It has been a wonderful and busy week here at Queen’s. On Tuesday, we had some formal lectures covering the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland and a brief overview of the conflict, and why it is such a deep-rooted issue here. That night, we all went to a Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee), which is a traditional Gaelic gathering, that quite often involves dancing, as it did for us. It was held in the Great Hall of the Lanyon Building. For some reason, my Ceilidh pictures didn’t turn out very well, with the exception of the one below. Look closely, and you will be able to see the Red Hand of Ulster in the middle left of the picture. It is a symbol of the Ulster province, but is often controversial because it is used in flags of Loyalist paramilitary groups.
I wasn’t really looking forward to the Ceilidh on the way over there because I try to avoid large crowds of people and dancing whenever possible, but I actually had a lot of fun. There was a lady (who I am sure was a professional Irish dancer) who taught us the steps to some of the basic Irish dances. My favorite dance was called the Waves of Tory (example here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcU3GeTVkUY Start at 1:26). This video is a good example of what it should look like. We did not look like that, but we had so much fun. The lady that taught us the dances said that going up and down over people’s arms was supposed to signify the rough journey on the way to Tory Island off of Donegal on the northern coast of Ireland. The ceilidh was a great way for us to get to know some of the other students, and most of us looked like fools, which turns out to be a great bonding mechanism.
Anyways, on Thursday we went to the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh in County Tyrone. I really enjoyed it. The set up reminded me of the outdoor portion of the Idaho Historical Museum. At the beginning, we got to walk through the “Old World,” which had different homes that represented Old Ireland. All of the houses were original, which was really neat. They were deconstructed at their original site, wherever that was in Ireland, then reconstructed on site. It was interactive, and there were people dressed in period costumes to act like the people who would have lived or worked at each of the sites. I found it very helpful lot put a visual to the living conditions often described in textbooks – particularly with the potato famine era (1840s).
Once we finished walking through the Old World, we “boarded” a ship to take us to the New World. We were able to walk through 3rd class living conditions, which is how the majority of the Irish emigrants came to America. Apparently one 3rd class steerage ticket cost three pounds, and the average Irish farmer at the time made six to eight pounds per year. Although children under the age of ten didn’t have to pay for a ticket, many emigrants had very large families, so it was hard to save enough money for tickets. After we went through the ship, we came to the New World. The buildings in the New World were much bigger than those in the Old World, and the lifestyle seemed more grandiose.
It was cool to see, but I would have preferred touring old tenements or something that wasn’t representative of the “elite” immigrants. I enjoyed it all very much, but I don’t know that I enjoyed it as a migration museum, which was its purpose. It was more like a living museum that was placed in a period that saw a lot of migration away from Ireland. That being said, there was a large library that had documents and books about migration to America, and a lot of families go to the Ulster American Folk Park library to learn more about their family history.
On Friday, we had two lectures, then the afternoon off. The first lecture was about Northern Ireland and their relationship with America. We talked about how 9/11 affected the peace process in Northern Ireland. Part of the Good Friday Agreement (beginning of Peace Process) was that paramilitary groups would have two years to decommission their weapons. The IRA was quite slow to do this – until 9/11. Sinn Fein (the main nationalist party) is linked with the IRA (a terrorist organization linked with FARC), and if they wanted to keep good relations with America, then they would need the IRA to decommission the rest of their weapons. This is an extremely condensed version of a much longer story. If you’re interested in more of the backstory, this is a great article about the decommissioning process http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/oct/28/northernireland.colombia
The next lecture was focused on how Ireland and Northern Ireland function within the EU. Since Ireland has joined the EU, it has had to rely less and less on Great Britain for economic stability (although if the UK leaves the EU next year, Ireland’s economy will take a big hit). We talked about other stuff too, but I just really struggle with economics, so I’m afraid I don’t have much else to relay about that lecture.
For our free afternoon, we explored the City Center and City Hall.
There is a viewing center on the top floor of the City Center that provides a panoramic view of Belfast.