Northern Ireland

Day three: the journey in Belfast continues



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“Over 3,600 people died out of 1.5 million…this is equivalent to eight 9/11 [attacks] in 30 years.”


When discussing the violence, terror and emotional impact of 9/11, Americans each have a distinct story to tell. The event leaves a lasting effect and requires different forms recovery for different people. The lasting emotional and societal impacts of 9/11 has some The Troubles lasted decades and had an ongoing present reminder of the pain war inflicts. Now, years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in order to begin working towards peace, the politics of the conflict and the emotions associated with the resulting pain remains a key issue that Human Rights and educational institutes are trying to help others deal with.



The daily details


Another great day in Belfast! Today we started off the day with touring the Crumlin Road Gaol. This is a former Victorian Era prison that was in use for 150 years and operated during the times of the Troubles. While there, we saw how this place that once used to shut people off from the world was now open to educating the public on its history. We learned how it closed down in 1996 and how children as young as seven could be charged and sentenced to the prison. Additionally, most men were kept in this particular prison throughout history except for one particular instance: when women fought for women’s suffrage. Also, during the time of this prison being used, there were 17 executions that occurred and all those sentenced to prison were people charged with murder. Different wings of the prison held men of different political backgrounds, and prisoners had to stay in a room alone. They were not allowed to see or talk to one another. This was in order to prevent prisoners from forming relationships, starting gangs, or from being able to recognize one another when they were released. While learning about the details of how this prison operated and how it housed political members, I continued to understand why it is so important that Northern Ireland turn places (like the Crumlin Road Gaol) into historical sites in order to preserve and educate on the historical culture. By inviting people to tour the prison, the importance of its history became a part of the modern culture in Northern Ireland and is able to be used as a teaching mechanism for individuals to rely on moving forward. The importance of keeping history alive in society was directly understood by myself when talking to a man at a local store later today. When telling him that I had gone to Crumlin Road Gaol, he said he had taken his mother there the day before for Mother’s Day. I was in awe of how deeply the desire to understand and educate themselves on different aspects of Northern Ireland’s history was for him and his mother. He agreed it was interesting, important and showed me how Northern Ireland’s citizens have made learning their history a priority in order to respect it and give it value.


After the tour, we went to the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ). Here we discussed how their committee works to help with family inquiries and talked about how past politics influences present politics. The man leading the presentation went on to explain two fundamental parts of peace.

  1. Trust in the state and confidence in a fair society
  2. Equality and agreement on human rights standards

These fundamental pieces that when combined develope peace are vital for any person and society to understand in order to bring peace to their life. During the times of the Troubles, there was government corruption, and both sides violated their laws, especially those pertaining to Articles Two and Three. Furthermore, structural inequality is an issue in many different forms and is a hurdle in the way of reaching peace. The inquires this committee helps with are an act of trying to bring forth deeper understanding to Northern Ireland citizens, so they can begin developing an equal and agreeable human rights standard, and improve their society’s fairness. The CAJ has four steps to their line of legal work.

  1. They take time to research and develop an understanding of international standards
  2. They continue to do legal, social research on law, policy, and reality
  3. They use this information to analyze the gaps between the standard and reality in order to develop a policy
  4. They advocate, lobby, and use litigate to make the policy benefit people


Part of this research is truth recovery. While there are many different versions of the truth told in regard to the Troubles finding the commonalities in these stories and understanding the overall message and needs these stories present is important in the process of truth recovery. Truth recovery is also a way of helping family members and friends understand more of what happened in the past in order to move forward towards the future. Overall, I found it fascinating how this organization works toward peace by piecing together this complicated history.



Also, I took an Uber for the first time today. While going to and from a local mall, I and another member of the study abroad group had the opportunity to talk to two residents of Belfast. Both asked what brought us to Belfast. When responding to how we were studying human rights in Northern Ireland as a part of a study abroad opportunity, they had very memorable replies. The first laughed and said, “We don’t have any of those!” (those being human rights). He then went on to talk about how divided the city is and his experience from fighting in the army. As we approached the mall he asked why we had chosen that particular one. Our answer: it was the closest one. He nodded and agreed that that made sense. He then went on to explain how this mall was on the side of town where it is mostly people with the opposite political stance as him, and therefore he drives further away to do his shopping. He went on to talk about how he wishes everyone would be able to move on from the political and historical issues and be able to come together. I think this message is important for everyone to hear. For, Northern Ireland has suffered enough violent and political divide. While the pain that has been caused can never be undone, this man spoke about wanting people to come together. In addition to this man, we talked to another Uber driver on the way back to the hotel. His reply to learning about our purpose for visiting Northern Ireland was to say that there was still a lot that needed to be done in regard to Northern Ireland human rights. He then went on to explain how he understands the history, but like the driver before wants unity. “We all pray to one God,” he said. The experiences of talking to these two men, while only for a couple moments between transporting to other places, were incredible opportunities for understanding how everyday citizens feel about Northern Ireland’s current political standings. While only having known us for a matter of minutes, these men opened up about their connection with the Troubles, talked about their opinions, and both hoped that peace and unity would be coming soon. By having the courage to talk about their views and stories, they were able to add another layer of understanding (for me and hopefully others) on the different sides of this issue, and how unity is a hope for many. Ultimately, I admire how these men were able to be so open to disusing such a deep topic with us and hope that this form of casual storytelling can help unite the people of Northern Ireland someday.

So that was what I learned today. I continue to be in awe of how much I am learning from being a part of this class and trip! Stay tuned for more tomorrow!

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