Belfast went by ridiculously fast and it was probably the best week thus far of this Irish adventure. I think, as a group, we all got closer together and found the people we fit best with. On the way up to Belfast we stopped at Castleward House and Estate which was having a Picnic and Pirates day or something, little pirate children running all over the place. We took a tour of the house and it was interesting to see the varying styles and learn a bit about the culture of the 18th century mansion that is half Classical style and half Gothic. Soon after we arrived at our temporary home at Elms Residences of Queen’s University.
On Monday, we went to the Twelth of July Parade (the celebration of the Orange Order commemorating the Battle of the Boyne), which was an interesting event. It was a celebration but there was also an underlying sense of tension about the marching. It seemed like it was more about creating noise and a spectacle than entertaining the parade goers; loud lambeg drums, high-pitched flutes, and interesting uniforms and marching that varied according to which Orange Lodge was passing by. Typically the Catholics stay home or head south for the Orange Parade and festivities. However, some rebellious and anti-Protestant/anti-Orange kids came into town that evening for the purpose of causing trouble. In north Belfast at Ardoyne (a Catholic neighborhood), some teenagers (mostly) started a riot by throwing petrol bombs and bricks and things. This reoccurred the two following nights as well (don’t worry, I was a ways a way in south Belfast). The interesting thing about the Parade is that it culminates at a field area with celebration and a church sermon among other things. LOTS of drinking (and eating). But after all this celebration ends, the Parade then marches BACK down the route around 6 or 7 in the evening, and it does pass through the Ardoyne neighborhood. So obviously, there are tensions on both ends of this event that need to be ironed out, but after listening to some of the politicians Thursday evening it is clear they are at loggerheads and have no desire for any compromise whatsoever. They all possess the “I’m right, you’re wrong, no matter what” attitude.
After we attended the morning parade (we did not return to attend the evening portion of the parade, we decided to avoid the crazy drunks and massive amounts of people), we took a bus tour of the Belfast Murals and the neighborhoods (more like projects) of Belfast. It was an unbelievable tour to say the least. The murals themselves were very interesting and could be found on almost every building’s side. They varied from Nationalist to Unionists to simple demands for peace. I took pictures of most of the murals so I will put them all up once I get home. One wall of many murals in a row depicted varying struggles of civil rights and equality, such as a mural with Che Guavera and the most recent problems in Northern Ireland with the hate crimes towards the Romanians. There were others depicting heroes of the Easter 1916 rising, one of Bobby Sands, the leader of the hunger strike in the 80s in which all participants died of hunger, and one of Oliver Cromwell advocating Unionism. I think one of the most fascinating things about the tour was to see the poverty of the projects and the separation of the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. A massive wall and fence separate the neighborhoods with gates you must pass to go between the neighborhoods. When we drove through their were remnants of the previous nights celebrations of bonfires, still smoking or still on fire but abandoned, presumably until nightfall came once again. It was very surreal, seeing how separated the communities still were with a wall between them.
We all stayed in Monday evening and played card games most of the night. It was probably a good idea to stay in, anyway. Most places were closed for the holiday anyway. Our first round of classes in Belfast were on Tuesday. Visual culture was interesting because we discussed Irish film and mostly about how it didn’t really begin until the 1990s during the Peace Process. The connection between the culture and the ability (or inability) to produce films was quite interesting. Later that day we watched The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which was a great film, very depressing however, and slightly biased to the Republican side, even though the director was from a background of the opposite beliefs. Definitely a must-see, but it’s also almost three hours long. On Tuesday evening we had a very entertaining poetry reading by poet Ciaran Carson. When he was discussing how he wrote his poetry, he said that he had to admit he had a little help. After staring at a blank page for half an hour, he told us he would then go smoke some weed and come back to the page to write his poetry. It must have worked because his poetry was published, and I did enjoy hearing it; he told great stories as well.
I’m only about half-way done with my adventures to Belfast, but I think I will take a break and finish this up later. 🙂