Thoughts from Belfast

Yesterday was great, but we were all pooped by the end of the day. The flight to Belfast was uneventful, but the view was incredible as we descended to the runway. All of the farm fields are a pretty light green, but they are all lined with dark green hedges. It looked spectacular from up above. After we passed through customs, we were greeted by Dominic Bryan, the director of the Institute for Irish Studies at Queen’s University, and Valerie Miller, the admin assistant for the institute. The Belfast airport sits outside of and above Belfast, so driving into the city reminded me of driving into Lewiston from Moscow. We stopped just above the city to take pictures because it was a beautiful view. Dominic pointed out a lot of the big landmarks and neighborhoods from that spot.
We are staying at Elms Village at Queen’s University. We each have our own bedroom with our own bathroom, which is a very nice luxury. On the drive to Elms Village, we saw remnants of the previous day’s parades. When we drove through the Unionist part of town, we saw so many Union Jack flags EVERYWHERE. They really go all out for the parades. Every house had at least two flags flying. A lot of the buildings in town had big murals showing their support for the monarchy and the UK. One mural had a picture timeline of Queen Elizabeth’s life. That was interesting. At one corner, we saw an Irish flag flying, and Valerie said that was the start of a new neighborhood. We learned later that the exact spot where we passed was the site of some heavy rioting because of the border between the different neighborhoods.
After dropping off our suitcases in our rooms, we went with Valerie to a little café called Maggie Mae’s for lunch. It was really neat because that was technically the first part of North Irish culture that we had actually been a part of. Afterwards we walked around the city for a while. In some places we saw lots of silly string and broken glass on the ground, and we remembered that Valerie had said that some police officers had been hurt last night, but nothing life-threatening. We walked to City Hall, which was closed because yesterday was still technically a holiday. Usually the parades are on July 12th, but since it fell on a Sunday this year, they didn’t march, so they marched on Monday. Sometimes there are two days of marching, so they count the day after as a holiday as well. A lot of little shops were closed, but the main shopping area was open, which was good because some of us needed to get shampoo and conditioner.

We got another cup of coffee because we were all exhausted, then we walked back to our rooms, which was about 30 minutes from town. Dominic invited us to his house for pizza at 6:00, and hired a taxi for us to take over there. The taxi driver told us about the different neighborhoods that we could see from our route. We also saw remnants of the biggest bonfire from a couple of nights ago. It must have been huge because there was a giant black circle left over. He also pointed out that we could tell which houses were part of the social housing provided by the gov’t because they are all red brick. There are hardly any houses that stand alone. Each street has a big long building that is cut vertically into many different houses. We saw in Dominic’s house that although they look extremely small from the outside, they extend back quite a ways and are actually quite comfortable. When we got to Dominic’s house, we were the first of the guests to arrive. He offered us all something to drink, and we met his family. He and his wife, Meg, have six children, ranging from about 14 to 4. There were all very kind and funny, and the little ones got so excited when some of the post docs and masters students and other professors came by because they all know each other really well. They served pizza for dinner with homemade carrot cake for dessert. Between that, the pizza, and the Guinness from dinner, we were all exhausted, so we left shortly after 8:00. The Bryans (Dominic’s family) are juste one big happy bunch, and I really enjoyed spending the evening with them. All of the grad students were very inviting and excited to meet us, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.

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