A lot of people don't realize that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (along with Britain, Wales, and Scotland) and completely separate from the Republic of Ireland.
I went on a field trip with my CIEE program to Belfast this week,and it was absolutely incredible. I really enjoyed the city of Belfast, and I wish I would've had more time to spend exploring the place. But we did manage to cram in a ton of historical sites and discussions in a day and a half!
1. The Troubles
Before I got to Ireland, I truly didn't realize that Northern Ireland had experienced its own violent civil war during the 70's - 90's. This conflict was driven by the cultural differences between the Protestant Unionists who wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic Nationalists who wanted to be a part of the Republic of Ireland. The conflict was a mix of political, religious, and cultural tensions, and there was both a personal and physical divide throughout the city.
On our tour through the city we were able to see the murals that are physical reminders of the conflict. We examined their symbolism, and learned how the conflict in N. Ireland often associated with global conflicts like the Separatist movement in Catalan, Spain and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also saw the physical walls that still separate the country into protestant and catholic areas, and even streets. Martin told us that someone could identify what side of the conflict you were on just by asking which street you lived on or where you went to school.
I didn't even know that the Titanic was designed and built in Belfast, and that actually Belfast was at the forefront of industry and shipbuilding at the time and had the largest docks in the world. We were given a walking tour of the area including through the original shipyards, the office of Mr. Andrews, the drawing rooms where the sip was designed, and even the pump house that controlled the dock. It was really dreary and rainy, but it was still a blast to hear about the famous ship, and our tour guide was really peppy.
It was also right next to the Titanic Studios, which is where Game of Thrones is filmed. I don’t watch the show, but everyone else was pretty excited about it. Don’t get too excited though, we didn’t see anyone famous haha.
3. City Hall
So I didn’t get to see anything political, but Belfast as a gorgeous city hall. I know, its something only a Government major could get excited about.
4. Carrickfergus Castle
If you ever go to Ireland, you better have a fondness for castles and Norman Viking History, because it perforates cities and history everywhere. We got a really great tour of this castle built by the Normans, and it evolved over history as different generations of rulers built on it and changed it. It was really fascinating getting to learn about life way back then, and understanding how the whole structure was built with defense and war in mind. I also got to hold a sword, so that’s always a good time.