Yesterday Dominic took us on a bus tour of Belfast. It was great because he was able to tell us quite a bit about the history of each area that we visited. Although Irish history goes back quite a ways, our tour started with the Industrial Revolution which brought a lot of Catholics to Belfast. In its heyday, Belfast was a major linen producer as well as home to a very large shipyard (the Titanic was built in Belfast). With the Catholics coming in, competition for working class jobs increased dramatically. The protestants wanted to protect their jobs, so Unionist (Protestant) v. Nationalist (Catholic) politics come back to Ireland. The protestants felt that their work benefited from the trade flow with the UK, so they wanted to stay with the empire. Groups like the Orange Order began to arise as a way to get a job, and show support for a certain cause, much like a union.
One thing that we noticed as we drove around the city was that WWI and WWII memorials were concentrated in protestant neighborhoods. This is because fighting in these wars shows support for the UK, and obviously the Unionists would want to highlight those sacrifices.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) are illegal under British law, so they can’t have state-funded memorials (another reason why protestants support WWI and WWII memorials because the state can pay for those). The two pictures with the same fence in a protestant neighborhood and a catholic neighborhood demonstrate the separation needed in the city. For example, we could see two swimming pools within a quarter of a mile apart, but on either side of the fence because if there was just one city pool, no one in the area would use it because it would be for both Catholics and Protestants. There are fences all throughout the city, and lots of gates as well. Most of the time these gates are open, but we actually had to turn around once because the police have kept some of the gates closed. We also saw a small gathering of people in a protestant neighborhood nearby, so tensions are obviously still a little high. Speaking of which, I got a couple of questions about the parades and why they can be a bit dangerous. Part of the Irish history that I skipped over before was that on July 12, 1690, Catholic King James II was defeated by protestant King William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne for rule over the British empire. Every year on July 12, Protestant bands march through the city in celebration of the Battle, and Union Jack flags are flown, and the Catholics get quite offended, and riots often start. This year wasn’t too bad. A few police officers were hurt, but unfortunately, that’s too be expected right now. There are also very large bonfires for a few nights, and we were able to drive past a couple of smoking bonfires, which was pretty neat. The majority of these conflicts arise in social housing neighborhoods (housing provided by the gov’t) in North Belfast. During the Industrial Revolution, these were the neighborhoods closest to the shipyards, so a lot of blue collar workers lived in this area. It is still a working class neighborhood today.
We also drove past City Hall, which was huge. It looks like it is the same size as the statehouse in Idaho. It was built in 1906.
One thing that I noticed at the memorials that they mostly had men’s names. I asked Dominic about gender roles during the parades and riots, and he said that women are crucial to the “success” of a riot because they line the streets and egg people on. Dominic has been to quite a few riots, and he said that when things start to get bad and people start to leave, the women form a human wall to try and prevent people from leaving, and they will call people cowards for leaving early.
We also passed the BBC building, which was cool, but the weirdest thing that we learned is that you have to buy a license to buy a television in the UK. The money from the licenses is what funds the BBC, and it also gets rid of all advertising on BBC channels. When they adopted the licensing, there were a lot of concerns about it being a state television station, and Dominic said that although they tend to lean slightly pro-state, they are viewed as an independent organization, and do heavy reporting for all sides. He said that the BBC was “more independent than American news stations,” which I thought was interesting.
Today we had our first lectures, which I loved. There are only six of us here right now, so we all get to sit in the front row and have actual discussions with the professors. Our first lecture was with Dominic, and we talked a lot about identity. We tried to answer questions like what does it mean to be Irish? What does it mean to be Irish-American? That was a great discussion. I loved it. Next we had a crash course on Irish history, starting at the end of the 18th century. That was a little slower, but the professor has a very dry wit, so I thought he was funny. Then we had a lecture on archaeology, which was really cool. A lot of the Irish archaeological digs focus on pre-English invasion. We learned that in recent years, the public has been invited to some of the digs as a way to demonstrate that there is common ground with the people living in Ireland.
