“If you were a Protestant you walked on that side of the road [and] if you were Catholic you walked on the other side of the road”
Another wonderful day in Northern Ireland! Today we explored Derry and learned more about a different branch of Northern Ireland’s history. We explored the Guildhall, took a tour of the city of Derry, went to the Apprentice Boys Museum and visited the Free Derry Museum. Throughout the day the previous quote was said to us and continued to connect with the overall theme of segregation that became a social norm in Northern Ireland during and after the times of the Troubles. While talking about the intense separation Protestants and Catholics experiences. Individuals who were young children during the Troubles talked about how different life was for them in comparison to the more inclusive world their children grow up in. While there are still physical and mental barriers between the two sides, the individuals talked about how their school, stores, and overall everyday lives only consisted of interactions with people of the same religion as them. The walls that stood as barriers between the two sides “became our playground,” and naturally became integrated into the children’s lives. This sense of having walls (both physically and mentally) in the individual’s minds shows the drastic impact separation can have on a group of people. For now, decades later, these individuals often speak of wanting unity, but due to the barriers they have lived with for so long and having the walls ingrained so deep into Northern Ireland history, they find it unnatural to break down their walls.
The daily details
At the beginning of the day, when we went to the Apprentice Boys Museum, we listened to a story about what happened when a few Catholic children were given the change to come to the museum to learn about the history of the Protestant members. A kid was flipping through one of the books set out and one of the people working at the museum asked him to be careful with the book. When the boy asked what it was the man answered that it was the Bible. The boy’s response was looking at the man shocked and saying, “I thought you were Protestant?” While the teacher looked horrified, the man working at the museum was more than happy to explain to the young boy how both Christians and Protestants use the same book of worship. This moment was a teaching moment in helping educate a member of the future generation of how even different people have many similarities. In a way, it was a moment of teaching how, while specific details of people are different, we all have a vast amount of similarities. Also, it taught about how people that are not exactly like you are not monstrous. This connects to the idea of working towards a shared future for Northern Ireland. By bringing people of different religious backgrounds together and teaching them to unite behind their many similarities, the barriers in people’s minds will begin to come down and true acceptance can become a reality.
Later we learned about the tragic events that occurred on Bloody Sunday and the many innocent lives lost. An individual who was at the peaceful protest that suddenly became a massacre that day said when the shots began to fire he, “ran like everyone else”. As people began falling victim to gun wounds, he made his way over to an injured individual and laid down next to him to begin helping with the person’s injuries. He went on to tell us how “as I laid there I didn’t know that my brother laid dead there on the other side of the street.” Unfortunately, his brother passed away that day. After losing someone so close to him, he dedicated his life to trying to get justice for his brother and the other who lost their lives in the shooting. After the first inquiry, the peaceful protesters were not given their public innocents while the guilty were not prosecuted. The man, when talking about the people who conducted the inquiry said, “he found the guilty innocent and the innocent guilty”. After the first inquiry was not done well, a second inquiry began and cost the organization 185 million pounds. After the second inquiry deemed the guilty to be guilty and innocent people innocent, he discovered that those guilty were not prosecuted, even though they had killed nonviolent people (some of which had held their hands up in surrender or waved white handkerchiefs in a plea to live). This is a challenge that is faced with truth recovery. While some families were okay with a public apology, many of the families of the victims want legal action to take place. The man whose brother was killed said, “I want prosecution…I want to see [the shooter] found guilty…he killed my innocent brother…and they got away with it.” While prosecution is not common with these cases given the wide extent of the tragedy that went on, truth inquires don’t always offer the same closure that pressing charges on the guilty gives a grieving family. He went on to say that his work at the Free Derry Museum is a way of telling his story, his brother’s story, and is “justice for my brother.” Ultimately, pubic inquires are enough for some, but not all means of solving this issue offer the same comfort to different people and their families.
Another point we discussed was the challenges of police reform. Since most the police use to be Protestants, there was intense segregation and issues in how Northern Ireland’s police force operated. During the times of the Troubles, the police force had a stronger alliance to protecting the British government than the citizens of Northern Ireland, and therefore Catholics and the police became more at odds. The U.S. government played a role in helping Northern Ireland understand the way of policing needed to change and brought affirmative action to the police force. Since many Catholics didn’t join the police force (since it felt like any Catholic that did was siding with the Protestants) a quota was set in order to have a higher number of Catholics in the police force, and the police force began working toward changing their mindset so they now were expected to look after all citizens. The quote for Catholic police was 29 percent. While this number is still much lower than the amount of protestant police, it is a way of diversifying the types of police and using integration as a source of learning and moving forward as a country. This way, as police begin to show unity, it can be a step forward for all citizens to show that same level of peace.
Today was a very emotional, thought-provoking, and another eye-opening day. I continue to feel like I am learning more about human rights and am seeing how these issues are important for people all around the world to consider in order to make the right decisions regarding humans rights all around the world.