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2 posts from April 2011


My trip "Up North." No, the one in Ireland, not Minnesota.

By Roxanne Kalenborn

Last week I journeyed with my program to Northern Ireland to see the sights and get a Irish flag map
better grasp of the so aptly named “The Troubles.”  To put things very simply, The Troubles are the result of Catholic/Protestant tensions within Northern Ireland and as most people will tell you, it has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with history.  While 26 counties gained their independence from the British in 1922, the 6 Protestant majority counties in the North stayed within the United Kingdom, as most Protestants feel more connected to British culture and rule in the same way many Americans feel connected to their own ancestral countries, while Catholics have traditionally been of Irish descent and oppose British rule of any kind as they suffered for 800 years at their hands. 

While th NI 2 Peace Wall is is an oversimplified explanation, these backgrounds have led to conflict and violent acts on both sides.   Though negotiations in recent years have brought relative peace, many Protestants and Catholics still remain segregated by “Peace Lines” in many towns although the city centers are considered a neutral area.  That's not to say that everyone is divided, there are certainly many areas where Protestants and Catholics live in mixed areas with no problems at all today.  If you ask a Northern Irish person today what they think about the situation, most from my generations will tell you they just want to move past The Troubles and live in peace.  It is still taboo however, to ask someone whether they’re Catholic or a Protestant.

We stayed in Belfast, and although I knew I was in a diBelfast-city-hall-bfferent country, it didn't hit me until I saw the Union Jack everywhere and I had to exchange my money to British pounds.  It really hit home when I saw a statue of Queen Victoria in front of the City Hall; Dublin long ago rid them selves of their Queen Victoria statue by sending it to Australia where it could be better appreciated I'm sure.



City Hall Belfast

We first got a tour of the famous Shankill/Falls areas where a majority of skirmishes in  Belfast happened, and the site of many famous political murals. It's also really fun and not stressful at all when you get tricked by your friend into walking back there at night.

NI 6 Mural BS      Loyalist mural

After a morning of heavy yet informative political tours in the rain, it was a welcome change to trudge back onto the bus and drive out to the dockyards where the Titanic was constructed.  The pNI 10 Titanic 1opular joke around here is "She was fine when she lefNI 8 Titanic 1t us."  We got to see the offices where the architects of the Titanic worked, the yard where she was constructed, and the boardroom where they made the brilliant decision not to include enough life boats.   Smart.  We also saw the construction of a "Titanic" sized museum due to open next year, though it seemed a little to me like it's going to be a theme-park of sorts. 


Titanic: The drawing room                                                                                                                                                                           Titanic: The dock

The next stop was Derry, or Londonderry depending on which side of the peace line you live on.  This town saNI Mural FDw the worst of The Troubles, NI Derry Fowith civilian fighting but mostly terrible acts on the Catholics, tired of being treated like second-class citizens, by the British forces; the murals here keep a civic record of the terrible acts committed there as well as celebrating peace and human civil rights protests.  I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up here.

NI 11 Mural CR           NI Garden Derry
Images of Londonderry/Derry the murals, memorial garden. Above right - loyalist area with Red Hand and Union Jack colors

On a lighter note, we also went to Carrickfergus c  astle, built in the 1200s and the museum nerd in me was all over it.  I especially appreciated the cheesy figures placed everywhere, surprisingly helpful in making the everyday life aspect of the place come alive...

NI CF      NI CF hat      

Carrickfergus castle dating from the 12th century in continuous use up to the 20th century - good times and some props as well!!!















Dear West Ireland, I Get It. Respect.

by Roxanne Kalenborn,


Although it's been a few weeks since I went, my trip to West Ireland with my program was really fantastic.  It took about 4 hours to drive clear across Ireland, and it made me think of the joke I think I've been told at least 15 times when I tell an Irish person about thirteen hour road trips in the States, "If you droveP1010645 that far in Ireland you'd end up in the middle of the Atlantic ocean! har-har." 

We stayed in Westport in a lovely hotel which was definitely a nice break from the hostel beds student travelers become accustomed to whilst touring Europe.  The first day we hiked to the base of Croagh Patrick (aka St Patrick's Holy Mountain) in County Mayo, which is the site of a yearly pilgrimage of young and old to the top, the bravest and most devout in only their bare feet.  When I heard this causes many to need an air-lift down afterwards, it made sense as the terrain looked torturous at best.

 Across from Croagh Patrick was the Famine Memorial.  Located in County Mayo, one of the areas hit hardest by the devastation, there was an old saying "I'm from Mayo, God help me."  The Irish Potato Famine wasn't technically a famine; although the multiple potato blights of the 1840s were a devastation to the potato crop, other food was actually being exported from Ireland, while relief supplies from the British EmpirDSCN8122e were few and costly to the starving Irish farmers.  Without crops to pay rent on the British plantations, many Irish families were evicted from their homes by their absentee landlords.  The famine would live on in the Irish collective memory as one of the last straws in the colonization by the British, and served as a reminder that England could not be trusted to help the Irish in time of need although they held complete power over them.  The memorial depicts a "coffin ship" so-called because only half of the desperate emigrants would survive the journey to America.  Like my visit to Auschwitz, it seemed unnatural that I should be visiting such a sad site on a beautiful sunny day.  It just didn't seem right.  Much of our trip was spent on thin curving roads taking in the landscapes, which were pretty incredible



Since I grew up surrounded by lovely but flat prairie land, I can't fathom what it would be like to call West Ireland home; it would be like growing up in Narnia I think.  It is the most beautiful place I've been; the land goes from bog (careful not to fall in the bog holes!), to craggy rocks to beach to mountains. My pictures  give examples of the amazing landscapes I saw and dramatically posed in front of.








In the region of Connemara, they still speak Irish as their primary language,  usually the signs in IrelDSCN8208and are in Irish with English below them, but this area only had Irish signs, even the radio stations were in Irish; it was like being in a foreign country, haha. 

While we have been learning about the Famine and seeing memorials, it really hit home when we went to a deserted Famine village.  This village would have been thriving before the 1840s, but because of its remote location, it was nearly impossible for tDSCN8199he residents to get any of the scant relief help.  Today the Irish consider tearing down these villages akin to building on a graveyard.  It was incredibly sad to be in such a beautiful place but surrounded by homes where people suffered for years.  Like I said, it was hard to learn about how terrible it was, but actually seeing their homes they had to leave to try to survive made it more real for me.