Trip To Northern Ireland

3 Nov

During the weekend of October 15-17th, 2013, I went on a class trip to Northern Ireland to discuss the political troubles between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.


For a bit of background, Ireland for much of its modern history was ruled by the British Empire. In 1920, the United Kingdom partitioned the island into two separate countries, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, through its Government of Ireland Act 1920. The two countries would still remain part of the United Kingdom, until 1922 when Southern Ireland had its Irish War for Independence, in which it proclaimed itself an independent nation from the United Kingdom and became the Irish Free State. However, during this Irish War for Independence, Northern Ireland proclaimed its intent to remain part of the United Kingdom. For nearly 100 years afterwards, this division in interests has created a cultural and political divide between the two nations, and has even sparked a conflict known as the Troubles, which would last for nearly 40 years.


Part of the reason as to why there are two nations on the island of Ireland is due to religious factors. Catholicism was originally the religion of the Irish people since the time of St. Patrick in the fifth century. However, as Ireland became a colony of the British Empire, the Anglican, or Protestant, religion became the official religion of the country; Catholicism was outlawed. As time passed, the majority of Irish folk remained Catholic, but there were a few who strongly believed in the Protestant faith. Interestingly, those who were Catholic wanted to become independent from Britain, while those who were Protestants wanted to remain a part of Britain. After independence, the Protestant Irish moved to Northern Ireland, and those who were Catholic were in the Republic of Ireland.


During my trip, it was fairly obvious that although the Troubles ended roughly 15 years ago, there is still resentment amongst the Protestant Northerners, known as Unionists, and the few Catholic Northerners, known as Nationalists. In the city of Belfast in particular, I noticed quite a number of Republic of Ireland flags that were ripped apart, with the orange part missing from sight. Additionally, I’ve noticed how even the culture is different from the Republic. The majority of people I talked to in the North didn’t have the Irish accent, and instead of being known as Irish, they preferred to be known as British. Maybe the weather played a factor, but it sure seemed dreary in Belfast, as opposed to places such as Dublin and Galway which seemed to have much a livelier feel to it.


I think the biggest thing I noticed during the weekend was the numerous murals to Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a major Latin American figure best known for being a part of numerous revolutions, especially the Cuban Revolution. I can see how a lot of his views would influence the Northerners, but I would never have expected his influence to reach a European nation. In addition, I think a lot of the murals in both Belfast and Derry really are indicative of how much the Northerners want to continue remembering the Troubles and I think that is playing a big factor in a very slow peace process that is currently ongoing between the North and the Republic.


Personally, I thought that the trip to the North was really interesting and I’d like to learn more about the conflicts in the future.


Carlos Handal


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