Rushed my way out of the hostel by 8:30 this morning before the roommates were awake. Munching a PB&J on the walk to Connelly Station I realized how crushed I have been in these last few days. The jet lag has caught up to me and I entered the train station to buy my ticket to Belfast and Derry. I forgot my debit card at the ticket window, but thankfully I was aware enough to hear my name being called over the loudspeaker. One of the few places on earth where a stranger can look at the name on my card and pronounce it correctly. That was worth a laugh and a complete relief. I would’ve been super bummed had I lost that.
The train to Belfast rides the coast a bit looking east towards the British Isles. Beautiful. Sheep, vales and tiny towns. Wasn’t amazingly green, but apparently Dublin area is the driest part of the island. I was not feeling great from the evening before and a terrible night sleep. I could barely keep my head up on the way. Just before Belfast, I looked at the young man across from me and noticed he had a Che Guevara bracelet. Had to ask! Che’s mother was a Lynch. All the Irish know about Che. We started talking about education in our different corners of the world. We both had equal parts lament and pride, though I was more pessimistic about the American form of educating.
I was ready to deboard, change my Ameros into Pounds and head onto a train for Derry. Thankfully Chris Gaskin, my new buddy, knew that the bus to Derry is quicker and more enjoyable. It was great. I wouldn’t have known how to get through the city in our cab to the bus depot. Before I knew it, we were talking about the Troubles, Irish economics, the outlook for Irish youth and the similarities between our lives. Great conversation. We talked nearly the entire time, before I think we both realized how tired we were. He was on his way to meet his new ladyfriend and I needed to jot some ideas down from our conversation:
Chris is from South Armagh. One of the strongholds for the IRA during the Troubles. A town of 2000 people in a rural mountain valley just on the border. Mostly a Catholic Republican town. He explained how it was safer for the community itself during the Troubles when there were clear boundaries for crime. With the order of the Troubles, and clear cut enemies or philosophies to support, there was a need to support the cause in the community, that is the agenda of the IRA fighting the Unionist Protestants in NI. Crime within the Armagh community was frowned upon.
Ironically, with the arms away and no more political agenda, the area has eroded into a more fractured dangerous community. Granted many operations hatched in South Armagh were some of the bloodiest attacks on the Unionist community in the North. But without the pecking order of the IRA in his community, Chris related that South Armagh is more dangerous to the regular citizen. Keep in mind it is a majority, almost completely, Catholic community.
In general, not just with Chris’ community, the Catholic families have place a strong importance on education. Essentially, in the North, they had to work harder to level the playing field for themselves with the politics controlled by the Protestants. But this need for an education has increased as there isn’t a cause to plug into and nothing to win from conflict.
Schools are mainly segregated in the north (Catholics/Republicans are likely to call it the North or the six counties while Protestants/Unionists are more likely to refer to it as Northern Ireland). Chris is 27, so he was 13 when the Good Friday Agreement was written. Without the violence of the Troubles combined with a more globalized experience due to the economic boom of the 2000s, Chris points to the Universities as contributing to a less radicalized place. Republican and Unionist fervor subsides, in Chris’ experience, due the sophistication of pursuing degrees. The educated see less sense in sectarianism. Those still passionate about the divides seem more like they have a grudge that can’t be satisfied. He thinks greater society does not want to see their grudges satisfied.
In terms of the religious roots of these issues, cultural identity is directly related to their faith based affiliations with the Church. It seems though less and less youth attend or practice their religion. So as the political divides in the communities have eased, as have the cultural distinctions related to seeing the differences between their faiths. Yet another reason to hate is being lost as the next generation comes of age, I suppose.
Entering Derry on the east side of the community, I noticed a lot of Union Jacks and Northern Irish flags. I asked Chris if flying these colors still incites the fervor and foul taste in the mouth as it once did. He said they are useful. It is nice to know where you are. Chris said he’s going to hook me up with a contact in South Armagh for the week of July 2nd. I hope that works out.
Here are some pictures of the Irish countryside between Belfast and Derry. GREEN!