Hey guys! Welcome to another blog post, where I attempt to explain my trip to Northern Ireland in its historical context without boring you all to tears.

(I wonder how many people closed this upon reading that sentence?)

This past weekend a group of international students from UCD and myself headed up to Derry & Belfast for a weekend trip. Northern Ireland is actually part of the UK- they use the pound as currency, there’s no Gaelic on the signs, the British flag flies high, and they resent the Republic of Ireland. If your high school history curriculum was anything like mine, Irish history was largely overlooked. Thus, a brief history:

Ireland was at first invaded by Normans in around the 11th century. Fast forward about 500 years to Henry VIII, who was over his first wife Catherine after she failed to give him a son and needed to find a way to get divorced, which wasn’t allowed within the Catholic church. Protestantism became the official religion of England and he proceeded to have way too many wives. Oliver Cromwell (any Irish person’s least favorite human being) torched the countryside and made the lives of the Irish miserable. The Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II and Protestants took over Ireland, developing laws that left the Irish devoid of rights. After years and years of unsuccessful rebellion, in 1916, the Easter Uprising took place, a bloody battle that eventually took down the British and thus Protestantism within Ireland- almost. The British left 26 counties of Ireland, and retained 6, which became Northern Ireland.

And here we are today! Derry and Belfast are both full of religious conflict and tension to this day. Both cities have dividing lines between their Catholic and Protestant sides:

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The Peace Bridge in Derry, donated by the EU

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The dividing wall in Belfast (Protestant side)

Both cities also have tons of depressing murals sprinkled throughout. While I know it’s important to remember your history and what you’ve fought for, I feel like they’re just a painful reminder of lives lost and not exactly what little kids growing up there need to be looking at, but that’s just me. A few examples:

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A mural from the Civil Rights movement in Derry (a movement that almost directly paralleled Martin Luther King Jr’s) that depicts a young person getting shot on Bloody Sunday in 1972. 26 unarmed protestors were shot by the British army (the guy on the far left) and 14 of them died. Note that the British guy is standing on the Civil Rights banner.

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An Ulster Defense Association in Belfast (a Protestant group). Our tour guide said this one was Mona Lisa-esque because wherever you walk, it looks like the gunman is looking at you. There’s a primary school right around the corner from here which is nice.

However, the weekend was not all doom and gloom! It was extremely interesting to learn about the history and I would recommend reading more into it if anyone’s interested. We also went to Giant’s Causeway, an awesome sight on the Northeast coast of Ireland created by boiling lava and plate tectonics and some other stuff… Not really sure. I just know it was beautiful!

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All of the rocks I’m standing on are actually tall cylinders that reach down into the sea. Someone who actually paid attention in Geology 118 could tell you more about their formation. I am not that person.

We also saw where the Titanic was built! I was that weird kid in elementary school who thought tragedies and disasters were really interesting, and I’ve always LOVED learning about the Titanic so this was great.

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We also went out both nights and had a great time! We were at a gay bar on Saturday and didn’t realize it… hilarity ensues. It was amazing to see more of Ireland. Even just sitting on the bus and driving through is worthwhile. Literally the whole country is green, hilly, and beautiful. Dublin is a cool city, but I think the best part of Ireland is when you leave the urban areas.

One main takeaway for me this weekend that so much of what you learn in school, in the news, or through the media is just a small representation of the truth. I was completely shocked that I had never learned about all of this religious and political conflict within this country. I don’t understand why I’ve learned about the Revolutionary War like seven times but never about such an important part of Irish history. Even little things like the Titanic are not fully explained in our history classes and in the movies. I didn’t know that the Titanic had almost identical sister ship, the Olympic, that did the exact same journey in 1910… the Titanic was only famous because she sank. I guess my point is… don’t take what you learn for granted! If you are interested in something, it’s 100% worth it to open your mind and learn more about it!

And with that I’ll get off my soapbox. Thanks to those of you that stuck with me 😉 Have a good week!

 

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