Keeping the Peace- A Weekend in Northern Ireland

Rachel Thompson
June 28, 2013

As someone who has never taken Irish history, much of the story of the troubles was unbeknownst to me.  Circling through Belfast in black cabs this past weekend, remnants of the city’s painful past were everywhere.

I’d always thought of Ireland as a peaceful country. And for the most part, it is.  The nation has an overall low rate of crime in comparison to other places.  But the murals with violent images painted on sides of houses in Belfast serve as a reminder that it wasn’t always this way.

Belfast was once plagued by car bombs and violence.  In some parts of the city, the tension left behind drifts through the air like humidity on a summer day.

Upon arriving at the famous Crown Bar in downtown Belfast, an IES staff member told us the area had been commonly hit by car bombs because of its central location.  Today, diners sit comfortably inside, sipping Guinness and munching on fish and chips.  Fear doesn’t encompass it anymore.

A grey wall, colored with insignia and inscribed with scribbled messages, separates the Protestant part of Belfast from the Catholic part.

Built in 1969 at the forefront of the Irish troubles, the walls in Belfast were originally intended as temporary establishments to separate the mostly Irish nationalistic Catholics from the mostly Unionist Protestants, who identify as British.

I asked the cab driver what the purpose of the wall was, and he told me that if the walls were taken down, the two sides would shoot at each other.

Northern Ireland has come a long way since the troubles, but the wall still stands.  On it are messages written by visitors to the wall with bible verses, words of optimism and sketches of peace signs.  Hopes for the future.

On a lighter note, there was plenty more to see in Northern Ireland.  We stayed in Portrush, a small, seaside town with welcoming pubs and Texas-sized desserts at the restaurant we dined at.  We braved the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, sipped whiskey at The Old Bushmill’s Distillery and walked along the stones of the Giant’s Causeway.  On Sunday, we toured around Dunluce Castle and walked along the pathway to a waterfall before heading home.

Seeing Belfast was undoubtedly the heaviest part of the weekend, but it was important that we saw it.  Knowing the history of the place we’re living this summer gave us a much broader context of Ireland and its people.

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Rachel Thompson

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi there! I&#39;m a California native studying journalism in one of the coolest cities in the world, at The University of Texas at Austin. I&#39;m a fan of chocolate, watching sports (go Giants), nice people, anything vintage and pretty much all music. I write as much as I can, whether it&#39;s a news article, a blog, or just a journal entry. When I&#39;m not writing, I love to run, try new recipes in my little kitchen, take dance classes and catch up with friends. My goal is to see every continent someday. I&#39;m getting there!</span></p>

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