Derry – May 19, 2014 - Today was probably the most emotional day for everyone.  We met John McCort, a self- professed ex-member of the IRA who provided students with a eye-witness description of the events of Bloody Sunday.  As part of their day, students walked that path of the peace march that day and relived the experience of what happened at Bogside.

The day was not all that emotional.  John, a charismatic speaker, provided students with both his personal history (met and married his wife in 2 weeks – now 30+ years later with 14 children), member of the IRA, worked for peace, involved in government inquires into abuses, provided an engaging tour of the sites and history of Derry. 

One of the things that stood out with both John and Richard is that they were both involved in being removed from their homes.  As the violence during the Troubles escalated, one of the typical acts was to force Protestants out of Catholic neighborhoods and Catholics out of Protestant neighborhoods.  This segregation continues today.  Unlike Belfast, were the division is by neighborhoods, in Derry it is divided by a river.  On the east Bank you will find the Protestants; on the West bank, the Catholics. 

 

Corrymeela Reconciliation Center – May 16, 2014.

I had been fighting a bug for the last several days. I took some time off to try and get over what I had. It seemed to work. When I did join the group, there were deeply involved in working to understand the goals of Corrymeela. It was interesting to explore the differences between peace and reconciliation and to explore conflicts that exist in the United States.

Students were certainly tired at the end of the day. Our facilitator, a Quaker and a professor, was very interesting person and provided an enlightening series of programs. We finished the night by watching the documentary “Bloody Sunday” which traced the events of Sunday January 30, 1972 in Derry. More on this in the Derry entry.

Students were very clearly of this weekend program. They thought that it like church camp. I think that most of them were surprised. Separate from the program, the location is beautiful. Located at one of the northern most points in Ireland, it overlooked the ocean.

Belfast – May 16, 2014 – One of the interesting ways that attitudes are expressed regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland is via murals.  There are official and unofficial murals.  Many of the traditional murals have been rather militant in their orientation.  This would include masked gunmen, weapons, or statements of never surrender. 

There seems to be some conscious changes in the nature of the murals   There is more of a theme of reconciliation as was displayed by the first mural Richard showed us.

There has been a conscious effort to switch to non-trouble themes, especially the Titanic. 

One of the “official” murals was being painted over while we were there.  The original mural was of Gerry Adams the leader of Sinn Fein, the political party in favor of separation of the UK.  He was arrested recently for a murder that took place in 1972.  He asked that his mural be replaced with a new one.  The new mural seeks justice for the shooting death of eleven residents in Balllymurphy.  One of the unique features of the mural is that it includes women.

 

Belfast – May 16, 2014 – I don’t understand the reason for the Titanic museum, the murals, and the other references to it.  Why would a ship sinking (only tenth on the list of major ship disasters) become so important?  I was on a quest for an answer.  I asked Richard, he did not know but hypnotized that it was because it was build in Belfast.  I asked locals that worked in the hotel, they did not know.   I asked at the museum and they did not know. 

Finally, our guide for the second day in Belfast came up with an answer.  It was the bloody Yanks that did it.  Yep, we are at fault.  No one in Ireland ever thought about the Titanic.  It was the ongoing questions by Americans related to the Titanic that created the Irish fever for it. 

We now have the museum in Belfast (along with the slip it was built in) that includes a ride on how it was built and another museum in Cork commemorating the sinking of the ship.  We have preserved a ferry that “may” have ferried passengers to the Titanic. 

In all fairness, there were a number of Irish sailors and staff that worked the ship and there should be some pride in the history of Belfast and its shipbuilding past.  But, it was only a ship.  

Belfast – May 15, 2014

We arrived in Belfast today.  Richard Meely (?) met us in the airport terminal.  Richard was our guide for the day.  He is an ex-British soldier, Republican supporter who presented an overview of the conflict in Northern Ireland.  During the Troubles (1966 – 1998 )  There was a great deal of violence over the place of Northern Ireland.  Richard took us to East Belfast first as we walked down Newtownards street.  When we stopped, he described the scene years ago, where a sniper was in the church steeple shooting at those in the street.  We stopped at a memorial to those that were killed.  Several of them were Richard’s friends and in-laws.  Chills.  As we walked down the street we passed numerous murals, memorials, and observed recent vandalism (mostly paint bombs – jars filled with pant tossed at local housing). 

The most striking thing I noticed was the fences.  Each house had a decorative fence, behind that a security fence, and then bars or wire screens on the windows to protect those inside from thrown items.  This location was also our introduction to the high walls that separated catholic from protestant neighborhoods.

As we moved back to Belfast, we visited the Falls and Shankill Road areas.  These are the “official” locations for murals.   

As we drove around Belfast, I noticed that many of the neighborhoods had gates that could close off the roads.  These gates were intended to prevent people from moving quickly via vehicle from neighborhood to neighborhood.  It was a way to regulate travel through the city.  During the troubles, the gates were closed most nights.

Or final stop for the day was known as the peace wall.  This wall is (as you can see) very tall and was the major separator between Catholics and Protestants.  This wall is an unofficial mural wall.  It is full of signatures of local teens and others making statements about the differences.  

One of the other items we saw with some regularity was memorials.

Several days later, I was talking with our driver Joe.  I mentioned to him that it seemed to me that the tensions seemed to be just under the surface.  He mentioned that most visitors he has talked with say the same thing.  He, and others, who are from Ireland do not feel those tensions.  He just commented that it would take decades to get over the troubles.  

I don’t know.  What I did observe that as we were walking along the Peace Wall, the driver of one of the vehicles that drove by gave those standing by the wall the finger.  Also, the night before we arrived in Belfast, the neighborhood gates had been closed (according to Richard).  There is an ongoing point of tension on Twaddell Avenue.  Each evening, a group of loyalists (mostly Protestants), form and march a traditional parade route.  At the top of the hill, the traditional parade route goes to the right.  The courts and police, in response to neighbor protests and complaints, do not allow the parade to proceed through the traditional route as it passes through a catholic community.  So each evening, we have a confrontation between paraders, police, and a community.  The Loyalists have set up a campsite for civil rights until such time as they are able to march their traditional routes.  Parades in Northern Ireland have a strong tradition and are a great source of pride. 

Other Items – Belfast was once one of the biggest ship building cities in the World.  Ships built include the Titanic. 

Hotel Europa – once known as the most bombed hotel in Europe