A Journey to Northern Ireland

7 Nov

A few weekends ago, our program set out for Northern Ireland. I knew that the conflict there had settled down immensely and we probably wouldn’t see anything exciting. Thankfully, I was right that Belfast and Derry were both very peaceful, but I was pleasantly surprised to find both towns still very interesting. Our first stop was Belfast where we had a fascinating bus tour (unfortunately we couldn’t walk because of the rain). What made the tour incredible was that half of it was guided by a Nationalist and then the second part was given by a Unionist. This gave us a chance to see the history from both perspectives which I believe is important so that we don’t just get one side of the story. Both men had been imprisoned for over a decade during The Troubles which made the tour that much more real.

One particular part of the tour that struck me was the names on the wall listing the civilian deaths by Unionist and British forces. I was both astonished by the ages of some of the victims, as young as four, and how the last killing was less than a decade ago. You can tell that even though the hardest times have passed, these communities will never forget the ones they have lost.

The second part of our weekend was spent in Derry which our guide informed us was also called Londonderry depending on who you talked to. She explained this to us in a bit of a joking manner, but clearly if people can’t even agree on what to call their city then there is still tension. We had seen murals in Belfast, but a few of the Derry paintings stuck out a little more in my mind. I was particularly interested in the one of Annette McGavigan who was fourteen years old when she was gathering rocks for an art project and killed in cross-fire during The Troubles. The piece originally included a whole gun, but was then changed to a broken one. I think this is a bold and important statement against gun violence and the tragedies that it brings about. This mural in a way sums up my experience of Northern Ireland: sad, beautiful, and knowledgeable. It’s also one that I will never forget.

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