‘And we’re off!’ Belfast Tour
Written by Stuart Irwin and Aline Muff, Student Assistants to the International Summer Schools 2016
The highlight of our first day at the interdisciplinary Summer Schools in Irish Studies and in Conflict Transformation was the bus tour of Belfast. Following a morning of introductions and an icebreaker quiz, the class were taken on a bus tour of Belfast, entitled “Murals, Interfaces and Economic Development”. Whilst the weather was far from perfect, students refused to let this dampen spirits. Indeed, the class were excited to be touring the city that would be hosting them for the next three weeks!
Two buses set off from Queen’s University, with Dr Dominic Bryan and Dr Gordon Gillespie assuming the responsibilities of tour guides. Throughout the 90 minute journey across Belfast they proved themselves to be excellent guides, demonstrating an impressive knowledge of the city, both past and present, whilst keeping the audience engaged with humorous anecdotes amidst the serious issues of conflict, division and violence. The tour proceeded through the neighbourhoods of Sandy Row, the Falls Road, and the Shankill Road, before stopping at the ‘peace wall’ in west Belfast, which has become a famous spot for tourists to visit. The tour continued across the river Lagan to east Belfast, where we drove through the Newtownards Road before visiting the world famous shipyard (the birthplace of the RMS Titanic). On the journey back to Queen’s, the bus passed by Belfast City Hall, giving students a taste of the rich architectural heritage the city has to offer; the class were encouraged to explore the building further, as free tours of City Hall are given daily.
In summary, during the tour of Belfast we learned about the spatial aspects of identity politics in Belfast and its “communities of resistance”, expressed through murals, memorials, name plaques, bonfires, parades and sports. Gordon sought to explain how the history of this island and the recent conflict can be placed in a comparative context; the murals of individuals such as Nelson Mandela in the Falls Road area was one such example. The history of the shipyard and other industries enhanced our understanding of the socio-economic dimension of the conflict and demonstrated the complexity of the conflict beyond identity. Dominic summarised the spatial dimension of Belfast by saying that it is “the most shared and most divided now as it has ever been in its history”.
The first day of the Summer Schools was wrapped up with a wine reception that was held in the Naughton Gallery, at Queen’s University. During this event, we asked some of the students about their personal highlights from the tour earlier in the day:
- Caroline enjoyed learning about the murals and was fascinated by the fact that some symbols such as Saint Patrick are shared across both communities. She found it important to learn about the socio-economic dimension of the conflict and that it goes beyond religion.
- Jena and Lilly’s highlight was seeing the peace wall and in general to experience the physical divisions in Belfast.
- Julie was fascinated by the interface areas in Belfast and she also enjoyed learning about the socio-economic dimensions of the conflict.
- Peter remarked on the artistic quality of the murals and was fascinated by the different perspectives that such art can portray.
The Summer Schools have got off to a great start, and we look forward to sharing more about the events and experiences throughout the three weeks. Please stay tuned!