Over the summer, nine students went on a two week immersion trip to Belfast, Ireland. The trip was for the Irish Studies: Peacebuilding Immersion class. The class, which has an emphasis on literature and film, is offered in the spring semester and covers the history of the “Troubles” era that arose from conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.
Another focus of the class is peacebuilding. The immersion experience presented students with the current attitudes of the Irish in regard to this topic.
While in Ireland, the class spoke with a variety of people including ex-convicts who took part in the Troubles, and the police who attempted to control them. They also talked to people who have political power now, but more importantly some who were in power at the time of the Troubles. One such person is Gerry O’Hara. He was affiliated with Sinn Féin, the Irish republican political party, as well as with the former IRA (Irish Republican Army). They also talked to everyday people who shared personal stories about life during the Troubles.
This conflict impacted the areas in their lives that we easily take for granted. Senior Karly Kovac recounted a story that a hotel concierge told about his excitement in being able to put out trash cans after the Troubles without worrying about bombs being placed in them.
The grief and sorrow still felt by the Irish today shaped the immersion experience. Richard Clark, Associate Professor of Sociology, has accompanied students on this immersion trip for the past ten years. He said, “You talk to survivors, family members who have lost loved ones, and you see the absolute pain…these folks still are grieving, still suffering.”
While the problem has been mostly resolved since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the effects linger in the hearts of many.
Senior Emily Tusick explained that, while there is general peace, there is not quite reconciliation. The students met many people trying to cope with their loss and disappointment. Fortunately, there is progress in peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. Clark related a couple of conversations he had with men who were so full of hatred of the opposing side ten years ago but now are recognizing the humanity in their enemies. Unlike years past, Clark shared, “The folks who were involved with [the Troubles] are now trying to come to terms with it.” Kovac described how the immersion provided the opportunity to see how people tried to “pick up the pieces.”
Most John Carroll immersion trips have a service element, but Tusick explained that, although there is not a lot of physical labor involved, it is helpful for the people to know they have a voice. Meeting people in both class-oriented and social settings allowed the students to, according to Kovac, “experience people.” Clark praised the trip and its historical and educational value. However, he also appreciates the personal, informal relationships that are developed with the professors on the trip.
In regards to the incredible experiences with the Irish, he says, “You couldn’t script that in a meeting with somebody.”
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Northern Ireland and to see pictures from the immersion trip, visit www.storiesofnorthernireland.weebly.com