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.
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.
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.
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.