Belfast has flown by. During our week we have visited an integrated school (where both Catholic, Protestant, and all denominations come to learn), visited City Hall, Stormont, and Queen's University.
Visiting two integrated schools demonstrated the steps Northern Ireland is making towards peace. First, we visited a primary school. Our class broke into small groups and observe, play, and talk to the students. Each of the classes varied, but the flow of the education system, the way the children interacted, and the passion the teachers showed demonstrated for me a turning point. The school was right outside Belfast, and yet many of the families would drive up to an hour and a half a way to go to the integrated school.
Afterwards, we arrived at the equivalent of a high school in the United States. There, we were able to get a tour, eat, and converse with their student council. The reasons the students had for attending the school varied. Most students stressed the preparation for university and life after school. The way the students talked about their classes and teachers made the school seem so perfect. It's frustrating that this model isn't replicated throughout Northern Ireland. Regardless, the sectarianism is still in their hometowns, their neighborhoods, and their homes. It will take this next generation to make the change that will solidify peace.
Day of Politics
Later that week, we took the tour of City Hall. We followed the tour with tea time and a discussion with a current city council member. A member of the Unionist Party (they would like to stay a part of the UK), she discussed working in her district. As a former policewoman, her hands-on approach was received well because she had experience to back up her politics. She mentioned her willingness to work across party lines as long as it bettered the community. Education, the peace walls, and issues of drug abuse were also discussed.
We were also able to visit Stormont, the power sharing government that was created following the ceasefire in 1998. Although the government is not functioning currently because of a rift over legislation, we were able to tour and talk to a member of the Democratic Unionist Party. Through our discussion with politicians, we found a common thread. Politicians discuss a willingness to work together, yet personal feelings get in the way. Northern Ireland needs the parties to work together in order to move forward.
On to Galway
We left Belfast and headed to Galway by bus. We passed thorugh the town Enskillen where we ate lunch and walked along the river. We arrived in Galway later in the evening, but with enough time to get acquainted to where we are staying in city center.
Tomorrow, we have a class discussion before having some free time to explore Galway. Then there are only a few days left to see the Cliffs of Moher and our last afternoon in Dublin.