Although I’ve been out of the country for the last month, I can’t help but notice the topic of religious discrimination that is constantly brought up in conversation or on the news. What does this type of social tension have to do with any traveling that someone, like myself, might be doing in Ireland? Actually, a lot. On a class trip to Northern Ireland this weekend, which is a separate country from the Republic of Ireland, I was able to be in the middle of what arguably was one of the most terrifying war zones in Ireland. It is an area just outside of Belfast that has a literal wall which used to separate the Protestants from the Catholics when they were segregated into neighborhoods that used to exclusively be one religious affiliation. Why? There are many reasons, but a major one is that Catholics were usually associated with wanting Northern Irish independence from Britain, and Protestants wanted to stay a part of the UK.
Although this seems rather dramatic and outdated, you might find yourself thinking, “Wow, that’d be a cool piece of history to see”. I’m going to have to break your bubble. Sorry, it’s actually quite alarming to see in person because it’s not only a remnant of history from the 70s. It’s still a part of every day life for people in 2016. It remains intact and in use to this very day. This wall is one out of 17 erected to keep the peace between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, it stretches for a few miles and has only 10 gates (two of which are open 24 hours). The cement wall I touched is still in place because it needs to be. Although graffiti is strewn all over the wall, don’t be fooled into writing the wall off as an art piece. It’s a barrier to keep people safe. I’m not saying that the majority of Northern Irish, who live in the neighborhoods where these “peace lines” are at, are still segregated by religion. Now, neighborhoods are more mixed, and most people want peace. However, as the saying goes, a few rotten apples spoil the bushel, and some extremists who align themselves to one religion are still trying to hurt people.
The taxi driver who showed us various points of interests along the way made a comment that I won’t forget in a long time. He said the rioting happening in America is nothing compared to what happened here during the Troubles. The Troubles refer to the violent rioting that occurred in Northern Ireland from 1968-1998. Yes, thirty years of violence over territorial alliances, which is nothing compared to other parts of the world. The solution? The Good Friday Agreement which put the “peace walls” up for a temporary span of six months that turned into more than 15 years.
As I stood in the neighborhoods where hundreds, even thousands, of people died, I couldn’t help but wonder how far we, as human beings, had come in the span of 18 years. The answer? We still have a ways to go. Divisions, whether racial, religious, social or economical, are damaging beyond repair, whether you live in Ireland or Iowa. As we all are aware of, the repercussions are still being dealt with today.