A Global Research Institute of Queen's University Belfast


I didn't know what I didn't know


written by Carolyn McDonald, Irish Studies Summer School Student

Before coming into Queen's Irish Studies Program, I didn't know what I didn't know.

About six years ago while researching a character for a screenplay, I discovered that Northern Irish Civil Rights activists had designed their non-violent protest campaigns, based on methods used by African-American activists to protest inequalities the early 1960s. To illustrate that no matter a person's skin color, we all have the same needs, desires and feelings, I began a quest to make a documentary paralleling these two Civil Rights movements. While my intentions were pure, and being primarily "dramatic writer", I presumptuously latched on to a "Catholic/Black vs White/Protestant" theme and ran with it. However, at the end of the first day the classes, I quickly realized that Irish social dynamics were far more complex than I initially intended to depict.

So I abandoned my preconceptions (film title and storyline), listened, questioned and took copious notes during lectures on everything from agriculture and geography, to theatre and conflict transformation. Each session gave me richer and more empathetic perspectives. And after a seminar on How Northern Ireland in Film, watching movie clips of several Hollywood films that had portrayed Northern Ireland quite terribly, I knew I had to tell a more authentic and purposeful story.

These 3 weeks of Irish Studies allows me to go back to the proverbial drawing board with a broader perspective and greater resources to make a film that will be entertaining, informative and healing. My time in Belfast has been personally very affirming. I have also met some incredible people. The professors, staff and fellow students have left an indelible place in my heart, that will inform how I approach my crafts from now on. For which I will exceedingly grateful.

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