For hundreds of years, the British Empire ruled over the island of Ireland. Their occupation has left its mark on the republic of Ireland and their influence can be seen every single day. However, the United Kingdom also still owns and occupies 6 counties situated in the extreme Northeastern part of the island. Currently, these territories form what we know as Northern Ireland and it is distinctly British.
Once a hotbed of sectarian violence in the late 20th century, the vast majority of inhabitants have moved past the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry-Londonderry or the terrorist bombings that often rocked communities in West Belfast. Having said that, I had the privilege of visiting both Derry-Londonderry and West Belfast and surprisingly I felt drastically different after leaving both communities. First, in West Belfast both Protestants and Catholics live divided by a “peace wall”. Each night at 7 pm the wall closes and reopens at 7 am the next morning and has done so each day for the past 15 years. Though beautiful monuments and memorials have been built around the wall, the residents that live closest to it do not want to see it torn down because they do not trust the residents of the other side. And so, a vicious cycle continues, where catholic and protestant children do not associate with one another and go to separate schools. In a way, West Belfast is a powder keg, waiting to erupt again into violence with the next senseless crime.
Yet, leaving Belfast and heading towards the country side, the mood changes. After walking around Derry-Londonderry and seeing the sight of the Bloody Sunday massacre, it appears and feels like both sides are actively trying to move forward together as a community. Perhaps it is because the British finally apologized for wrongfully starting the massacre. Regardless of the apology, the atmosphere is completely different and it is encouraging to see that peace is actively being sought out.