The Northern Ireland trip was truly remarkable. What most impacted me was how much tension there still is. I know the overall living conditions and fighting between the Unionists and Nationalists used to be far worse, however, I expected there to be much less tension than what I saw. It was clear that both sides were trying to forgive each other but a lot of hostility still existed between them. After learning more about what happened, it seems nearly impossible for them to not feel any resentment.
What hit me the hardest was the Death of Innocence mural in Derry. It is of a 14-year-old Catholic girl (as indicated by her green uniform) who was shot twice on her way to school. The dismantled rifle facing downwards indicates that there is now peace between the Unionists and the Nationalists. The butterfly symbolizes her innocence. Learning about this tragedy in class was difficult enough, but hearing about it again during our walking tour and looking at the mural of her made it even harder. The part that was perhaps most painful to think about was how her father would come and just talk to the mural of her. Her name was Annette McGavigan and she was shot on January 30, 1972 while picking up rubber bullets. This was exceptionally disturbing because she was the first child killed and this immediately reignited and strengthened the anger of the Catholics. Naturally, this intensity would only be matched and then surpassed by the Unionists, and a downward spiral ensued.
We got to hear the perspectives and have a conversation with people from each side of the wall. Both sides were very kind and friendly, even witty at moments, so I was rather taken aback when they would allude to any involvement they might have had in the fighting. Glimpses of the passion they had toward their side could be seen. It is shocking how people that seemed so relatable and harmless in one moment, could share information that shows how jaded and angry the Troubles have made them. It made me think of what I would have done if I lived in such conditions. I do not think I would have gotten too involved, at least not violently. However, I’ve seen what fear, anger, and disgust can do to previously amicable people. I think that it is human nature to be defensive of what you believe in and to want to protect your loved ones. No matter how nice and pleasant a person is, no one can fully fight the instinct to protect what he or she loves and seek vengeance on those who have destroyed it. Of course not everyone acts on this instinct, but those who do can begin years of hardship and fighting for everyone involved.
The root of the Troubles was that of territory. At first, Northern Ireland was more Protestant/Unionist oriented, while the Republic was more Catholic/Nationalist oriented. As Northern Ireland had an influx of more Catholics, tensions began to build and the conflict became territorial. Over 3,000 lives were lost and additional thousands were injured. The emotional damage of this conflict affected many, many more as well. In various classes I’ve taken here, we’ve also discussed how Northern Ireland has had an impact on other things related to Ireland, such as its economy. In many people’s minds, Northern Ireland and Ireland were closely linked, and there were constant updates about all of the violence and bombings happening in Northern Ireland. This resulted in a declined desire to travel to Ireland and making it harder to do business with certain companies outside of Ireland. It was not looked at as stable so companies were not always eager to do business or make loans. However, Northern Ireland’s reputation is far different today. An example I found particularly helpful was that if you were to ask a teenager in the Republic about Northern Ireland 20 or so years ago, he or she would have a lot to say on the subject. Now if you asked a teenager about it, he or she would have an expression that translates to, “I don’t know, why?”
It is truly a shame that so many lives were lost in Northern Ireland from all of the fighting and the Troubles. It is sad and genuinely heart wrenching to think of all of the innocent people who were victims of bombings and various other attacks. It is also unfair that so many people had to live in a consistently stressful and tense manner.
Getting to hear perspectives from both the Unionist and Nationalist sides on our bus tour was very powerful in really giving us an idea of modern feelings and views. It is clear that both sides would like peace and do not want to fight anymore, however, too much damage has been done for full forgiveness. Both sides seem to like the wall and would prefer that it stay up. Perhaps the day will come where there truly will not be a need for it, and the Troubles and fighting will be a distant memory. Hopefully the wall will be replaced by respect and understanding.
By: Alyssa Ashleen Danilow