Not as important as academic discussion, but a pretty special part of my day was when I had the most amazing sandwich for lunch. It was incredible. It was made out of homemade bread, and it had avocado and pesto and arugula and bacon. In Northern Ireland, the bacon is more like thick slices of ham, and I love it. The first bite was like heaven, and it just got better and better and better. It was a great sandwich.
Next we went to the Ulster Museum, which was fascinating. It was like a typical museum, but the interesting part was the exhibit on The Troubles, the period from 1968-1998 when Belfast saw the greatest hardships in terms of the conflict. The exhibit is not at all linked to any of the earlier parts of history that led to The Troubles. While I understand that the museum was probably trying to maintain a neutral stance, I don’t feel like it is fair to museum goers to begin the exhibit in 1968. I’ll have to do some more thinking on that.
That night we went out to eat at a pizza place called The Parlour. The food was awesome, but the best part was that it was quiz night. Apparently quiz nights are a big thing at pubs in the UK, so it was cool to experience that. There were 20 teams and about 7 rounds with topics like general knowledge, current events, picture naming, etc. We felt like we were doing pretty well early on, which was good because prizes only went to first, second, and third, and second to last. As the night went on, we felt like we were in the middle of the pack. Turns out that we won second to last. Not great, but we all had so much fun that it didn’t even matter. We have decided to make quiz night at The Parlour our Thursday night tradition.
Today we had an AMAZING lecture with Dominic on public spaces and what it means to be powerful. I loved it. He is such a great professor. He reminds me a lot of my Love and Happiness professor from the U of I. He is so passionate and excited, and he welcomes challenges and questions and different schools of thought. It was fantastic. Next we had a lecture on Irish literature, which was interesting, but a little less riveting and exciting.
The afternoon was spent on a hike up to Cavehill. It was pretty windy and rainy in some spots, but the views were incredible, and I really enjoyed being outside and out of the city for a while. We talked a lot with Dominic about policing strategy on the hike, which was super interesting. He said that the Belfast City Council has put a lot of resources into properly training their police force to handle riots and protests. To start off the conversation, we referred back to the lecture on identity. Social scientists have found that when people are in a crowd, they don’t necessarily have a single collective identity, rather their individual identities are heightened. For example, the Orange Parades have so much energy because each member feels more proud to be protestant than they might in other situations, causing the energy to increase. The thing about policing is that a police force is also a crowd. They are not immune to the massive increase in energy. The way that the Belfast police operate is that they do not start out at the parades in riot gear. They block off a portion of the route (which is normal to prevent parading through Catholic neighborhoods), and they just stand there. After a while, protesters will start to throw rocks at the police, and quite often petrol bombs as well. Since the police are not immune to the adrenaline rushes and their heightened sense of identity as a protector of a community, they eventually get emotionally exhausted, so they trade out with fresh police officers before they react according to their identity (i.e. arresting lots of people, shooting people, etc.). Additionally, because riot gear takes so long to put on, their are additional police forces in riot gear “hiding” from the crowd, and they will come out as necessary. The idea is that if the police don’t march out in riot gear, the protesters won’t necessarily feel a need to immediately escalate the riot. It was a great conversation.
Although we all love to try new food, we went back to Maggie Mays for dinner because it is close to our apartment, and we wanted to get back, so that we could plan some weekend trips. We decided to go to Dublin for the weekend, so we booked a bus ticket, and found a hostel to stay at for Saturday night. We know we want to visit Trinity College and the Guinness Brewery, but other than that, we’ll just walk around and find things to do. Our hostel is right downtown, so there will be plenty to do.
A couple of us also booked a weekend flight and hostel for Edinburgh, Scotland in two weeks. Again, no firm plans yet, but I’m very excited about it.
I got a couple of questions about “we.” We is Molly, Jackie, Erin, Madeline, Ava, and myself. We are the six Fulbrighters at the Irish Studies Summer School. On Monday, the rest of the summer school students will be here, and lectures, field trips, etc. will begin normally.