Tuesday, April 26, 2011
How long must we sing this song?
In the Republic of Ireland people no longer have the heart for vengeance towards the British. In general, the Queen's visit is more of a passing curiosity than a political travesty (even the more recent travesties of political and economic woes haven't raised much of a mew of protest, so caring about the Royals is not high on most peoples' agenda). Saying that, there has been a bit of resurgence in the fight for Northern Ireland as it seems that there is "New" IRA splinter group. So far this group has focused it's attentions on Catholic Police Officers in Northern Ireland (the police in Ireland are called Gardi) as they are "helping the enemy".
Political will towards this group is fairly slim, because no one really wants a resurgence of sectarian violence (as there are only losers in such affairs). However, the economic woes have left young people with few job prospects, and lots of anger. It is in the hopelessness of a future-less youth that extremism will propagate. In Northern Ireland this takes the form of the new IRA; in the Republic, gang culture is taking over. But in general, given the current state of affairs (the recently elected government has gone back on many election promises, to form a government that looks pretty much like the previous one) I think that everyone feels... apathetic. The following quote aptly summarizes things: "it doesn't matter who you elect, the government always get in".
So, what does it matter whether your taxes go to bailout a corrupt system in Britain, or a corrupt system in Ireland? It is best for everyone to get along with their neighbours, because it is only in our small communities that we will thrive. And this is never more apparent than if you cycle around the peaceline communities of Falls Road and Shankill Road. Both are thriving neighbourhoods, and the "famous" peaceline murals have mostly been converted to pledges of peace... and... well... graffiti. (Also worth noting... as a testament to the strength of the peace process... the downtown core of Belfast was well equipped with trash bins... unlike London.)
So this begs the question of what sort of beast is Belfast? Irish or British?
We found most of the cultural and social leanings to be Irish. The tourist shops were flogging the same Guinness and shamrock speckled kitsch that you would find in Dublin. The library had all of the Irish authors and Irish folk tales that would be found in our Maynooth branch.
Our experience was a bit of "a through the looking glass" version of Ireland, everything was mostly the same... Dunnes, Ireland jerseys, GAA sports... all the components that make Ireland IRELAND were present in Belfast. But the looking glass tilt on everything came from the sub-culture. In Ireland the sub-culture is definitely American in nature. People watch American TV shows, listen to American music and have American cultural leanings. In Belfast all of those cultural leanings tended to be British. Saying that... there were no union jacks around, and hardly a gleaning of the royal family was to be found (considering the excitement of the wedding this coming weekend, we would have imagined there'd be a wee bit more of a nod towards the royals).
In the end, I think Northern Ireland has become its own distinct place. They have their own money (printed by local banks, but not accepted as currency anywhere else in the UK), they definitely have their own accent (if you have trouble understanding someone's accent, they're probably Scottish; if you CAN'T understand the accent, then they're Northern Irish!), and their own version of Soda Bread. Over 90 years of cultural separation from Ireland and continuous political turmoil has lead to an evolution leading to a unique sense of what it means to be from Northern Ireland.
And now for some photos. The Highway of Holiness church with the garage doors was just too funny. Do you think it was an auto body shop or an actual church?
Cycling the peaceline:
A mural near Ormeau Park and our B&B:
And as evidence of the poor economy, every neighbourhood seemed to be fraught with vacancies:
Funny money, printed by the various banks in Northern Ireland: