Ireland (with students)

I fulfilled a long-term wish of mine this past week and got to go back to Ireland. Traveling with students is always different from traveling on your own, though, and I don’t really feel like I got my fill, so I would really like to go back sometime in the not too distant future with my family.

Part of why I was so drawn to chaperoning this trip was that my colleague was taking us to Northern Ireland, where I had never been. In 2007 when I toured Ireland, Belfast wasn’t on my radar, but I heard good things about it. Since then I’ve started teaching about it to my tourism students so I’ve been dying to go.

I have to say it was pretty shocking. It’s probably naive, but what with the Good Friday Agreement and growing tourism in Northern Ireland, I just sort of figured things were sorting themselves out. We had a really excellent tour guide who took us out of the city center (where this stuff isn’t obvious) and into the segregated outskirts and basically explained that, no, things are NOT sorting themselves out, and in his opinion, won’t anytime soon. I am really glad I went and visited these places since I now feel much less ignorant on the matter, but it is a shame that they still exist.


One of the murals seen through the bus window


The gates that still close at night


The peace wall, which keeps getting higher and higher


Tourists write messages of peace all over it


Our message



In the Protestant area—imagine growing up with these images

We also spent an afternoon in Derry visiting the Bloody Sunday Museum, or, as it’s actually named, the Free Derry Museum, which was fascinating (one of our tour guides was the grandson of one of the men killed) and also made it clear that the wounds are still fresh.


A mural near the Bloody Sunday Museum


The iconic sign in Catholic Derry, which has been used to represent other civil rights movements (notably anti-apartheid, for example). This graffiti dated from the day before. Apparently the sign is often written on.

The Free Derry Museum is very moving, and it’s also growing and will be even more complete in the coming year.

We had some time for more un-controversial sightseeing too, including the Giant’s Causeway, and “down south” (as northerners seem to say), Glendalough.



We ended the trip with a stop at the Dunbrody Project, which is a reconstruction of one of the “coffin ships” that took the Irish away from Ireland during the Potato Famine. This was especially touching for me since I know certain of my ancestors left Ireland at this time. The visit only takes about 45 minutes, but it gives a good idea of the desperate conditions on the ships and the extreme luck of those who survived to lead successful lives in the United States.


Down below, in steerage (but the ships were so small, even first class was right nearby, and depressing)


Hard to get the whole ship in one shot

It was a fascinating trip, full of new sights for me and a lot of insight into the current situation and the history of Ulster and Northern Ireland. But if I get the chance to go back anytime soon with J and Littlest, I’ll return to the southwest where I found Ireland to be at its most stunning and charming when I visited in 2007.



7 thoughts on “Ireland (with students)

  1. This sounds amazing and I feel ignorant reading this- I don’t know much about Ireland’s history (much less Northern Ireland)– will have to get researching (or traveling!) x

  2. I need to get back and see more of Northern Ireland. If you ever go back to Belfast, I highly recommend the Ulster museum. I spent the morning there while my friend was taking an exam, and I learned so much. I was surprised by how far back in history all the problems go!

    Cool pics of the murals! I didn’t see those at all. My friend said the only way she’d take me was if we went on the tourist bus as 1) her father would kill her, and 2) she was scared of the area as her dad would tell her things while visiting like, “I was beat up over there.” and “I was mugged over there.”. It was such beautiful weather (seriously, I got a tan when I went!), that I opted for staying in the nice areas instead of being trapped on a bus.

    • I think if I went back on my own I would do one of the taxi driver tours, but I don’t know how expensive they are. I would feel uncomfortable going out there on my own as a tourist. It felt a little voyeuristic to be there in a huge coach but then again, our trip was educational, and the theme was the Troubles.

      I’m very interested in the Ulster Museum, though I don’t know when I’ll make it back up there!

  3. Giant’s Causeway is beautiful! We went last summer and it was SO crowded. We took a day trip with a group tour from Dublin and drove through Belfast before stopping in the city center for a bit. Our guide was from Dublin, and his commentary reflected that when he was talking about the North. I think he tried to be objective, but some bias was still there. I learned a little about the Troubles in school, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until seeing the peace walls, all the murals to people lost from both sides and towns covered with Union Jack decorations.

    • Wow I’m glad to know we were there at the right time. There were other visitors but it was far from swamped. I think April is a good time to go to Ireland in general.

      It’s definitely intense seeing it all in person.

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