Sunday, August 7, 2016

Trip to Northern Ireland, U.K. (July 2016)...

Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. legally and politically, but the reality is pretty complex. I have covered extensively about the U.K. in another post and please click here to go to that post.

Northern Ireland was established in 1921 when the northeastern one fifth of the Island of Ireland chose to remain with the United Kingdom when the rest of the Island of Ireland wanted to be a free state. This led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922. The decision for Northern Ireland to remain with the U.K was because the majority of the population in this region was the unionists who represented the descendants of the British protestants. But the minority of Roman Catholics, called the nationalists, was pretty adamant that the Ireland should be one. The extremists turned to be the so-called Irish Republican Army or IRA arguing that the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland both are the result of the British Imperialism.

There was prolonging discrimination and hostility between the Protestant unionists and the Catholic nationalists, which led to the "Troubles", representing a violence of three decades from late 1960's until 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Northern Ireland has a complex triangle relationship with the U.K and the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, some call themselves Irish and others British. In many sports, they form one Irish team. In the Olympics, Northern Ireland can compete for Ireland or the U.K.

Northern Ireland Assembly was established in 1998 as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. This Assembly governs the policy issues, but the rest of administrative matters rests with the British Government.

Northern Ireland has a population of 1.8 million inhabitants living on a land of 13,843 sq. km,, occupying approximately 20% of the Island of Ireland.

We visited two cities in Northern Ireland: Derry or Londonderry and Belfast. We also visited Giant's Causeway, a fabulous wonder of nature.

Derry or Londonderry:

The official name of this second largest city in Northern Ireland is Londonderry. However, the Catholic nationalists do not like any association with the name "London." So it is not difficult to find the name "Londonderry" with the London part covered or removed as shown in the sign below.

The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Daire or Doire meaning "oak grove."

Derry has the city population of 84,000, but the metropolitan Derry has 237,000 as inhabitants.

Derry is known to be the first city that began the formal conflict between the Protestant unionists and the Catholic nationalists.

Despite the on-going conflict, there is a movement to restore peace among people. One evidence is the Hands Across the Divide statue erected next to the Craigavon Bridge in Derry in 1992, 20 years after the Bloody Sunday. This statue of two men reaching out to each other represents the spirit of reconciliation  and the hope for the future.

The Derry city is surrounded by an old fort. We walked on the walls and found several historical buildings, such as the first Presbyterian church established by the Scots, St. Augustine Cathedral, St. Columbia Cathedral and the War Memorial Monument.

We had breakfast at a jazzy cafe in the city. A lady was playing the keyboard and the walls were decorated with various pretty arts. Many people were enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, listening to the music.

Giant's Causeway was definitely one of the highlights of our UK and Ireland tour. It is a natural oddity. It is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns most of which have hexagon shapes. Scientifically, it is believed to be the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. But, there is a legend about a battle between a Scottish giant and an Irish giant where this Causeway was used. Hmmmm... It is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

The photos of Mr. and Mrs. Yoon and of Mr. Choi came out pretty nice.

Belfast ... is the capital city of Northern Ireland with a population of 330,000. Northern Ireland was historically the region of industrialization for the Island of Ireland and Belfast was at the center. One of the major industries was shipbuilding. The so-called "invincible" or "unsinkable" 269-meter long ship Titanic was built right here in Belfast. Still there is the Titanic Memorial Center built in the shape of the Titanic that was launched in 1911 and sunk in 1912 during its first voyage.

In Northern Ireland, there are Peace Lines or Peace Walls. They represent a series of walls segregating the Catholics and the Protestant neighbors. These division walls are as high as 25 feet, made of iron, brick or steel. Some range a few hundred yards while others over 3 miles. Some are gated and passage is controlled, open during the daytime but closed at night. The first wall was built in 1969 and the number has grown to now 48 with the length of these walls totaling 21 miles. These Peace Walls are in a number of cities, but mostly in Belfast.

There has been a movement to remove these walls since 2008, but a study released in 2012 indicates that 69% of the residents believe that the walls are still necessary to prevent unwanted violence. People in Belfast work together, but after work they go to different sides of the wall. Different flags are flying all over the places on both sides. Also, there are murals on the walls on both sides, claiming the legitimacy of their arguments. They reminded me of the Berlin Wall and the murals on part of the Wall. But the murals on the Berlin Wall were celebrating the coming-down of the Wall while these murals in Belfast are still work in process.

We drove around the city and found many buildings were painted with murals that are provocative or of propaganda.

These murals overshadowed the beautiful buildings like the Cathedral that stood high forming an impressive skyline on the horizon.

When we talk about the conflict in Northern Ireland, we cannot skip the story of the IRA or the Irish Republican Army. The original IRA led the Irish resistance movement against the British rule from 1917-1921, which led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. But, within the original IRA, later called Old IRA, there was a group of people who were against the free state of Ireland and/or Northern Ireland, both of which they claimed were the byproduct of the British Imperialism. They claimed that Ireland should be one and they believe that violence may be necessary to achieve the goal. This IRA movement lasted for four decades until 1968 when the Good Friday Treaty was signed. Ever since, the IRA has continued to split into many factions each claiming its own orthodoxy and legitimacy as the IRA, using different names such as Official IRA, Provisional IRA, Continuity IRA, Real IRA etc.

The tour guide Ken, who claimed to be a Catholic nationalist, was asking us if the walls that have lasted for more than 40 years would ever come down. He was skeptical. But, I encouraged him to be hopeful, reminding him of the 6-decade split in the Korean peninsula.

Splits and quarrels mark the human history. In that sense, Northern Ireland is not an exception. This phenomenon may continue until the true Prince of Peace returns to establish His Kingdom on earth. Marananta! - Jeffrey

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