With Brexit on the horizon, what’s the future for peace in Ireland?
The Northern Ireland Conflict, or “The Troubles,” has come to a peaceful resolution. After decades of ethnic and religious fighting, based on hundreds of years of history, the region has stabilized and the violence that plagued the UK and Ireland has nearly vanished.
The story of the troubles is an important context for understanding religious divisions and equality in the region and even globally. Learning how the situation escalated and the specific tactics and actors that fueled the fighting is the foundation to understanding how peace-building and ethnic or religious violence around the world rises and falls. Decades later the future of the region still has its lingering questions as current politics and inequality maintain and expand divisions.
Now, with Brexit on the horizon many of this issues are back in question. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the super-national organization that allowed the UK and Ireland to work closely in a lot of capacities and put some of the issues to rest, making this an important time to learn about the crisis and brainstorm the critical challenges of peacebuilding at a governmental and grass-roots level.
A trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Great Britain is a phenomenal introduction to issues of war, violence, and peace and the open voices about this crisis. And of course it’s an opportunity to dig into Irish culture, identity, history, literature, and migration. We can unravel the crisis as we make visits to some of the most stunning spots on the Island, explore tiny villages, and meet with incredible and friendly people.
We start our trip in Dublin, the Republic of Ireland’s capital, just over 100 years after the Easter Rebellion. The revolution shaped modern Ireland and is a key starting point in unravelling the more recent history. We visit Kilmainham Prison, now a museum, where many of the Irish revolutionaries were held. We also have our first introduction to Irish culture as we explored Temple Bar, sample some rich Irish Ice Cream and crispy fish and chips just off of Grafton street and walk through Trinity College and Dublin Castle. We learn more about Irish culture through a visit to the GAA museum and an old style pub dinner in the heart of the city.
After Dublin we head to the West Coast of Ireland. On our way to Galway we drive along Ireland's stunning coastline to the Cliffs of Moher and through the dramatic Burren. Here, among the small towns, medieval ruins and coastal cliffs we experience a different aspect of Irish culture through the countryside. From Galway we have a modern Irish feast at one of the country’s top restaurants and take a day trip out to the Aran islands for another taste of Irish lifestyles.
Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland
From Galway we drive past hidden castles and through bright green fields (and even stop at W. B. Yeat’s resting place in Sligo) before arriving in Derry/Londonderry. While in Northern Ireland we like to base in this city as it’s a great jumping off point for exploring the region and the troubles, with a strong and open community.
We start our time in Derry with a walk along the city walls and then a trip down into the Bogside. In the Bogside we meet with former IRA members and learned about Bloody Sunday from a variety of different perspectives and reflect on the peace process in the country. We have dinner with local friends as we take in even more perspectives of the current and situation and future of Northern Ireland, especially with Brexit on the radar.
We have also planned day trips to Belfast to dig deeper into the troubles.
From Derry/Londonderry we head along the Northern Coast to the Giant’s Causeway before heading off the Emerald Isle.
We end our trip in London (just in time for St. Patrick’s Day), to see how the narratives of Irish independence contrast. Through the Tower of London and the Imperial War Museum we explored London’s political rule and a totally different take on the story. We also spend some time in the foodie's paradise of Borough Market and enjoyed a special performance of Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theater. After visiting East London and an old hub of Irish immigration, we wrap up our trip over proper British tea in central London.
Variations and Field Course Versions:
We have led other programs to Ireland exploring the Troubles and the peace process between Ireland and Northern Ireland. With the current questions surrounding Brexit this is a fascinating time to explore the border issues and understand the historical impact and peace process as we begin to unravel the future.
One version of this program was a criminal justice and pre-law university level course which included high level meetings with former terrorists, lawyers in both countries, as well as a meeting with the head of the Northern Irish Police force in the city and even our own symposium with a variety of dissidents in the to explore current attitudes to the crisis. This program was an opportunity for American university students to think critical about the balance of security and policing in the context of terrorism, peacebuilding, and diversity.
Other versions of this program could easily remove the visit to London, or even add a visit to Scotland to think about ongoing nationalism in the region, especially after Brexit. We can also spend time in other parts of Ireland and even work more on related design or art projects while staying on a local farm.