By Haley Burrow | Guest Contributor
Baylor in Ireland students attended a lecture on June 20 at Stranmillis University to hear from faculty members about different facets of life in Northern Ireland.
As their time in the city neared its end, students received a worksheet to brainstorm the positive aspects of Belfast as well as its challenges. They also had the chance to ask any remaining questions they had.
“Belfast is very open to change and growth, and that’s definitely a positive thing to see,” Belton graduate student Mary Kate Montgomery said. “You can see how welcoming everyone is because the only way to go up from where they were is to be open and be so accepting of growth and change.”
From 1968 to 1998, Northern Ireland was in a period of turmoil called the Troubles.
“Eighty percent of the people left Northern Ireland to study, and that’s a huge number,” Stranmillis faculty member Lois Totton said. “Out of that 80%, more than half of them never came back here.”
The Troubles fostered an atmosphere that made it difficult for the Northern Irish people to feel safe in their communities.
The end of the Troubles came with the Good Friday Agreement, which has allowed these communities to have more comfort and pride in their country.
“If you want to stay here, you have to step up and take the challenges,” Totton said. “I think it makes us a little stronger in many ways, because we have been determined.”
Since the end of the Troubles, more people have immigrated to Northern Ireland, bringing increasingly diverse cultures.
“We need to be open to other cultures,” Totton said. “We’ve had to step up, but because of the resilience, because we’ve had challenges in the past, we don’t see roadblocks. We’ll make it work some way.”
During the lecture, students talked about the differences between Belfast, Dublin and America, with some students saying that the northern part of the island felt more like what they were expecting Ireland to be.
“I think a lot of things in Dublin are very Americanized,” Montgomery said. “Dublin seems a little bit more boujie and classy in terms of its people. I know when we went to Derry, that’s when it kind of hit me.”
Despite Northern Ireland’s attempts to move on from its troubling past, there are still challenges that need to be faced and progress that needs to be made.
“The No. 1 thing that stood out to me was the segregation standpoint,” Hanover, N.H., senior Harper Leigh said.
Segregation in Belfast and Northern Ireland occurs primarily along Catholic and Protestant lines. Tied with these religions are the ideas of nationalism and unionism, respectively.
“One thing that I do think contributes to the sense of not moving on is how we educate our children separately,” Totton said. “I am a great proponent of integrated education.”
Integrated education in Northern Ireland started 40 years ago and has made little progress since. Today, only 7% of all students attend an integrated school.
“I think we recognize that we do all share the same bit of land, but we have different culture,” Stranmillis faculty member Dr. Barbara McDade said. “We have different background and values and different political and constitutional views. [A separate Ireland] is much, much more helpful because it recognizes the reality of our history and where we’ve been and how people feel about who they are and their identity.”
The history of Northern Ireland offers a lot to learn from, and the community continues to see the effects of the troubling times today.
“We shouldn’t be building walls; we should be building bridges,” Totton said. “Yet, this works here. The walls are up. The gates are opened, but they’re still closed at night.”