By Roxanne Kalenborn
Last week I journeyed with my program to Northern Ireland to see the sights and get a
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 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 different 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.
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 popular joke around here is "She was fine when she left 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 saw the worst of The Troubles, with 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.
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...