February 17, 2014

Study Abroad - Week 6: Excursion to Belfast

One of the reasons that I chose to study abroad with the API program was because every program has excursions included in the price. One of our first was this past weekend when we traveled to Belfast in Northern Ireland!

There are about 35 of us studying with API in Dublin. We're studying at three different schools, Trinity, UCD, & NUI Maynooth. So, Saturday morning we were picked up, with us Trinity kids being picked up last at around 8am.

 Photos along the way

We traveled by bus first to Giant's Causeway. It's located in Bushmills, which is about an hour past Belfast. We arrived there at a little past 11am after a 3 hour bus ride, which everyone used to nap. Giant's Causeway is an area on the coast that's made up of rows of basalt. All these rocks are interconnected & they're all shaped like hexagons. It's naturally occurring & was formed by a volcanic eruption. The whole area is really beautiful. It was also crazy windy. So windy, in fact, that bunches of sea foam were being blown into the air. We got a tour at Giant's Causeway then jumped back on the bus to grab some lunch.

Very windy!

 So beautiful & surprisingly sunny

Group photo

After lunch we all headed to Belfast & went straight to the Titanic Museum. The museum is right next to the dry docks where the Titanic was built & the museum itself was pretty cool. When I was younger I loved learning about the Titanic, so it was neat to check out the museum. The museum had a lot about the rise of ship building in Belfast & then had specifics on the building of the Titanic. Of course there was information about the sinking of the ship, the aftermath of the accident, the Titanic in pop culture, & exploring the Titanic today.

 The museum - the size represents the height of the first deck on the Titanic

Group photo

After seeing the museum, we bused over to our hotel, checked in & were let free for the night to get dinner & explore. A bunch of us from Trinity went to dinner at a nearby restaurant then checked out some cool pubs a few minutes from our hotel.

 Cool streets in Belfast

On Sunday we got up & had breakfast at the hotel. We left around 10am for a tour of East & West Belfast by ex-prisoners. We learned all about the Troubles & the conflict between the unionists, or loyalists, who were Protestants by default, and the republicans, who were Catholics by default. The unionists identified as British & were loyal to Britain while the republicans identified as Irish & wanted Northern Ireland to break away from British rule. If you're at all interested, I would recommend you do some reading on the Troubles. It's really interesting stuff. We were given a few tours by people who were involved in the Troubles. They all served some time in jail for their involvement & had some really great stories to tell.

Our tour started with a tour of East Belfast by a unionist. He told us a lot of the history of the Troubles. Essentially, the Troubles started in Derry & then spread to Belfast. In Belfast, most Catholics lived in West Belfast while most Protestants lived in East Belfast. However, in the middle of these two areas there were a row of houses of both Protestants & Catholics. When the Troubles began, all of these houses between East & West Belfast were set on fire. After that, all Protestants moved to East Belfast & all Catholics moved to West Belfast for their own safety. Neither group was accepted in the others' territory.

During this time, in 1969, a wall was set up between East & West Belfast. First it was just a barbed wire fence, but it was built up into a large, strong wall. The two communities were separated for their own safety, but some people believe the wall was actually put up to keep the two communities separate & to keep each group in their own areas. Now that the Troubles are over, this wall is called the Peace Wall. Graffiti artists are asked to paint it & there are lots of art pieces and quotes up on the wall. It's actually a big tourist attraction & we all stopped to sign the wall. The wall is signed by people from all over the world. Bill Clinton & the Dalai Lama have actually signed it.

Some people want to remove the wall now that the Troubles are over. However, many people are arguing against it. Some people want companies and the government to invest in the area around the wall first to build it up some. Many companies once had factories in the area but moved them when the Troubles began. Other people are nervous the removing the wall would create conflict, as there is still some tension between the two communities.

The gate between East & West Belfast is open every day from 7am until 7pm. There is some talk about allowing the gate to stay open later. Belfast residents don't actually use the gate much. Instead the gate is used mainly to allow traffic to pass through the city.

After seeing the wall, we toured other areas of East Belfast. We saw what used to be the main prison & main courthouse for Northern Ireland. The courthouse is now falling into disrepair & the prison is a museum. The courthouse actually opened in 1850 & closed in 2000. The prison saw an under-population of prisoners until the Troubles, as Northern Ireland has a fairly small population. However, during the Troubles, the prison became overcrowded and several new prisoners had to be built.

When people were arrested for their involvement in the Troubles, they were tried in courtroom number one. After their trial, they were led through an underground tunnel across the street to the prison. All prisoners went through this prison first, then some were sent to the other newly built prisons. There was so much activity on this road during the Troubles that it was actually sealed off to traffic. Out in front of the prison are several row houses where senior prison officers lived.

Old Courthouse

In prison, the unionist and the republican prisoners were housed together. At the newer prisons, the unionists & the republicans were given separate compounds, but then the guards started forced integration. There was some conflict over this, but the prisoners themselves had an unwritten rule of no conflict. So, despite whatever was happening outside the prison, the prisoners would not take out their frustrations on one another. In order to stop or avoid the forced integration, unionists & republicans would take turns staying in their cell every day. The unionists would refuse to leave their cells one day and the republicans would refuse to leave the next.

Next we got lunch at a restaurant in West Belfast & then we spoke with a woman who was part of the IRA, or the Provisional Irish Republican Army. She spent time in jail for her involvement in the group. She spoke a lot about her childhood & the discrimination she faced being a Catholic. Her father couldn't find any work & her family was quite poor. One tactic used to prevent Catholics from finding jobs was to simply ask where they went to school. Most Catholics went to schools named after Saints, so it was easy to see if they were Catholics or Protestants. There were many other ways to see the differences between Catholics and Protestants, like asking them to sing a Protestant song or seeing if they said "hitch" in the Irish in the British way. If ever she went over to the East Belfast or if she was caught on the street by a Protestant she could be beaten up. She described much of the discrimination as a pogrom against Catholics. She also spoke about her time in prison & the unfair treatment she received there.

Last, we were given another tour by a man from West Belfast. He showed us many locations in the area where big riots occurred & we stopped at a memorial. We heard many similar things from him, about discrimination and injustices that eventually cause immense frustration and resulted in riots and violence.

The entire tour of Belfast was incredibly interesting. It was great hearing both sides of the conflict. It was also interesting to learn how the Troubles began & to see how much people are still affected today.

If you have questions about anything, please shoot me an email! I'll be busy with projects this week then I'll be traveling to Copenhagen next weekend!

No comments:

Post a Comment