One aspect of our recent trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland really opened my eyes to a few new aspects of Irish history, and the world’s conflicts in general. After touring with first a Catholic political prisoner and then a Protestant, we were really able to see both sides of the conflict, as well as both sides of the changes occurring in the city.
The first prisoner, the Nationalist, repeated what we have heard in class—the Catholics did not have opportunities and were discriminated against. He took us to the peace wall, which was a very powerful experience. It showed me how sheltered we really are. The wall showed murals of all different instances of injustice that happened all around the world. And to be honest, I did not know half of what they spoke of. It was crazy to me to see how much bad exists in the world without us even knowing.
The real eye-opener, however, was our tour with the Unionist prisoner. Throughout our class, after hearing about all the issues the Catholics were put through during the Troubles, I had always viewed the Protestants as the bad guys. Think about it—everything we learn deals with fighting against the British’s hindrances. I wasn’t even aware of it, but somehow I figured that nobody could hinder another group of humans so much without being inherently awful. But talking with the Unionist prisoner completely changed that mindset. While there may have been some terrible actions done by the Unionists, equally as terrible actions were performed by the Nationalists. In addition, the roles were somewhat reversed after the rebellions. The Protestants began to become the target of some discrimination, leading to terrible unemployment on their side of town. The small amount of time that we had with the Unionist prisoner and his interesting stories completely switched my mindset of who was really in the wrong throughout the troubles.
Both prisoners also talked about how changes are coming about in the city. Even though the Troubles are over, there is still some hostility between the two sides of the city—in part caused by the wall dividing the Protestants from the Catholics. I was really interested in the fact that there has been talk to remove this wall. It may not happen any time soon, or even at all. The prisoners said that both sides demanded other things to change (such as the unemployment rate) before the wall could come down. Even if the wall does not come down, I think it is really cool that two groups of people who had so much hate for one another in the past are attempting to do something that will bring them all together.
– Hanna Ciechanowski