This was an amazing day – students continued to learn more about The Troubles, adding to developing layers of understanding, as we visited the Belfast political murals in several sectarian neighborhoods. We studied these areas of sectarian divide and the murals in class last semester (spring 2014), but actually seeing them, firsthand and in situ, was powerful, disturbing and absolutely essential to really being able to begin to grok all of this complex history – on any level.
Our three black cab taxi drivers – father Paddy Campbell and sons Peter and Sam – were terrific. They picked us up at our Guest House and engaged students, from the start, with their generosity of spirit and, at turns, humor and somber storytelling about all sides of The Troubles.
We were able to see many parts of these sectarian areas, including the Crumlin Road Courthouse and Gaol, West Belfast (Gaeltacht Quarter) and Falls Road, Shankill Road and the Lower Shankill Estates, and part of Belfast’s biggest and tallest peace wall (‘peace lines’) along Cupar Way which divides the loyalist area of Shankill Road from the Springfield/Fall Roads Catholic area of west Belfast. Please take a look at the amazing student blogs to get a sense of their experience – they’ve written some powerful reflections.
Next, we drove along the gorgeous North Antrim coast. Seeing The Dark Hedges (from The Game of Thrones) was a huge hit and lots of fun – it is a gorgeous, fabulously creepy place and we could all imagine ourselves in that famous fog and chiaroscuro moonlight scene!
Next, we drove close by Dunseverick and Protballintrae (getting out in the glorious sunshine for a look at the sea and across to mainland Scotland – for a few students, this was their first time to see an ocean) and then to the beautiful coastal hamlet of Portbraddan (‘Port of the Salmon’). Historically a famous fishing spot, it still has a working slipway.
They absolutely loved and were delighted by The Giant’s Causeway – one of my favorite places. It is a magical place, and students were like small children – fascinated, happy and charmed by exploring this wondrous, natural place.
Our last two stops of the day were at Dunluce Castle (not far from Derry) and The Wee Cottage. It was a long day and everyone was tired, but elated at what a beautiful day it had been. We arrived at the castle about half an hour before closing time, and students really just wanted to explore the grounds and wander, which was lovely. The sun was warm and the air was cool – it was a perfect place to explore and to reflect on the day. Soon, tired and hungry and thirsty, we went in to the Wee Cottage – a fabulous and wacky little traditional cottage that serves delicious homemade soup, sandwiches and scones. I’ve been here before and was so glad that Paddy brought us all here – we had leek and potato or tomato and basil soup, chicken sandwiches, and endless servings of light, flaky scones with cream and jam – and pot after pot of hot tea. Students were in heaven (and so was I, truth be told) and happy, happy with this day. An hour or so later, we were tucked into our beautiful and contemporary B&B in the Bogside area of Derry – a great and historic place from which to learn more about The Troubles.