14 April, 2014

Belfast Reflection

Throughout the beginning of the course, we have looked at the conflict that has taken place in Northern Ireland, starting with the English occupation of the whole country all the way into the Troubles and beyond. While learning about the Troubles in the classroom was interesting, it wasn’t until we went to Belfast that I felt the reality of the situation hit me. Seeing how the communities were separated, and seeing these murals and monuments to the fallen, it drove home what the Troubles were really about.
The first time through Belfast on the long weekend trip up North, I didn’t have enough of a sense of the city. Since we spent so little time in the heart of Belfast around the wall and murals, it was hard to gauge how I felt about the city. There was certainly an air of uncertainty, but then we went into the shopping center of Belfast, and that was a whole different experience. As a result, it was hard to tell what Belfast was really like just through the Black Taxi tour and the little time spent in Shankill and the Falls Road. With this excursion, I could tell what the city felt like: not just uncertainty, but haunting.

The Shankill part of the excursion with the Protestant tour guide was pretty interesting. I thought it was cool to learn about the origins of each mural and why they were put there. The histories behind all of them, ranging from the long mural showing the funeral procession to the many murals with their messages of peace, were enlightening. Each of these murals told a story, not only of the past, but of the future: while they were all put up in order to commemorate the past, their messages all ask whether these acts of violence and the problems between the Unionists and Nationalists.

Mural on the Protestant side of Belfast. 
The small memorial to the Bayardo bombing was one of the first “real” indicators of death that we saw along the tour. While the murals depicted the problems and the killings that have happened over the years, this memorial, showing the names and faces of the victims killed in the bombing brought everything to perspective. These were the innocent civilians whose blood was shed just because blood needed to be shed. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the theme of the Troubles as it pertained to the amount of civilians killed: it was blood that for some reason had to be shed.

It was good to see that neither of the tour guides showed any animosity towards the other group; it was in my opinion touching to see them shake hands and chat for a minute before trading places on the tour. That kind of interaction displays the progression of the ceasefires, and it shows hope for a future where the two groups can live and work together to make the city (and the rest of the North) a better place to live.
Then, going into the Falls Road and Republican half of the tour, I finally realized what Belfast feels like an oppressed city; haunted by the past. This notion became even clearer as we made our way to the Garden of Remembrance. Walking through the neighborhood, I didn’t feel welcome. Unlike the Protestant area which was lively and had people walking about, the Catholic neighborhood seemed almost desolate and filled with some kind of anger. It makes sense because of how they had been treated during the Troubles with segregation, but with all of that gone now, it’s just a reminder of the past.

Then, going to the Memorial Wall of the innocent republicans murdered by Loyalists, it really hit home. This is where all of that hate and emotion gets built up; there must have been over three hundred names and pictures plastered on that wall, with ages ranging from under ten to over seventy. Seeing all of those names and just the sheer amount of people who were needlessly killed during the Troubles was astounding. Finally, the tour ended with a trip to Milltown Cemetery, where Michael Stone attacked a group of mourners in 1988. Seeing the grave sites of Bobby Sands and the other volunteers of the IRA who gave their lives to pursue freedom from Britain, again, hit home for reality.

Bobby Sands mural in Belfast.
Champlain Abroad Dublin Spring'14

What I think is really hampering true progress; however, is the fact that the two main roads and communities are still segregated by the peace wall. It reminds me of the Berlin wall situation: the Berlin Wall was erected in order to separate the Western Germany, which was a recovering sect of Western ideals from the Eastern half of the country which was more communist. Eventually, the wall oppressed the two sides and prevented there from being peace throughout Germany until it was destroyed.  The Falls Road Wall does the same: it separates and oppresses the two religious groups and keeps them from communicating with each other. Communication is key for peace, and without it, the two groups will not be able to see eye to eye.

Brian Monahan
Champlain Abroad Dublin Spring'14
 The last question asked to the Republican tour guide was “Where do you see Northern Ireland in ten years?” He answered “I don’t.” Of course, that is the Republican response for Northern Ireland: they want for the North and mainland to become one country. They have fought and died to try and make this happen, and for almost one hundred years it has not. Likewise, Unionists have fought and died in order to keep the North a part of Britain. In between these two groups, thousands of innocent victims have been lost to this conflict. Belfast still has an air of hate and uncertainty, and it’s a shame that after all of these years, things still can’t be normal in the city. Hopefully the two sides (and all others involved) can come up with some sort of political and social situation that benefits everybody; however, that seems highly unlikely.

Brian Monahan
Champlain Abroad Dublin, Spring ‘14
Champlain College, Professional Writing‘15

“If You Want to Learn They Will Teach You”

My name is Samantha Hoeltge and I am Junior Social Work major at Champlain College, currently studying in Ireland with Champlain Abroad Dublin.  Being a social work student has become an enlightening experience for me, and the fact that I get to spend some of my college learning in another country is a gift.  As a future social worker, it is important to work with a variety of people and cultures, being in Ireland is only enhancing this skill.  To further cement my work with diverse culture, I have been fortunate enough to take part in a class that allows me to be placed at a local community agency.  Just in the few months I have been in Dublin, I could not be more grateful for this class, as it has allowed me to work with people in need but also allowed me to feel accepted and immersed in the city.

