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Pictures! I took lots of pictures while I was in Ireland. I'm only showing a selection of them here, because otherwise you'd all start to hate me after a while. But I really like these ones.

I started off the trip in Belfast, because that was where the conference was. I arrived in Belfast around 10 in the morning, having landed in Dublin at 5:15 and taken a train. I had some Pony Family Business to take care of right when I got to Belfast, but I arrived down in the University Quarter at 1:00, ready for the conference festivities to begin. The first thing they did was organize a walking tour of the city. It turned out to be a pretty political tour, although I suppose that was inevitable, given that the Titanic Quarter wasn't really within convenient walking distance of the conference.

1.  Opera House

This is the first thing we saw. Our guide told us that it was the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, except for the shopping mall on the ground floor. There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

2.  Peace Expressway

4.  Peace Gate

It turns out that the best way to keep Protestants and Catholics from killing each other in Ireland is to do with them what you'd do with small children whapping each other -- send them to different parts of the house. To that end, Belfast has expressways designed to cut through the city, separating Protestant areas from Catholic areas, and it also has large walls to keep people apart.

10.  Checkpoint with Murals

There are gates in these walls that get shut at night.

8.  Murals 3

14.  William of Orange Mural

11.  Bobby Sands Mural

Belfast is also a city full of murals. Our guide told us that you can tell a Protestant mural from a Catholic mural by the imagery and iconography that they use. A lot of the murals also speak to deeply entrenched political problems elsewhere in the world. I was fascinated to see that both Protestant and Catholic mural artists appear to care very deeply about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I did ask the guide where the Jews of Belfast fit into the grand picture, and he said that the Jewish population of Northern Ireland is so small as to be nearly nonexistent, to the point that the Belfaster rabbi apparently celebrated when he heard that the university had acquired an American student on a one-year study-abroad trip who happened to be Jewish. I guess that answers that question. Also, he said that, for no reason that anyone really knew, those few Northern Irish Jews tended to be Unionist. I guess you gotta pick a side.

15.  Flags, Baby!

You also see a lot of flags flying in Belfast. Official word from the guide: Don't Even Ask.

13.  Police Station

The peace is kept by cops, who I am told are the only cops in the UK who carry sidearms. This is the main police station, and the guy in front is our guide (he has some position on one of the university cultural councils, but I was so jet-lagged at that point that I've completely forgotten what exactly he did other than to answer questions from curious ethnomusicologists, walk very fast, and talk very quietly).

He also told us that Northern Ireland has to keep Official Numbers of Protestant Things and Catholic Things even. For every Protestant cop, they hire a Catholic cop. I asked how people could tell, because the implications of religious identification markers disturb me, as you might guess. He said it's a small place, so everyone just knows. He also said that the Official Numbers extend even to things like community gyms. If the Protestants get one, the Catholics have to get one that's just as nice. Northern Ireland must absolutely hemorrhage money, but it sure beats hemorrhaging blood. There are definitely worse ways to deal with situations like that.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 23rd, 2013 06:41 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you got a lot of history. It's a really interesting city.
Apr. 23rd, 2013 06:50 pm (UTC)
The guide gave us quite a bit of history, but I don't know how much I actually got. He had a tendency to walk very fast, stop abruptly, and then start talking very quietly, so that, unless you were right next to him, you usually missed the beginning of whatever he'd been saying.

He also talked about how Dublin doesn't have any real cathedrals, just something called a pro-cathedral, and he was about to turn around and walk on when I asked him what a pro-cathedral was. (It turns out that it's a cathedral that's only sort of semi-official, like a cathedral-wthout-portfolio. I didn't even know that was a thing!) He did know a lot, and I eventually decided that the best way to hear his information was to walk right beside him the whole time. So I got a pretty good workout, tromping through Belfast hot on his heels! It's a good thing I tend to walk at New England pace rather than Midwest pace anyway.
Apr. 24th, 2013 06:27 am (UTC)
I was reading comments on the marathon bombings, where some UK folks were arguing with US folks about 'the troubles' and you quickly realized how foreign the differing viewpoints were. We don't get what it's like to live in a situation as you've described. I consider you fortunate in a way, to be able to visit Belfast and see the situation there first hand. And who knew how few Irish Jewish people there are?

It sounds like you had an interesting time and your guide must have been pleased by your interest.
Apr. 24th, 2013 11:27 am (UTC)
There are many ways in which Belfast is like Jerusalem. Both of them are really interesting, happening places that also happen to have deep religious divisions kind of seething right below the surface with the possibility of serious violence more or less kept in check by very careful "this is my place and that is your place" measures. Belfast seems to have eliminated more of its day-to-day terrorism than Jerusalem has; on the other hand, Belfast looks more like a police state than Jerusalem does.

I was very glad that I was able to go with the tour! And I wasn't the only one asking questions. We are a very curious bunch, we conferencers.
Apr. 26th, 2013 12:53 am (UTC)
Those murals are pretty incredible. Huge!
Apr. 26th, 2013 02:45 am (UTC)
And there are a lot of them, too. I didn't photograph half the murals I saw. They are just everywhere. They're beautiful, all different, just amazing works of art.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


by Illsaysheis

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