Prior to studying abroad in Ireland, I did not know much about the historic conflict in Northern Ireland. I knew very preliminary information, like the island was split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and that only Northern Ireland was still a part of the United Kingdom. Having grown up in the United States, Irish history was not covered in very much detail during my history courses. The BCA Dublin program helped me to learn much more about Ireland and Northern Ireland through the BCA course, an excursion to Belfast, and discussions.
The BCA program includes the required BCA Signature Course – Understanding Conflict: The Irish Experience, which is taught through the Kennedy Institute for Conflict Studies at Maynooth University. One reason why this module was so informative is because it gave insight on a topic that I had almost no previous knowledge about. This was especially important since I was to live in Ireland for five months. I needed to know and understand such an important piece of the country’s background and history in order to better appreciate the culture and history of my new home.
Visiting Belfast, Northern Ireland
In addition to taking the Understanding Conflict class, what really made a difference in my learning about Ireland’s culture, was the excursion to Belfast that is included in the BCA program. This trek to Northern Ireland allowed me to put what we had learned in class into context and application. It also gave me an opportunity to learn about the dynamic in Belfast today. It is one thing to learn about a topic through a lecture, but information can be completely transformed after speaking with people who were part of and affected by the history.
As the peace process worked to end troubles and violence occurring in Northern Ireland, I assumed that everything had been healed, and that an accord was present. However, that was an oversimplified assumption. That is not to say that great strides have not been made since the Good Friday Agreement, but I was very surprised to learn how segregated the city still was. I think many other people in the class were surprised as well since it is not a topic that is discussed very often.
As we drove through the city, our class noted the differences between Protestant neighborhoods and Catholic neighborhoods. The Protestant community, which are typically situated on the west side of Belfast, had Union Jack flags proudly displayed. In the Catholic communities, the flag of the Republic of Ireland was shown. They also had many signs in Gaelic. The two neighborhoods and communities were very distinctive and separate.
Seeing this type of segregation astonished me. That is not to say that I am not aware that segregation still exists, even to certain extents in the United States, but with the discussion of peace, reconciliation and the end of the horrendous violence, I had imagined more integration of both sides. Matthew Engel noted in a writing for The Guardian, “Ulster has had two decades of what outsiders call peace. The world’s media no longer descends on Drumcree; the neighbours feel no fear. But this indicates only an absence of conflict, which is not the same as peace. ‘A truce?’ I suggested to Richard English, professor of politics at Queen’s University, Belfast. ‘A sullen truce,’ he said.”
Drawing Conclusions from My Experience
I think this “sullen truce” is something that cannot quite be understood until visiting Belfast. However, this is not something a tourist just stumbles upon during a simple tour through Belfast or a night out on the town. Belfast is still a booming city and its past is somewhat underlying. Once seen, it cannot be forgotten. In the Understanding Conflict class, our lecture on reconciliation during the peace process was said to “cement the settlement” and “provide for long term peace and the restoration of normalcy, cooperation, and coexistence.” However, after my experiences, I think there has been an end to the violence, but not long-term restoration to the issue. We were able to discuss this further when we met with two individuals who had loved ones killed during the Troubles in Ireland. Although some of the topics covered during the trip to Belfast were sad, it was very eye-opening and informative. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity travel to Belfast as part of the BCA program. It was very enlightening on important issues that occurred in Ireland and still have an effect today.
About the Author – Taylor Cumming, Spring 2018 Dublin, Ireland Storyteller & University of La Verne Student
Taylor is a junior economics major with a speech communication minor at the University of La Verne in California. As a BCA Storyteller, Taylor is always looking for her next adventure and studying abroad in Ireland is helping her to do just that!