Ireland Reflections 2020–Derry Girls (and Boys) Part 1

On Tuesday morning of our trip (after a full day in Belfast), we hopped on the bus and headed to Derry… or Londonderry, depending with whom you are talking. (And for a very funny take on the situation in Derry during the Troubles,  see Derry Girls.) From the name(s) themselves, it was clear that this was going to be a very divided experience, as Katie Tompson noted “what I was not entirely ready for was the intense emotions and remaining political turmoil that poured out of the city.”

She recalled, “walking down the street, we noticed that some curbs were painted red white and blue, which seemed… aggressive almost. However, as we crossed into the Bogside, it became very clear why part of the community needed to display their unionist pride.image of mural, reads "LONDONDERRY; WEST BANK LOYALISTS STILL UNDER SIEGE NO SURRENDER"

(Note the painted curbs above and also that “west bank” refers the west bank of the river in Derry.)

After touring the old part of the city and enjoying the view, we walked down into the newer part of the photo of students

As we walked down the hill, the seemingly hurricane-force winds that destroyed our hair as well as a number of umbrellas, it seemed almost fitting considering the intensity of what was to come.  Maggie Crawford noted, “at first, I was just excited to be in Derry so that I could imagine what it was like to be in an episode of Derry Girls, and that’s really what it felt like as we approached the iconic “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” sign.

image of sign, it reads, "YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY" followed by the graffit "STOP EXTRADITION OF IRISH REPUBLICANS"


Aside from the “You are now entering Free Derry” sign that immediately struck you, there were many huge murals depicting the civil rights movement that took place, as well as the violence that came from these movements.”

A poignant moment for many on the trip was the visit to the Free Derry Museum. The Free Derry Museum documents the events that unfolded on “Bloody Sunday.” Tompson noted “we had talked about Bloody Sunday a little bit, but going through the museum, only yards from where the violence actually occurred, really hit me in a way I hadn’t expected. It had happened so recently in history, and so close to where we were, in a museum run by a man that was there. It was so real and current all of a sudden. Especially after realizing that the official truth, that the 13 killed were, in fact, victims, and not perpetrators in any way, was only established 10 years ago on June 15, 2010. Crawford recalled, “At one point in the museum there was a placard that told the tale of a young toddler who was the victim of a British Army officer who took his envoy vehicle and smashed the toddler in its stroller into a building.”

image of mural, depicts an injured protestor being carried by others

For many, the most impactful part of the experience, came when listening to a young man named Ross, whose grandfather was one of the victims of Bloody Sunday, and who had multiple other family members die during the Troubles. He detailed to the group the ways in which the time affected his family. “It was astonishing to see how intensely it affected Ross and listening to how angry he was about the wrong that had been done to his family and his community, even though he hadn’t even been alive when everything happened. It was in that interaction that I really started to understand how much the Troubles still permeates through communities, because they pass it on to the next generations.” Katie added.

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We were greeted for our first morning in Belfast by both our tour guide and some traditional Irish weather. Our quite rainy walking tour took us through many locations deeply connected to the time of the Troubles. It was during this walking tour that we were quickly confronted with the very real and lasting impact of the Troubles – the Peace Walls.

The Peace Walls were built between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast as a temporary effort to minimize the conflict beginning with The Troubles in 1969. Rae-Anna Sollestre noted that “as we drove around Belfast, the stark contrast between the Peace Walls and the surrounding communities left an impression on me. The walls started out short and grew with time. The walls separated the two communities, closed off the streets connecting them. They were and still are a physical manifestation of the conflict that remains quite high in some places. Multiple generations have grown up with these high walls dividing communities, and it’s normal for them.”

Sollestre made a connection to the walls personally.


Ireland Reflections 2020 – Dublin – Going to Jail & Guinness

As lots of good Sundays do, our Sunday morning in Dublin began with a drive. The group rode through Dublin’s Phoenix Park with the opportunity to view Áras an Uachtaráin – the President’s home–which was quite lovely.   And then we went to visit the historic Kilmainham Goal.

Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, IrelandKilmainham Gaol is a prison in Dublin that operated from 1796 to 1924.  Austin Malinowski recalls that “once inside the walls, the beautifully constructed building changed into a cold harsh place that was no doubt meant to house prisoners. The building was freezing cold and consisted of brick and metal. The cells were small, as were the entryways (watch your head!)” He remarked “there was a clear focus on pounding the fear of God into these men, which is reflective of the Irish ties to Catholicism and Christianity in general. Faith seemed to be the focus even ahead of punishment, which was unusual to see for an American.” As we walked the halls of the prison, we were reminded of the people who made Ireland what it is today. Austin noted seeing “the cells of people like Countess Markievicz and Eamon de Valera, and I truly felt a sense of pride to be surrounded by the ghosts of these revolutionaries.”

Student Jordyn Janikowski remarked that “in addition to many well-known political prisoners, the prison housed numerous average men, women, and children whose crimes ranged from theft to murder. Although it initially seemed obvious that all of the convicts that went to Kilmainham deserved to serve time for their crimes, some of the stories shed a different light on the prisoners.” She added that throughout the tour, “we heard stories of young children who were jailed for stealing food during times of famine, political prisoners who were brutally executed, and prisoners who had to perform hard labor for hours on end.” Jordyn was left with the lasting impression that “the tour of Kilmainham Gaol served as a reminder that all individuals, even prisoners, deserve basic human rights.”

Our day ended on a lighter note with the much-anticipated visit to the Guinness Storehouse.

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