As I write this, it’s the midst of what’s known as marching season in the north of Ireland. Parades, bonfires, speeches, and the like mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, a seventeenth century conflict in which Protestant forces defeated Catholic ones. In the years and centuries since that time, this part of the year has become a season when political and religious divisions in the six counties of Northern Ireland which are part of the United Kingdom often reach a flash point. It’s also been a time, as the peace process has unfolded, when both sides of these divisions have encouraged a live and let live attitude to such celebrations.
There have been riots in east and west Belfast in recent days, riots which people on both sides of the issues and communities attribute more to a mixed bag of summer in the city, young people with too much time on their hands, too much drink taken, and splinter groups on both sides seeking politcal advantage, than to fundamentals of continuing political struggle, though the names and causes of politics, history, religion have been invoked all round. I think they are right about this.
More so than other recent events, the Belfast riots, though, have attracted attention in the international press, and that has raised concerns among those thinking of visiting Northern Ireland. As someone who has spent a good bit of time in the north and up along the borders I find I have mixed feeling about that.
The people in the north of Ireland are warm and welcoming, great ones for funny stories and good songs, and they will welcome you into lovely parts of the world, filled with history and legend and landscape, mountain and sea, green fields, historic cities and quiet countryside. In the rush to make things okay, to promote tourism, and to go and have a good time — all fine objectives in themselves — it seems to me that what is often pushed aside is that the history and its present day consequences are real aspects of real lives of real people who live in the north, in the whole island of Ireland really.
Do you need to dwell on this, if you travel there? No. What you do need to do, though, is have respect for it. You do not know, cannot know, how anyone you meet feels about the issues which are part of their daily lives. Any one may be working on the peace process, from either side, may think the best way to get past all the history and politics is to ignore it, or any of a wide range of opinion in between. You also will not know how the lives of anyone you meet in the north of Ireland may have been touched by violence. So, to the often heard statement of traveler pass on, people just want to get past this, it’s not your concern, I would add, pass on, yes, but with a nod of respect.
The photograph is of the mountains of Mourne in County Down, one of those places of legend and welcome. It is copyrighted, and I appreciate your respect of that.
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