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9 posts categorized "Amanda Hall"


Hillsborough/Battle of the Boyne

On the drive to Dublin, we stopped in both Hillsborough and the site of the Battle of the Boyne (fought in 1690).

Photos from Hillsborough:













And the one picture from the Battle of the Boyne site (the really comprehensive museum in which we spent most of our time - it was raining - didn't allow photography):



Parading Culture

In the United States, when you say parades, images of celebration or patriotism are immediately conveyed. Parades in Northern Ireland are sort of the same, but yet markedly different. Rarely, if ever, does it conjure up the idea of a contentious situation or even potential violence, as is the case in Northern Ireland where the declaration and demonstration of political or religious allegiance can have serious repercussions.

Parades, like the interfaces, represent one of the ways that cultural divides remain visible on a nearly daily basis (at least during the “Marching Season” that is currently at its yearly height). Many parades, like the bands that dominate them, are affiliated with “lodges” or other political/religious groups and have their own “traditional” routes. These can oftentimes take them directly through areas controlled by those of opposing beliefs, greatly contributing to the potential to flare tempers, raise tensions, and even possibly incite violence.

The question I struggled with all week – from hearing Dr. Ray Casserly speak on the tradition of bands and their role in parades to visiting the Apprentice Boys of Derry, who are behind one of the biggest parades each year – was that of why bands continue to march through contested, or even heavily opposed, areas?

I realize now that I never actually asked the question, so I can only guess by piecing together bits and pieces of related discussions while I try to come to my own conclusion ---

The Apprentice Boys of Derry, for example, march to commemorate the siege of their city over 300 years ago – an event the route they march commemorates. Others have similar reasons for choosing their own routes. To change this plan because of the demands of the opposing community would not only sell this tradition short, but would represent a concession to the opposition. While this could mean significant progress for the peace process, it would undoubtedly be interpreted as one side having “won,” which could potentially incite more conflict. In this way, I suppose the current situation represents the most feasible method at present to avoid a return to all-out fighting. Instead, such clashes can be retained within the general context of these summer marches.



Historical Misrepresentation

Yesterday morning, we went to the Ulster Museum at Queen’s University, Belfast, to see the exhibition on The Troubles. The exhibit itself was displayed in a fairly striking way – many of the main events of the time were highlighted with pictures and descriptions on the side of gray house-like structures (which I was told were designed to parallel the cultural of murals painted on the side of houses in Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole). What seemed noteworthy, however, was not how these events were presented physically, but the language with which each was described. At the museum more than anywhere else we visited, it seemed as though history was lost for the sake of providing a neutral telling of events that are still very much contested (which, I was told, was the goal of the installation).

 Such an idea of a contested history leading to an almost watered-down look at the situation got me thinking: how is this done in other, subtler, ways throughout historical representation? Where have I missed it in my previous studies? Obviously we’ve been talking a lot about The Troubles and the varying viewpoints of its events, so I was more receptive to the idea that it was presented with a slanted view when Ray brought it up. This week, however, has made it clear that different representations of the same events can more or less change history. It really adds a new dimension to my understanding of the larger study of history - extending well past what I've learned since we began just a 6 days ago.



Our first night here, there was a film screening on campus at Queen’s University, Belfast (where the program this week was based) called “Life as an Interface.” It was unrelated to this CIEE IFDS week, but the timing seemed perfect and it really set the stage for so much of what we focused on and studied in the days that followed as it followed one community through the process of developing their interface – the divide between communities of differing political or religious beliefs – so as to unite the communities rather than divide them. It is this idea of an interface as a division that pervades everything about life in Northern Ireland and forces everyday places and actions to be considered in a new, dual-meaning light.

We’ve talked a lot about interfaces this week. They can range from a physical fence, sometimes many tens of feet high, to discourage things being thrown over them onto houses on the other side, to a barren wasteland where tensions got so high that houses were abandoned, to a just a roundabout - as the film showed in the neighborhood of Skegoneill. On a more nuanced level, it can be simple things like members of different communities walking on different sides of the street or shopping at stores further from their house that are frequented by others like them. What unifies the myriad versions of an interface is the community divisions they forward.

In this way, Dr. Duncan Morrow (former head of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council) explained, “all of Northern Ireland is an interface.” This means that every action has an implication and needs to be greatly thought out. Community divides have lead to social divides; every new personal interaction comes with a process of “telling” – trying to figure out, without asking directly, how a person is aligned politically and/or religiously. This, from what I can tell, leads to a nervousness about meeting new people and a distrust of most newcomers until they can prove themselves otherwise. Such a culture of skepticism then drives forward divisions between even those who live on the same street. Without positive, comfortable interactions between people fostering mutual understanding, it is only logical that these divides will deepen and not resolve.

From an outside perspective, it may be easy to say “oh, well if communities were able to understand each other, they would be able to unify the community or at least develop less contentious relations between the two sides.” On paper, I suppose this makes sense. A week ago, I would have said the very same thing. Now, however, it is clear to me that this is not quite so simple. I know that’s sort of a cliff-hanger to leave this post on, but I don’t have all the answers (or even any of them). What I do have, however, are lots of questions that need answering and thinking through and the days, weeks, months, and more to come.



