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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Life experiences shared

by Armando Davila

With the amount of information to digest and the condensed time to absorb the scenery, the experiences shared by our group have been lasting impressions. Most of us came to this course from all parts of the United States, having never met one another in person, with the expectation to build an intimate bond through this short lived journey. I would take the chance to go out on a limb and say that most of us have experienced things here in Derry that we have never experienced before in our lives. These experiences have now created this internal connection we will carry with ourselves for the rest of our lives.

In the beginning, we all harbored this curiosity about the unknown. Having only been exposed to mediated versions of Northern Ireland and the troubles they have faced, we all now have a better sense of understanding through the dialogue we have created with the people of Derry. With the days spent exploring the remnants of this multifaceted history that is displayed through the architecture and art written on the walls throughout Northern Ireland, to the deeper tragedies held within the soul of Derry people, we have only scratched the surface of what there is to learn about this beautiful city and beautiful people.

(Left: St. Columb's Cathedral, Center: The Diamond War Memorial, Right: Guildhall Square)

Now, with only a couple days left, we have all developed this inner love for Derry and the Irish people. Even though we have all experienced different things in different ways, I think we can all agree that this shared experience has created a chapter in our lives that we will share with our friends and family for years to come. It is fascinating how we have all come from different backgrounds with different beliefs and values, and yet have found a common enthusiasm to learn and expand our knowledge on an interesting topic in world history.

Our time spent in Derry has been exciting and fun-lived to say the least; however, our mission here has taken us to other parts of Northern Ireland to help us gain a better perspective of how far the Troubles reach. In a one-day excursion we visited the city of Belfast, considered the second largest city in Ireland (Dublin being the first). Given that our experiences in Belfast were short lived, the strong history of the city was displayed in many ways - murals, monuments, and personal stories. Like Derry, Belfast has gone through a devastating past that is still very prevalent in the every day lives of the people who live there.

Multiple murals that tell the history of Belfast

Memorial monument located in the unionist community
A list of all the civilians murdered by the loyalist
and British Froces

The most interesting thing I found in Belfast was the "Peace Wall". This wall was originally built in 1969 and has since gone through upgrades to raise the height up to over 40 feet tall. From 7 am to 7 pm, gates are open for traffic/access from either communities (nationalists and unionist). However, between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am, the gates are closed to limit the chances of violent engagements between the two communities. It was so hard for me to fathom that less than 15 years ago, people were still engaged in intense battles that fueled the hatred for both communities.

The Peace Wall from the nationalist side

One of the gates that gives access to either community
The stories shared above are just a few experiences that I have had since I have been on this journey. Every person in our group may have similar experiences, but were felt in a different way than myself. Nonetheless, these experiences have brought us together as a group and will forever be remembered as the journey to a higher purpose of self-fulfillment.   

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