I travelled to the North not knowing what to expect, but with the expectation that it would be something similar to where I’ve been living (but with British flags). When we arrived, I found myself completely wrong. Northern Ireland was nothing like the Republic of Ireland. It was a place that I had expected to be built up, with cities and rolling hills, but instead was dark and dirty. I was taught about the war and the IRA on numerous occasions and understood what destruction the area had faced, but I made the assumption that it was a place that was strong enough to bounce back quickly. The peace wall separating East and West Belfast shocked me, the murals covering the buildings of London Derry took my breath away. It was a place that was still rocked by the war it had fought years ago.
The two speakers who visited us on our tour through Belfast had given the students two very different perspectives of the war. Our first speaker, who clearly wanted some peace and calm in the area, told us about the peace wall and the way that it worked. It was easy to tell that it was a topic he was passionate about but that also cause him a large amount of distress. Two things really hit home for me about his lesson. The fact that the wall opens at 7am and closes at 7pm was shocking. I can’t imagine getting locked into our out of a town that bordered mine. Also, that the better hospital was on one side, while he lived on the other. If he needed to visit the hospital after 7pm, he had to drive 4.5 miles to the mediocre hospital on his side, instead of one mile through the peace wall on the other side for the great hospital. I could only imagine what it would be like if my child was screaming in the back seat on the way to the emergency room and I knew that just across the way I could get her the help she needed and quickly, but instead I had to drive on black roads for over 4 miles to get her what I would only be able to hope was good care.
It is sad to see that the North still hasn’t grown to what it was expected to be, but we can only hope that in the coming years, peace will become a constant and the people living there can go about their day to day lives as normal citizens.