That was controversial.

3 Nov

I have to say my trip to Northern Ireland was not… fun. But let me explain.

On Friday, we stayed in Belfast and it started pouring rain, so there’s that. But we also didn’t have much time to ourselves to explore the city. We had guided tours in a bus (since it was raining) after we’d been sitting in a bus for about 3 hours. The tour guides were former paramilitary group members, which was pretty interesting. The first guy was part of the IRA and tried to convince all of us that the Protestants were in the wrong, and should be prosecuted. He felt very strongly for his cause, and it kind of pissed me off; I hate when people try to shove their beliefs down your throat. The second guy was sooo much better; he told us right off the bat that he spent 15 years in prison for attempted murder. (This really intrigued me. Don’t judge me, I’m really interested in those kinds of things.) He was very mellow and taught us a lot about the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants. He also brought us to the Peace Wall and we got to write on it, which was awesome. But anyways, the conflict between the two groups originated from England’s invasion and the pressure to convert everyone to become Protestants. The English inflicted horrific atrocities upon the Irish for not converting. The British put the Penal Laws into effect to convert everyone to the reformed Christian faith, and if anyone refused, they were murdered.

Due to a conflict that originated about 400 years ago, Catholics and Protestants continue to hate each other based on their religion. The separation of Northern Ireland and the Republic occurred because the North believed they were a part of the United Kingdom, whereas the Republic wanted to be a free country. The North consists mainly of Protestants, but in Belfast the population is 50/50. The peace walls were first put up in 1969 after the Troubles occurred in order to keep the violence to a minimum. The walls were only suppoed to last six months, but because of their effectiveness, they were kept up. Eventually the walls were updated and now stretch over 21 miles, and the height of the wall is now 25 ft. The wall consists of iron, brick and/or steel. During our visit, we passed through a gate, which is open during the day, but closes at night due to violent activities. My first day in the North was informative and very tiring.

On my second day we went to the rope bridge and later, the Giants Causeway. The view was beautiful, but I ended up getting clay mud on my jeans, which was a bummer cause it won’t come out. Anyways, the walk up the Giants Causeway was tiring, but totally worth it. The view from the mountain was incredible; I’d give anything to just live on the side of the mountain. Giant’s Causeway contains thousands of basalt columns due to an ancient volcanic eruption about 50 to 60 million years ago. (Fun fact: In 2005, the Giant’s Causeway was named the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.) The columns start at the cliff foot and continue on until the edge of the sea; some columns are also under the sea. The columns are hexagonal and can be up to 39 ft high.

According to an Irish legend, the columns are remnants  of a causeway built by a giant named Finn MacCool. Finn was challenged to fight a Scottish giant named Benandonner; Finn accepted the challenge, but then tells his wife to dress him up as a baby when he realizes Benandonner is almost twice his size. When Benandonner comes to fight Finn, he sees Finn dressed up as a baby and thinks, “If his baby is already that big, I can’t imagine how big Finn himself is.” So Benandonner runs across the causeway, in fright, and ends up destroying the causeway. Many believe this story to be true because in Scotland, there are identical columns at Fingal’s Cave, which is on the Scottish isle of Staffa.

On our third day in Northern Ireland, we took a walking tour around Derry, and then went to the Museum of Free Derry. This museum is dedicated to the civil rights movement and Bloody Sunday. The museum was small but contained many artifacts, including letters, gas masks, and rubber bullets. The gallery was interesting and I learned more about the conflict, but what made the entire trip ‘not fun’ for me was a letter. This letter was written to the parents of a boy who was killed during Bloody Sunday. The letter was written by an English army commander. He basically wrote that the boy’s death was the boy’s own fault, and that his death was good for the Irish because it put them in there spot, and showed that the English were better than the Irish. The officer also wrote that he hopes the boy DOES NOT rest in peace, but rather burns in hell. He also told the parents that if anyone else steps out of place, they would shoot them. I usually try to keep from crying in front of people, but this letter brought tears to my eyes and I couldn’t help them from falling. I was so incredibly angry and disgusted. I can’t believe the officer had the nerve to write a letter to the grieving parents of the boy to tell them the boy’s death was a good thing and that he hoped the boy burned in hell? It’s unbelievable, and I still cannot comprehend what he was thinking when he was writing this. I can’t even imagine how the boy’s family felt when they read this. I’m still baffled and disgusted by this letter. This letter was what ruined my trip for me, not that it wasn’t a fun trip, it just made me upset and it’s the only thing I can distinctly remember from my trip.

 

This letter really brought things into perspective for me. I’m still not taking sides, but this just goes to show how horrible things were during the Troubles. I hope everyone learns from this horrific event so we can prevent anything like this from happening again.

 

-Sydney Wilson

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