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Belfast field trip explores Northern Ireland's transition from violence to imperfect peace


On Wednesday 13th January 2016, 28 students from across ISE gathered in Belfast for two days of tours and talks aimed at unravelling some of the successes and remaining challenges of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The trip began with a meal and orientation session at ISE Belfast with Dr. David Mitchell and Dr. Brendan Browne, leaders of the MPhil in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation based in the city. The next morning, students were given a guided tour by former political prisoners of some of the historically most violent and divided parts of the city - the Falls Road, Ballymurphy and the Shankill Road. After lunch in the plush Victoria Square shopping centre, symbolic of Belfast's post-conflict regeneration, the group headed to Parliament Buildings at Stormont.


At the Bombay Street memorial and 'peace wall in West Belfast

Once synonymous with one-party unionist rule, Stormont is now home of Northern Ireland's cross-community power-sharing Executive. There they were met by Assembly Member Claire Hanna (SDLP) who explained her own journey in politics as well as some of the unresolved issues facing the administration eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement. The group then received a tour by Assembly staff, including the Assembly chamber.


The Stormont Assembly

The next stop was the newly-opened Museum of Orange Heritage on the Cregagh Road. Part-funded by the EU peace programme, this museum aims to promote public understanding of this historic but at times controversial organisation. The group enjoyed a guided tour of the museum's exhibits and impressive collection of artefacts, and they had the chance to question Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary, about the Order's place in contemporary Northern Ireland.


The Museum of Orange Heritage

The final morning was spent at the Ardoyne 'interface' in North Belfast, the most contested location in the whole of the city. The group was hosted by R City, a cross-community collaboration between the Ardoyne and Hammer Youth Clubs, in their new café venture in the grounds of Holy Cross church. The R City Café is designed to create a shared and safe meeting point as well as employment opportunities for local young people. The ISE group was given a powerful presentation by Brian McKee on what it was like growing up during the Troubles in Ardoyne before youth workers Thomas Turley and Alan Waite braved the snow to lead a walking tour of the area, explaining the sectarian geography, the ongoing parading dispute, as well as the less visible problems like suicide, paramilitary control and drugs.


At the Ardoyne roundabout, with the Twaddell loyalist protest camp in the background

Finally, Thomas and Alan spoke about their transformative work with local young people, including their Belfast2Blanco project which sends teams of young people to experience a South African township.

It was an inspirational note on which to end a trip which, even in a short time, revealed much about the complexity, difficulty and hopefulness of the Northern Ireland experience of peacemaking. Time to plan a return visit!

Last updated 30 July 2016 by Irish School of Ecumenics (Email).