Monday, June 20, 2011

First Week in Belfast on Peacebuilding Tour

I'm leading a John Carroll University course trip, with Rich Clark, on peacebuilding in Northern Ireland.  While I intended to write extensively on the blog, I've been juggling logistical planning, reading Heaney and Yeats, and gathering private impressions--far too much, even to cohere into something like a blog post.

I've been reduced to twitter-sized facebook updates, the first week of which I'll repost here, with some images from the trip as soon as I can upload them.

On the first day in Belfast, we walked around town, ending up in a great glass-domed mall, replete with KFCs, i-Pad stores, and the same historically-barren capitalist spaces of my youth. On day two, having seen the 50 foot Peace Walls and sectarian neighborhoods, I thought, at least the mall is a space where kids can go and not see murals praising men with guns.

On day three, it was simply wondrous to watch former IRA gunmen sit across the assembly from Protestant Ulster "enemies" in Stormont Assembly, talking in civil tones, conducting the business of governing.  That said, the Sinn Fein reps can't help but begin each statement with a little Gaelic Irish....

A day after we talked about Franz Fanon in our Northern Ireland discussion group and "The Wretched of the Earth," our former-IRA tour guide name-dropped Fanon and "Wretched" twice as a text they'd read in prison. Turns out that most postcolonial reading lists have an intriguing similarity to the IRA prison reading list....

Along the way, we've been meeting with peacemakers and peacebuilders, from Ed Peterson (Clonard Monastery) to Rory O'Neil (Peace Players International) to Bill Shaw (174 Trust).  Rory O'Neil, a graduate of John Carroll and alum of the first version of this trip in 2004, now uses basketball to bring together children whose parents are "enemies", helping the next generation to see the other as a friend, not a target.

A fella named Pat at the bar downtown Belfast had a tattoo of Che Guevara on his forearm, said "I could tell you stories [about the Troubles] that would make your skin crawl" but that he was so happy they were over, so his kids could have a future that he could not.

"Did you want to kill him, Buck?"

"Well, I bet I did."
"What did he do to you?"
"Him? He never done nothing to me."
"Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?"
"Why, nothing -- only it's on account of the feud."
"What's a feud?"
"Why, where was you raised? Don't you know what a feud is?"
"Never heard of it before -- tell me about it."
"Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills HIM; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the COUSINS chip in -- and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."  From *Huckleberry Finn*, shout out to Rory O'Neil

The legendary Tommy Sands, on Northern Ireland: "it was said that for every solution, we had a problem. Perhaps now we have some of the solutions to some of the problems."

Despite all the hilarity at Benedict's Bar in Belfast--the drinking and dancing and strobe lights coloring everything, the parade of hen (bachelorette) parties with their angel wings and leopardskin dresses and inflateable penises--the wait staff still makes the rounds, eyeing the tables and floors for what may be suspect devices.



Lyle Daggett said...

The Mark Twain quote, in this context, made me think of the medieval Icelandic prose epic Njal's Saga: an account, by an unknown author, based on historical events of a thousand years ago or so, of a 50-year-long blood feud in Iceland, involving extended families over two or three generations.

In Iceland at that time, murder wasn't considered a crime as such, it was more of a civil matter. If you killed someone, you were expected to report the killing to someone at the first opportunity, and then as soon as possible you were expected to make a money payment to the family of the victim (or to the employer, if the victim was a serf or servant). As long as you did those things, legally that settled the matter.

Though there was always the chance that one of the victim's family members would decide to take revenge. Njal's Saga is an account of such a chain of events, killing upon killing upon killing, until the landscape was littered with dead bodies and families lay in ruin.

The work you're doing in Belfast sounds awesome. Looking forward to reading more about it.

Philip Metres said...

Lyle, I've not read the Saga, but it does somehow right a bell, as I sit here in Belfast!