ultimately, these murals are able to indicate a hope for peace while still recognizing the struggles of the past. Seeing these murals throughout the north was definitely a powerful and fascinating aspect of our trip to Northern Ireland.