This past weekend we all took a trip to Northern Ireland. In our Irish Life and Culture class we learned about the political violence that took place there during the mid-20th century; the feud between the Unionist/Protestants and Nationalists/Catholics, Bloody Sunday, and the different military organizations that wreaked havoc on the towns of Londonderry (Derry) and Belfast.
Learning about troubling times in school is one thing. We’ll read about what happened and who was involved in books, watch videos of the events that occurred and have debates about the topic. But going to where it all happened is a completely different experience. I think I speak for everyone when I say that you could feel the impact that the trouble times had on Northern Ireland. There was a somewhat unsettling vibe about both cities, but nothing that would have turned us away from learning about the rich history that lies within Northern Ireland.
One thing that really stood out throughout the tours of both cities was the murals. In Derry we were able to see many of the famous murals that were painted in honor of Bloody Sunday, civil rights, and the troubles. Most of them depicted violent scenes from the street riots that occurred during the trouble times, such as a child in a gas mask, Bernadette Devlin giving a riveting speech to a crowd about civil rights, and a depiction of a picture taken after police force violence ensued during what stared out as a peaceful civil rights march.
I feel that these three murals in particular represent three aspects of the trouble times larger and broader than what is painted. The child in the gas mask represents how the troubles deprived many children and teenagers of their youth, whether it be demolishing the streets they played in with bombs and violence or sucking them in to participating in the violence. The mural of Bernadette Devlin represents women’s rights and feminism. Lastly, the last mural symbolizes the corruption within the police force, and how those that are meant to protect can turn around at any moment and destroy.
As a final summation, going to the North made everything we learned about in Irish Life and Culture very real and served as a reminder that all that happened was not so long ago especially in the context of all of history. It was evident to see that the effects of the trouble times still are very prevalent in society in Northern Ireland.