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Borders, Sunshine and Hikes- Kyra's First Week in Belfast

Kyra Cooper from Truman State University shares the story of her first week of the International Summer School on Conflict Transformation and Social Justice...

Kyra QUB Lanyon Summer Schools 2018

I’m about a week into studying Conflict Transformation at Queen’s University in Belfast. Queen’s is a beautiful castle/university and I don’t have enough good things to say about how beautiful it is. The main building itself is incredible. Based on the number of tourists that have been filtering through, other people are impressed with the building as well. There is also an absolutely beautiful rose garden on campus. It’s quite beautiful right now. I am pretending to moonlight as an amateur nature photographer and have a ridiculous number of photos of roses on my phone at the moment.

Summer school 2018 roses kyra blog

In class, we have heard from a variety of speakers setting the background of the conflict between Ireland and the UK, and then the internal conflict in Northern Ireland. These lectures have largely showed the importance of historical elements in shaping conflicts. We also had lecturers provide a broad overview regarding factors that impact successful conflict transformation. In addition, there have also been lectures on specific issues that influenced the conflict in Belfast such as the peace walls or policing strategies.

The Queen’s International Summer School arranged a bunch of different activities and trips for us to go on. They brought in an instructor (with a live band) to teach us how to Irish dance, and it was honestly such a great time. First of all, the band was very talented. I kind of just wanted to sit and listen to them play. The dancing was really fun to learn as well. I wished people still danced like this at events. It must’ve been so fun to do at social gatherings back in the day. I mean, I had no clue what I was doing, but it was still a good time!

We also took a field trip to South Armagh, and were briefly in Ireland? It’s a very soft country border. There were barely any signs that we had entered Ireland. We started seeing Irish flags and were like “well, they must be pretty nationalistic down here” and nope, we were actually in Ireland. We went over some of the tragic events of the Troubles, and the memorials erected around the city for those that had died during different attacks. One of the most heartbreaking memorials that we saw was dedicated to a 12-year-old girl who was shot on her way to church during the Troubles.

South Armagh Memorial Summer 2018 Kyra Cooper blog
We also journeyed up to Stormont, which is the location of the Belfast Parliament building. Although it’s a fairly empty right now - the government of Belfast stopped working a year and a half ago and hasn’t come back. That’s right: The government has stopped. For a year and a half. From what I can tell from the lectures and talking to local people, they are all super, super done with the government being shut down. While we were at Stormont, they organized for a panel of five members of parliament from five different parties to discuss the issues and it was incredibly fascinating. It was so interesting to note the opinions of members of the different parties on important issues, and see to whom they attributed the fault for the government shutdown. I loved it. 

Stormont Kyra Cooper Summer Schools 2018 blog

There has also been some time to venture out and see the city by ourselves. The weather has been perfect for doing so. One of the most common warnings that I received prior to going in Belfast, and in fact at the beginning of being in Belfast, is “Oh man, be prepared for the cold and the rain!” However, it’s been between 55 (at night) and 85 degrees our whole time here and we haven’t seen one ounce of rain. Honestly, we haven’t even seen the slightest indication that it’s even going to rain. One gentlemen said that everyone just assumes it’s going to rain, whether there is any evidence for that at all. People keep telling our group, “Make sure you enjoy this weather, it’s never this nice!” but all I have to say is that it’s really has been nothing but perfect this whole time and I’m assuming this is just a giant rain myth perpetuated as a prank on the rest of the world. Northern Ireland is actually going through a drought right now. That’s right, throw your preconceived notions away: It is very sunny, and there’s definitely no rain. Not that I’m complaining!

One of the things I really wanted to do in Northern Ireland was hike. So I dragged some friends on a hike to Black Mountain and the Divis Ridge Trail. On the website, they’re like “it’s much better to drive to the starting location than take public transportation” but it’s literally super far outside of the city and also none of us can drive here. So, for better or for worse, we were taking the bus as close as we could go. Except we missed the bus that would get us as close as we could go. So we took a bus that would get us kind of close but not as close. What I’m trying to say is that we ended up hiking three miles to get to the start of the hike. To be fair, to get to the start wasn’t so much a “hike” as it was walking along probably a 35-45 MPH road that had little to no sidewalks. Like we were walking on the actual road for a good chunk of it. It was also essentially straight uphill the whole time. It was this whole thing.

When we got to the Black Mountain and the Divis Ridge Trail, we met an incredibly kind Park Ranger who offered to give us a ride to the summit, which has beautiful views of the city and the countryside. From the summit, you can see how far Belfast spreads out. The Park Ranger told us that on a clear day, you could even see the Isle of Man from the top. After we took in the view, the Park Ranger also was kind enough to drive us all the way back to our apartments. Overall, the hike/drive was everything I wanted out of Northern Ireland.

Divis Mountain Kyra Cooper Summer Schools 2018 Blog

I also went to the St. George’s Market and got a small painting of Queen’s University (it’s a very pretty building, and I am definitely going to want to remember it) and then went to explore the area by the River Lagan by the big fish (also known as “The Salmon of Knowledge,” which is just wonderful). I eventually ended up in a coffeeshop by St. Anne’s Cathedral (where I wrote this blog) and witnessed three unionist band parades come through. I am very excited for parade season!

That’s all I have for week one! See you next week!