Before travelling to Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, and Derry I equated Northern Ireland with war, protests, and political unrest. To be honest I was a little skeptical about how the weekend up North would go because I really did not know what to expect. As it turned out, Northern Ireland’s scenery was just as beautiful, and its people were just as nice and welcoming as every other part of Ireland I have previously visited. I was not particularly looking forward to travelling up North, but it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences I have had thus far in Ireland.
Although the majority of the first day in Belfast was spent sitting on a bus, it was full of interesting history thanks to our two informative tour guides. The tour guides were both very loyal to their sides of the wall, but they were not blinded by the fact that Northern Ireland as a whole would benefit if there was peace between the nationalists and unionists. Both men represent their sides of the wall and talk to each other in order to create a better future for Belfast. By driving through the city it was clear that the divide has had some negative effects, especially when it comes to the economy. The tour guide on the protestant side of the wall made sure to point out some of the businesses and buildings that are vacant because of the poor economy. Without businesses, the people in the city cannot find work to support their families. It was sad to see how hard life is for people in Belfast because of what happened many years ago.
The walking tour in Derry was just as moving as the tour in Belfast, especially because the tour guide was so passionate about creating a better future for generations to come. Bloody Sunday affected every family in Belfast, and the city of Derry has been recovering ever since. The guide dreams of a day when there is peace everywhere in the world. He wants people to learn from what happened to prevent future tragedies that are caused by hatred and racism. The museum we went to after the tour was very sad, especially because we met the brother of one of the victims who died January 30, 1972. Meeting him and hearing what he had to say about that morning made the situation feel very real.
I left Northern Ireland with a new appreciation for Ireland’s history. Although parts of the country’s history are very tragic, it is good to have this learning experience so there is not a repetition of history. I hope that Northern Ireland continues to improve so its inhabitants can live a happy and peaceful life.
By Sean Cronin