A major part of Irish life and culture is the relationship between the Republic and the United Kingdom, particularly over the problem in the North of Ireland. After becoming comfortable and closer to the Irish culture over the past few months, I am able to reflect on our time in Northern Ireland with a new perspective. Looking back, the things that have stuck with me the most are the stories of the peace wall, the tour of the Orange Order, and ‘Bloody Sunday’ museum.
Upon arriving in Belfast, we were guided along the peace wall on both the Catholic and Protestant sides. The tour guide on the Catholic side lived in the area and told stories about the height of ‘The Troubles.’ One thing that struck me the most was his equation of the Orange Order, the Protestant organization, with the American KKK. Obviously a radical point of view, his point was that their rights were legally protected even as extremists, which was interesting to hear before touring the Orange Order later in the day. During a tour of one of the houses of the organization, it was interesting to see the attachment they have with the historical Battle of the Boyne, where William of Orange defeated King James. It seemed that it was very important to them that the story of the battle was told in a particular way.
The next day in Derry, the history of religious tensions were more visible through the murals, memorials, and museum of ‘Bloody Sunday’ that took place there in 1972. After 14 people were killed by British soldiers in a mass protest, their lives have been engrained in Irish culture ever since. What stood out to me the most were the letters sent to the families of the victims by loyalist paramilitary groups at that time. The hostility and disrespect between the two communities was unlike anything I have ever seen firsthand. Thus, the more I look back on the trip to Northern Ireland, the more I realized I learned about my life along with Irish life.