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Ireland and Northern Ireland, January 2007

Ireland and Northern Ireland, January 2007 |

It seemed like a good idea to take half a day off work to get to Dublin early and explore the city before leaving on our Northern Ireland tour on the Friday morning. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans for Navin and I as our original flight was cancelled and subsequent flight delayed. All up, five hours earmarked as Dublin time was spent hoping that the 80mph winds buffeting Heathrow would dissipate before our entire holiday was put in jeopardy.

By the time we arrived in Dublin there were still enough hours left in the evening to enjoy a brief walk around the city and a Guinness in the bustling Temple District – at the Temple Bar none the less!

A stereotypical group of 30, antipodean travelers gathered at 8am on Friday to be herded into the Northern/Southern buses respectively. What we didn’t expect was for the 30 to be 27 Southern tourists, and 3 Northern tourists, comprising Navin, a random Aussie girl, Bronwyn, and myself. The usual party bus atmosphere expected on such tours now resembled more of a personalized luxury tour of Northern Ireland in our green van with guide and driver, Connor. No waiting for stragglers, no sharing hostel rooms, a personal Irish history tutor and a comfy Mercedes van…perfect for a trip more about understanding the identities, culture, politics and conflict than the party – although there would be some of that too.

After a quick stop at Slane Castle, the lectures of Irish history began and the foundations for an understanding of the North/South/unionist (Protestant/loyalist)/nationalist (Catholic/republican) identities began to develop.

We headed to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Drogheda where the preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett was on display. From there we passed through Armagh, Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital, where we visited Catholic and Protestant churches, the Protestant church being built on the site of St. Patrick's original church.

Since entering Northern Ireland there had been indicators of the unionist and nationalist areas – red, white, and blue painted curb stones, and Union Jack flags marking unionist dominated areas, and signs of nationalist sentiment visible on the road signs with graffiti deleting ‘London’ from ‘Londonderry’, our stop for the night.

The city is of significant importance in Irish history, notable events including the siege of Derry and more recently, Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972. After a pretty good night out at a local night club, we embarked on a sobering walking tour of the city: Peace Walls, British surveillance towers (apparently only a fraction of what existed until only a few moths ago), fortified police stations, murals, and the Bloody Sunday memorial. It was our first awakening of the rigid segregation that exists in Northern Ireland and the scars of the incredibly recent conflicts.

On the way to Belfast we were offered a slight respite from the overwhelming politics, stopping at the Giant’s Causeway– a chance for some fresh air and a view of the ocean!

Belfast is a great young city with the corresponding good nightlife – the Irish living up to their friendly stereotype. We took a black cab tour through the city's dominant conflict zones, in particular, the unionist Shankill Road dominated with numerous vivid unionist murals/memorial sites, and on the other side of a 1.3 mile long, 10m high Peace Wall, the nationalist Falls Road with nationalist (including IRA) memorials – the two areas being focal points of the civil conflict known as The Troubles.

After an afternoon exploring the central city on foot we left Britain momentarily as we traveled to Dublin to depart for London.

In all, it was a truly educational experience, opening my eyes and mind to a new level of understanding of The Troubles, the identities the respective peoples wish to preserve, and a realization of how recent a phenomenon these issues are.

Locations Visited: London, Dublin, Drogheda, Armagh, Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin, London

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