By Mia Wallace
May 16, 2016
As I sat in the car on the way to the airport and looked at my single suitcase and backpack, I was filled with a mixture of emotions — fear, curiosity, excitement but most prominently a sense of kinship because I will be the first person in my immediate family to travel back to our homeland. On both sides of my family, we are full blown Irish — red hair, freckles, fair skin and a fear of the sun. Growing up my grandmother would always tell me about my Irish heritage and warn me of the many obstacles that originate with it, including skin cancer and alcoholism. But as long as I wear sunscreen and remember to pace myself and keep my families struggle with alcoholism in mind, I’m not too worried about where my Irish roots will lead me.
But while I have grown up being told all about the predicaments that come with having Irish blood, I was never told very much about who my Irish ancestors were. And today, during the black cab tour around Belfast, I found myself wondering if I have any long lost relatives who lived, fought and possibly died in Belfast during the violent and bloody 30-year civil rights conflict between the nationalist Catholics and loyalist Protestants. It is shocking for me to think about how in such a small and seemingly peaceful city so much hatred and bloodshed occurred no less than 20 years ago. Knowing how divided one city with a population of only 300,000 residents can be is unsettling but also seeing how many of those residents want this conflict and these issues to stay in the past and are truly working towards a change is encouraging. I realized that our three tour guides all came from different backgrounds regarding the conflict and have all found peace and resolution amongst one another.
To commemorate and remember the members of the IRA, ex-prisoners, political activists and residents from the Clonard neighborhood, a nationalist Catholic area.
The Dalai Lama quote on the Peace Wall — a cement wall towering over 30 feet that divide the two conflicting neighborhoods — says “open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values”. I believe this quote can apply to almost any conflict or war that is going on in the world today. It makes you realize that people can work past deep rooted hatred for others if they realize that they can still hold on to their beliefs and values, as long as it doesn’t hurt or dehumanize another human being. Even though Belfast is still working towards welcoming change while holding onto their values and the aftermath that The Trouble left behind is not entirely resolved, they are making great steps towards a more peaceful future for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. This in itself encourages me that maybe someday we can live in a more peaceful world where people accept others for who they are and what they believe without letting a difference in religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender or sexuality harbor hatred.
Even though many of the residents of Belfast are taking steps to unite the city, many still do not want the city to come together. And a small few are still violently against having the city come together. While they do not make up the majority, they do make a mark on the current events going on. Newspapers and journalists are actively reporting what is going on in the city with events that continue to unfold on both sides of the walls. Some disturbing (possible terrorist attacks during big holidays) and some heartwarming (Obama’s support in urging the integration of schools). But all can agree that the city stays divided even after the end of The Troubles and 100 years after the uprising.
To learn more about the how the division and The Troubles still affect Belfast to this day, you can read about it here!