by Brittany Collins
We went on our second and final overnight field trip included in our program. Our time in Northern Ireland started on Falls Road in Belfast. For those of you who are not familiar with the situation, the island of Ireland is composed of the Republic of Ireland, an independent country, and Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom.
There's a lot of fascinating history behind all of this, which is definitely worth looking into. Basically, partition occurred in the early 1920s, and ever since then, there has been conflict between the ethno-Irish and ethno-British populations in Northern Ireland. The ethno-Irish are primarily Catholic and are generally Republicans/Nationalists politically. The ethno-British are primarily Protestant and Loyalists/Unionists politically. Broadly speaking, the ethno-Irish want to be part of the Republic of Ireland, while the ethno-British want to be part of the United Kingdom.
Catholics have long felt poorly treated and modeled their own civil rights movement in the late
1960s after the American one. This spawned the period known as the Troubles, which lasted until the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement in 1998. This was a terribly violent period in Northern Ireland and beyond. "Zombie" by the Cranberries is actually about the conflict. The Northern Ireland peace process, although imperfect, has been lauded as the most successful modern day peace process. Northern Ireland, though, is still divided physically into ethno-Irish and ethno-British areas. Falls Road is a Catholic section of West Belfast and the Shankill Road the Protestant side. The first thing we saw was the world famous Bobby Sands mural.
Bobby Sands is a hero to the Catholics. He was the leader of the 1981 hunger strikes. Republican prisoners were fighting to be treated as political prisoners rather than common criminals. Bobby Sands was the first of what would be ten to die on the hunger strike. The movie Hunger gruesomely illustrates his death by hunger. The right side of the mural reads "...our revenge will be the laughter of our children." We then made our way to Shankill Road, which was quite obviously an ethno-British, Protestant area. Symbols and flags represented Britain much of the area decorated red, white and blue for the Union Flag.
Belfast has a long history of murals. I forget exactly how Don explained it to us, but there was a
group of dock workers perhaps being mistreated, but their superiors had control over the newspapers. So they took to the walls of the city to get their side of the story out. Falls Road is covered with murals. Amongst the ethno-Irish, there is great sympathy for Palestine, the Basque country, and Cuba.
As mentioned previously, the Catholics drew inspiration from the American civil rights movement.
On our second day in Northern Ireland, we made the hour and half long drive to Derry /Londonderry. (The city is referred to as Londonderry by the ethno-British and as Derry by the ethno-Irish.) This is where the 1972 Bloody Sunday occurred. Basically, Catholics wanted to have a civil rights march, despite a ban on marches and parades. They went on with the march, which was a peaceful one (IRA members agreed to not get involved), but they were fired upon by the British Army's Parachute Regiment. 26 unarmed protesters and bystanders were shot, 13 of whom died. We went to the Museum of Free Derry, where we heard from John Kelly, whose younger brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday. I had tears in my eyes hearing him speak.
We also walked the walls of Derry and heard the about issues of the ethno-British population, the significance of the Walls as not only a defensive fortification but also as a symbol of Ulster for those of an ethno-British identity.
The trip is important as it brings the class to life but we also looked at some aspects of more popular culture including a castle and the Titanic more on that soon!