Sunday Bloody Sunday.

20 Nov

Our second class trip started in Belfast, Northern Ireland where we began the first day with a bus tour.  This tour was extremely informational but what made it particularly interesting is that we had the opportunity to hear two different tour guides speak: one with a Nationalist perspective and the other with a Loyalist perspective.  This allowed us to be completely emerged in each perspective and not only hear about the conflict but engage in each guide’s opinion.  Both tour guides had been imprisoned during The Troubles which really enhanced our learning experience.  I had not studied the Northern Ireland conflicts in depth before, but one of the reasons I chose to study abroad in Ireland was to try to learn more about it as firsthand as possible.

The first tour guide named Paul was a Nationalist and began at the peace wall where we learned about the different paintings and their meanings.  In general, the Nationalists were Catholics who wanted to branch away from the United Kingdom.  He described the murals and paintings on a wall and their meanings, the civil rights movement, and the blanket protest.  What I really gravitated towards though, was when Paul discussed the hunger strike with us.  There was a mural of Bobby Sands, a volunteer for the Republican army that really put The Troubles in perspective for me.  He died of starvation but the hunger strikes only came to an end when Catholic churches told people to take them off hunger strikes due to a coma.

The second our guide with a Loyalist point of view, who were mainly Protestant that wanted to be a part of the United Kingdom.  He began by discussing how the Protestants and Catholics had poverty in common.  He said that Protestants had favor in obtaining jobs, but housing was the same for everyone.  On this part of the tour we were also shown the barricades that were up to prevent drive-by shootings.  There was so much conflict and rioting during this time that it is hard to imagine for us today.  We were taken to the peace walls that were considered border barriers between the Protestants and Catholics.  Although I will never be able to completely understand what happened to the people during the conflicts, I am grateful I got to learn about it the way I did by two tour guides and seeing how Belfast looks today up close.

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This tour truly meant a lot to me because I had completely taken religious freedom for granted my whole life.  I grew up in a home where I was encouraged to make my own decisions in regards to religion.  The church I grew up in was Protestant but many times my Sunday school group were taken to a Catholic church to experience how they worshiped.  There was never a gap within Protestant and Catholic groups, and frankly I cannot imagine how life would be if there was; that’s why the Belfast trip hit hard for me.  Although the troubles are over, there are still issues here and a clear divide.  I learned so much on my trip to Northern Ireland and realized that I would like to come back one day and help mend the gap.

Free_Derry

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