A city with two names, depending on who you ask.
















"All sports for all people." (?)

Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic games as the institutor of the International Olympic Committee, famously declared the games as "all sports for all people." While this is particularly fitting in an Olympic year, it also applies well to the culture surrounding sports here existing outside of the Olympics.

Euro 2012 is being played out as I type (seriously - I'm watching Greece lose to the Czech Republic right this very second). "So what," you may say, "go cheer for Ireland!" But it isn't that simple, as I learned my first day on the ground in Belfast. Here there are Ireland fans, and there are England fans; this has caused some tension as decisions were made about which games (if any) to show on the big screen at Belfast City Hall. Ultimately, it was decided that games of both countries should be shown so as to give both sets of supporters an equal chance. I saw the Ireland-Croatia game there on Sunday night:




Sports have always struck me as a great thing because they have only the value people assign to them - but here I've discovered that they take on much more significance. Ray Casserly, the Resident Director of CIEE here in Belfast, explained that this is the result of political tensions spilling over into things like sports. Some remain uncontroversial. Others, like soccer, force citizens to (yet again in their lives) pick a side or declare an allegiance of some sort. As a result, showing either Irish or English matches in the public venue was a somewhat controversial decision - an impact of the tensions on everyday life I honestly would have never considered, had I not experienced it.

(Sidebar: watching the match was a relatively subdued affair - Ireland did lose, after all.)

The Importance of Communication

If I've learned just one thing so far this week, it is the importance of communication. We've seen how communication - be it direct or indirect - can be forwarding the goals of peace, or serving to highten already high tensions surrounding sensitive issues. I guess, on the most basic level, I knew that already (in fact, I think I wrote my fellowship application about that very idea). However, until this week it had been just that: an idea. Today, seminar participants were afforded the unique opportunity to hear about reality from first-hand sources who have been on both sides of the peace process. As a result, the paramilitaries with whom we spoke provided unique insight into the importance of communication and compromise in finding solutions that are acceptable to all parties dealing with an issue. 

Noel Large and Sean Murray are former paramilitaries (Large a loyalist, Murray a republican) who, despite their contrasting backgrounds, are both working toward a future void of violence in Belfast. Through their work with community organizations, Interaction Belfast and the Springfield Road Residents Action Group respectively, these men are both making strides to increase communication between the factions of the city - and both cite the importance of cultural understanding in making this communication possible.

It may sound quite simple and logical, but it was clear from listening to Large and Murray speak about their experiences and opinions that actualizing meaningful communication was difficult - to put it mildly. The ideas of finding mutual goals toward which to work and being patient in the peace process were emphasized. Murray called this a "generational process" and discussed the importance of institutionalizing or embedding certain community organizations so as to affect long-term change. Large, through his work with the Community Development Team of Interaction Belfast discussed common concerns of conflicting communities as a means by which to "humanize" the other side of the conflict. 

It will be interesting to see how, as the week goes on, others deal with the issue of communicating with others who are unlike them. In a city where walls physically divide people of different viewpoints and backgrounds, it is easy to see how the "mental walls" can be put up as well. While I saw first-hand today that the concrete is a relatively stable structure, today's discussion has caused me to reconsider the permanence of the social divide between people here. As Large and Murray showed us in recounting their own work and experiences, it is possible to break down barriers between people - though it may take more than a bulldozer to change minds.

Walls That Talk

"If these walls could talk..." is possibly one of the most cliché terms in the English language. Despite how corny it may sound, however, the walls of Belfast truly do tell a story of the conflict and tensions here. Through murals on walls in every corner of the city, community allegiances are displayed, lives lost are commemorated, injustices are articulated, and heroes are championed - sometimes all at once. 

Many of these exist at interfaces - the boundaries between neighborhoods of conflicting ideologies; along many of these boundaries there are physical walls further cementing the divide. We've talked a lot about these physical walls, and the mental walls that parallel them, but I'll get to that in another post.

From our moving bus tour of the interface areas yesteday, I unfortunately captured very few pictures - even fewer of which do the artwork any justice. However, this post would be incomplete without any accompanying visuals. Accordingly, I've included pictures from other sources of three murals that have inspired particular discussion or shock within our group (all sourced in the hyperlinks).

Prepared for Peace, Ready for War

Loyalist mural that the group has been talking about for the last 24 hours.


Republican mural in commemoration of MP Bobby Sands, who died in the hunger strike in 1981.


Loyalist mural along Sandy Row, which is known for being one of the staunchest loyalist neighborhoods in the city.



Hello from Belfast!

Good afternoon!

We just wrapped up the second day of IDFS Ireland 2012, so this seemed like as good a time as any to write my inaugural blog post of the experience!

The question is: where to begin? I could start with…

…the trip around the city yesterday to look at interfaces and murals…

…or the former paramilitaries who spoke with us just hours ago…

…or my solo trek to watch the Irish soccer match on the screen at Belfast City Hall…

…or this morning’s discussion of both Loyalist and Republican bands and parades…

…or everything else that's happened in the last 72 hours?

I’ve got a couple free hours now, so the goal is to catch up on all of the above - looking forward to sharing this amazing, truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!