One of my most memorable trips I’ve taken during my time in Ireland was definitely our Irish Life and Cultures Excursion to Northern Ireland. Before coming to Ireland, I was completely unaware of the divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. However, the more I learned about culture, the more I knew what a big deal the Troubled time period was that caused so much conflict between Catholics and Protestants.
The first stop on our trip was Belfast. I was surprised to see how different the city was to Dublin. Belfast was very large and modern, where the architecture looked like they could have been from Berlin. The whole city was very clean and the people were extremely friendly. It was definitely interesting using the pound, and feeling the influence of the UK had on the North. Before, I may have thought that Northern Ireland would be very similar to Dublin, but now I know its allegiance to London instead. The main cultural activity we did in Belfast was visiting the Parliament Building. This was an extremely interesting experience, as I was surprised how open the building is to the public. While in the US, security at government buildings is very tight, here it was easy. Listening to the presentation, I began to like what the tour guides described the Northern Irish Parliamentary system. While they don’t control all of their services, the decisions they make are bipartisan. Their first in charge will come from one party, and the second will come from the other. The only difference between the two is in title, and they make decisions together.
The next day we took the bus to Derry. This was again, a very different experience than anything before in Ireland. It was much, much smaller than Belfast or Dublin and had more of a town feel. We took a walking tour of the city on its massive wall, and talked a lot about the history of the town. The main things that stick out in my mind about Derry are the murals painted on the side of Derry’s buildings. It makes me truly understand how critical the Troubles time period was to the people of Northern Ireland. Since many of them were personally affected, they still stay active in remembering the dead and honoring them. For example, the mural of the girl who was killed in a crossfire. The tour guide told us that her father would come to talk to her every day until his death. The final activity we did in Derry was visiting the Bloody Sunday Museum. On Bloody Sunday, British soldiers killed political activists. The man who runs the museum had his brother killed that day, and tells us that a court case will ensue to charge the man responsible for several deaths that day.
Overall, my experience in Northern Ireland was a very positive one. Before, I was ignorant to the many differences in culture between the North and Ireland. However, now I feel that I have a better understanding of how a rough past between Catholics and Protestants has evolved and is mostly resolved now.