The agency that I was specifically placed at is called, Exchange House.  The Exchange House is dedicated to helping the Irish Traveller population and is centrally located in a local shopping district within Dublin, to allow for easy accessibility to the spread out Traveller population. By Traveller, I am not referring to the tourist population; I am referring to what many people know as the “Gypsy” population.  The important difference to understand is that the word Gypsy is actually a derogatory and racial slur.  This population is openly discriminated against and faces many social hardships.  Some of the struggles that the Travellers have to go through are only made worse by the fact that the Irish government will not acknowledge them as a minority population and in fact much of the Traveller life style has been made illegal today.

Exchange House location in Dublin City Centre. 

Travellers in the past, lived a lifestyle that is what their name would suggest, they traveled.  They tended to live in caravans or “trailers” and often would move from town to town.  Travelers have lived in Ireland for as long as the settled population has.  They used to be known and appreciated for traveling and selling their crafts and wares.  But, as time went on and people became less nomadic, the Travellers became unnecessary.  Their crafts and merchandise were no longer needed as products became openly available on the global market, thus ending their working traditions.  Travellers still continued to travel around Ireland, except the settled community did not like their nomadic ways and slowly started objectifying them.  Laws were passed to prevent caravan parking and the general public started separating themselves from the Travellers.  Poverty within the population grew due to lack of job opportunities (with an unemployment rate of 84.3%, Ireland census) and education.  The Traveller population only makes up about 1% of the Irish population and only about 1% of the total Traveller population is able to complete school and obtain a college degree (Pavee Point).  This is part of the reason that the Traveller population wants to be recognized as a minority within Ireland, it would allow for the better allocation of resources that could alleviate many of their work and education struggles.
Until then, organizations like the Exchange House try to work with the Traveller population to help them work towards breaking through the struggles that often plagues them.  The Exchange House focuses on services that help to education both the adults and adolescent of the Traveller population.  They hope that in educating their clients, they can help increase their chances for obtaining a job and ultimately creating a better life for themselves.  The Exchange House seeks out Travellers who are looking to find jobs and further their education.   If they meet the program requirement, the Traveller can be accepted into the Exchange House program but for their time spent at the Exchange House they receive a work check.  The Exchange House is ultimately training the Travellers to get jobs but until they leave the Exchange House, they learn and work like they would any other real job.  It is a really amazing initiative and the participants of the program have expressed extreme gratitude for the Exchange House creating this opportunity.
My role at the Exchange House is split into two parts.  The first part of my day is to work with the level one and two adult learners.  This education level is similar to kindergarten and first grade.  I work specifically on reading and writing skills.  The second half of my day is working on researching alternative education entry programs and scholarship/ grant opportunities for the soon to be college age students.  I work at the Exchange House once a week for a few hours.  My favorite part of my work is with my adult learners.  I can have different students every week, each student with a different learning level.  This means that each week when I prepare my lesson I need to ensure that I have multiple lessons, depending on the individual student’s needs.  It does amaze me how motivated some of my students are and how much they have progressed in the three months I have worked with them.  I have worked with students who could barely read a three letter word, progress to reading the newspaper in the morning and understanding what is being read.  The best part is they are some of the nicest people I have ever worked with.  They always ask how I am doing and what I have been up too, always remembering what we talked about in previous weeks.  They made me feel welcomed from the second I first stepped in the door.  The second part of my work is still rewarding but is more has me work more with the full time staff members.  It is valuable information, in that it allows me to understand the management side of an organization.  This work may sometimes not be as enjoyable as working with my students but it is still rewarding in that the information that I am researching is helping the high school students find ways to further their education.
Samantha Hoeltge
Champlain Abroad Dublin Spring'14
The time I have spent at the Exchange House has been enjoyable and I am sad to see that it is slowly coming to an end.  I will admit I was nervous when I first started working there.  I had never heard of Travellers and I did not know what working with an adult population would be like.  I am glad that I was assigned the Exchange House.  I work with a population that has such a diverse culture, and a culture that is different from some of the settled Irish, it has helped me to become more aware of the diversity that can be present when working with different groups of people.  Just because someone can come from the same area does not mean that they may hold the same history, social norms, or belief systems.  As a future social worker I understand why it is important to be aware of this diversity that is present everywhere.  Being at this placement has helped greatly in illuminated the true importance of it.  Not only that I was able to work with a people who appreciated the help and work we did together.  It has been a truly rewarding experience

“If You Want to Learn They Will Teach You” (Exhange House Client)

Samantha Hoeltge 
Champlain Abroad Dublin, Spring ‘14
Champlain College, Social Work ‘15

Ceiliúradh: Royal Albert Hall celebrates Irish culture with a Champlain link.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins was recently in the United Kingdom for a state visit with Queen Elizabeth.  This visit was rather a big deal given the history the two countries have shared, and the visit will likely go a long way towards a reconciliation.

One of the events during the visit was a concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London celebrating Irish music.  Among the star performers were Elvis Costello, Glen Hansard, Paul Brady, Lisa Hannigan, and Imelda May.  Perhaps lesser known (but still a star in our eyes) was the presence on stage of Amy Farrell-Courtney, world champion bodhran (Irish drum) player.  Amy also teaches the Champlain Abroad Dublin students how to play the bodhran as a part of Caroline Elbay's Irish music class.

Amy Farrell-Courtney (R in black dress) onstage at the Royal Albert Hall, London for the Irish Music concert during the state visit of Irish President Michael D. Higgins.  The concert was hosted by Dermot O'Leary.
Back down to earth for Amy as she is at the moment of writing back in the classroom teaching the basics of the Bodhran.

"On a night like this, it is great to be Irish. And it is even better to share it in the company of our friends in Britain," President Higgins said.