Belfast: Golden and Bronze

Waking up to another beautiful day without rain, the group ate breakfast at the hotel and then headed out to start our full day of planned activities.  We took taxis to the Titanic museum, as the Titanic was assembled in the Belfast Harbor, and had about 2 hours to explore the museum.  On the way over our taxi driver told us that ironically, the building the museum is in was voted the best and worst building, architecturally, by two different magazines in the same year.  I thought that was pretty funny and I personally liked the look of the museum as it was made to match the look of the bow and the height of the the Titanic before the yellow pilings were added to the top.  My group took a few touristy pictures in front of the museum before heading inside.  In theory I like to think that I love museums, but in all honesty I do not have the patience to stand and read each and every plaque so I usually wander around until I find a plaque or area that catches my eye.  The first level was focused on how the industrial shipping industry in Belfast created an economic boom in the city and as we continued throughout the museum, each exhibit focused on a different aspect of the ship.  The next level focused on the building of the ship and there was even a sky ride that showed quick videos on how the rivets on the ship were handmade by the men and boys who worked at the shipyard.  It was such a contrast to modern day technology as ships and infrastructure are built by machines, not hands.  One of my favorite parts of the museum was the area that focused on the ship sinking and had placards with the captains last words and orders over the telegraph.  Another part that I liked was the last exhibit which talked about the different movie adaptions of the Titanic as I did not know that there were so many.  As Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” played in the background, I read about the classic Leo and Kate rendition and there was even a screen grab from the movie of Jack holding onto Rose while she sat on the raft with a little pull quote reading “I’ll never let go,” which, let’s be honest was a complete lie and there was totally enough room on the raft.  The Titanic was described and seen by many as the golden age of Belfast and was a complete contrast to the more recent historical events our lecturer spoke about later in the day.  From the museum we walked back to the town center, saw the oldest bar in Ireland called McHughs, and then most of the girls decided to go out for a soup and sandwich lunch.   We ended up spending around an hour and a half at the cafe before continuing back to the hotel to get our stuff together for the lecture.Image

Our lecture was lead by Eamon Phoenix who is a professor at Queens University in Belfast and was about the rise and fall and eventual rebuilding of the city and culture of Belfast.  We walked through Queens University which is the premier university in Northern Ireland.  The university took off during the 1940’s during the period of free schooling.  We then continued on to Friar’s Bush cemetery where around 800 potato famine victims are buried and their gravesites are marked with a yew tree, which symbolizes eternal life.  The graveyard is around 1,000 years old and was a place where Catholics came to pray and mourn.  In Ireland, it is tradition to pick out your headstone and insignia so it was interesting to think that the headstones were handpicked sayings by those who had died.  Dr. Phoenix also told everyone about this true story of a woman named Marjorie McCall who was pronounced dead, then buried and whose grave was raided by grave robbers the night she was buried.  When the grave robbers tried to cut her finger off to steal her wedding ring, she woke up and walked off to find her husband who was mourning her death at a local bar.  When she walked in, her husband saw her and then died of a heart attack.  She ended up living and remarried later in life and when she actually died her headstone read, “Died once, buried twice.”  Dr. Phoenix spoke about how Northern Ireland became part of Britain as it is separated from the rest of island by a chain of mountains and rocks and therefore making it easy for the British monarchy to take.  I even found out that Londonderry was named that because it was taken by men from London.  He also spoke about The Troubles and how it is still very present in the lives of Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, as it had only just ended in 1994.  This was a dark time for Belfast, but our lecture tomorrow focuses on it so I will write more in depth about it after our walking tour of West Belfast, which is the main area where the fighting took place.  In summary though, it was a violent period with 3,500 deaths and constant fighting between the Protestant loyalists, who want to be a part of the UK and the Catholic republicans, who want all of Ireland to be united.  Northern Ireland is currently part of the UK, but with a rise in the population of Catholics and a decline in Protestants, it will be interesting to see what happens to the island in decades to come and if Ireland will ever be united.

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After the lecture, we had the rest of the night to ourselves so my friends and I along with one of our professors and coordinator went to Crown Bar for dinner and drinks.  We ended up just getting drinks as my friends Allie, Sarah and I spent over an hour talking to this Irish couple.  They told us places to go in Galway and Dublin and we spent most of the time chatting about Irish culture.  Around 8:30 we left to bar and walked over the Lavry’s Bar by Queen’s University, which was suggested by the couple, and all ate dinner.  Sarah and I both ate Chicken Grujon’s which are basically the Irish version of chicken nuggets and learned that Sláinte means cheers in Gaelic.  We left the pub around 10:30 and came back to the hotel to pack up to leave for Dublin tomorrow.

One of the phrases that Shane was telling us about was that the greatest barrier between Irish and American culture is the language.  Even though it sounds non-sensical, it is very true.  It is definitely hard to catch on to the slang and when you listen to Irish people talk to each other, it sounds like a bunch of mumbles, which is, I’m sure, how foreigners feel when they come to America.  Talking to locals about places to go and what to see is a little bit of a mixed bag.  Even though it’s always fun, some people are much more specific than others, but overall it seems that the Irish have a more positive view of Americans than other European countries.

All Photography by Emily Houston

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