Northern Ireland Trip- Caroline Dudeck

10 Nov

            This weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to two different cities in Northern Ireland, the Northern part of the Emerald Isle, but politically a region in the United Kingdom. with my classmates. We went to Belfast, Derry-London Derry, and took stops in between the cities admire the amazing Giant’s Causeway.    

            Throughout the past 50 years, Northern Ireland has experienced a horrific time period known as the “troubles.” The troubles refer to the fighting between the two major political and religious groups in the North: Catholic nationalists, who would prefer that Northern Ireland unites with the rest of Ireland and separates from the UK, and Protestant unionists, who want to remain a part of the United Kingdom. We learned a lot about Northern Ireland in our lectures prior to our study tour, which really prepared me to head to a land that has experienced great tragedy as recent as July 2013!

            We headed straight to Belfast when we departed on Friday morning. There was no border or customs when we entered in to Northern Ireland, but there were obvious clues that you had left the Republic. For example, all road signs were in English and some had an Ulster Scottish translation, but no sign had an Irish language translation that I am now used to from living in Dublin. Another way to tell we were in Northern Ireland from just looking out the window was that the signs were in miles instead of kilometers, I could finally gage how long it would take for us to reach our destination without doing math in my head.

            When we arrived in Belfast, I was surprised by how metropolitan it seemed. Yes, the city is small, but buildings looked bigger and newer than they are in Dublin. This may be due to the fact that architecture in Dublin is referred to Georgian (era of King George) where Belfast architecture dates back to the Victorian and Edwardian era. The city center was extremely neutral and for the most part politically correct about the clear schism in their culture. We travelled to East and West Belfast to see the murals and to experience the aura of the troubles during the 80’s. Our tour guide told us that West Belfast used to be an extremely dangerous place, and that last year, the bus driver was hesitant to drive through the neighborhood because a brick was once thrown at the bus.

            The violence that took place during the troubles was evident through the murals on the streets. Many of them honored the ten young men who died during the hunger strikes because they were interned. Internment was a British law over Northern Ireland where anyone could be put into jail without a fair trial at her Majesty’s discretion. Images of the famous Bobby Sands and his followers honored their hunger strike as they waited to discuss the unfairness of internment with Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, who never agreed to talk with them, and thus the ten men died. Many union jack and Irish flags were hung in the different neighborhoods so that visitors knew exactly who was living there and what the believed in.

            After our stay in Belfast we left to visit the city of Derry-Londonderry, another Northern Ireland city that faced extreme tragedy. Our stay in Derry-London Derry was interesting because we happened to take a walking tour on the Sunday of a memorial parade for World War I soldiers. Everyone was wearing red poppies on their lapels as a sign of support and community. There was many murals in Derry- London Derry, the two most memorable being the large white sign that said, “You are now entering free Derry,” and the other was a young Irish girl who was killed during the troubles. The white sign was significant because it made it clear to all visitors and residence that they were entering a nationalist area, the mural of the young girl was significant because it showed how innocent people were killed left and right throughout the troubles. Our tour guide told us that the girl’s father would go to the mural and talk to it everyday until he died, which sparked a lot of tears in our group, as we all thought of our fathers who we haven’t seen in months and the pain that our dads would go through if we were maliciously killed due to political issues in our own country.

             An interesting thing about Derry-Londonderry is the divide over what the city is called. Unionists refer to the city as London Derry, but nationalists refer to the city as Derry. To be politically correct the city is called Derry-London Derry. While in Belfast, my friend and I headed to Boots pharmacy to grab some toiletries, and while checking out, I asked the pharmacist how long the car ride from Belfast to Derry was. The pharmacist replied, “Oh, do you mean Derry-London Derry? I don’t know… Kim, how long is the car ride to Derry-London Derry?” As a professional, I was aware that she had to be politically correct in the way she spoke about the city, as she was old enough to probably experience the troubles and knew better than to speak about a controversial topic in public. It was interesting to see people’s everyday reactions to the little things that cause great controversy in Northern Ireland.

             Overall, my trip to Northern Ireland was amazing. The landscape there was beautiful and the history was interesting. The most memorable thing about our visit to Northern Ireland, was the trip to the Bloody Sunday museum in Derry-Londonderry. The tour guide at the museum lost his seventeen-year-old brother, murdered by British soldier F in the tragic event in 1972. The museum was eerie; they showed original footage of the event, displayed clothes of the innocent victims who died on the day, and passed around the rubber bullets that injured and even killed children and adults alike. Seeing the bloody Sunday museum was sad, but I think that the museum itself is a good way for the community to move forward from the event, remember those that they lost, and use it as motivation for a more peaceful Derry-London Derry. 

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