Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Literature in Ireland

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Visiting Belfast Illuminates Much


John Henry '10 - First of all I must say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home.  Today has been one of my favorite days on the trip for many reasons.  We began our day very early around 6:30 AM to take the train to Belfast in Northern Ireland.  The trip was about two and a half hours via train and immediately after getting off the train we were off on a tour bus to have a historic tour of the city. 

The relevance to our class could not have been more pertinent, as we traversed the city.  Much of Joyce’s writing is steeped in elements of the Irish struggle for independence. Belfast brings to life this struggle through its still strong division and hundreds of Nationalist and Loyalist wall paintings, commemorating heroes from the struggle. Many of the men involved in the fighting were in their twenties and it was hard to imagine that these young men died for their country and its independence while we already have these freedoms.

The city still has many of its dividing walls separating the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city from one another.  These walls are around fifty feet high and yet still could not contain the violence and indiscriminate killing that occurred on both sides during what the Northern Irish call the “Troubles”.  Even within the city itself people fly different flags and although Northern Ireland is currently possessed by the UK, there were many flags of the Irish Republic being flown across the city.

After our tour we took the bus further north to what is known as the Giant’s Causeway.  This geological formation is directly on the ocean and was formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.  It is a collection of some 40,000 hexagonal rocks neatly organized to form what truly looks like a massive causeway.  The area is steeped in Irish legend.  The Causeway was formed completely naturally, which makes it all the more impressive. Scotland can also be seen across the Irish Sea and the massive cliffs with their vegetation set the scene.  I have never seen anything that combines so many of the most beautiful elements of nature, rock, earth, vegetation, sea, and distant mountains all in one area. 

We headed back into Belfast to have our Thanksgiving Dinner at an American restaurant called Springstein’s.  Ironically enough there was a carved Indian next to our table sporting an American flag.  Not quite a typical American Thanksgiving but one I will always remember.  We are all about to head out into the Dublin nightlife and enjoy one of our last nights here.