Ireland’s Historic Lessons in Tragedy and the Perseverance of its People

The picture above still gives me an aesthetic experience when I look at it. I get shivers knowing it was my hand on one of the walls that divides Belfast in the modern day and age. I came to know political and ethical issues that I hadn’t known at that time. During my visit to both Ireland and Northern Ireland, I came to know more about the barriers that separated Belfast and resembled the now torn down Berlin Wall. It was only three and half years ago when I took that photo. I was a young twenty-something and needed a summer away from the United States, so I left the country for the first time in my life. I’ve grown to know many individuals who were fortunate enough to live or site-see during their teenage years in a land other than where they were born at. I also had that opportunity, but due to a rather odd breakup, I had omit the experience from my teenage path. Years later, I had saved enough money to take a break from college and head toward Ireland after my third year of college. Back then, I had desperately wanted to see the lush green grass, taste the depth of Guinness, and breathe salty air swirling up The Cliffs of Moher. Yes I was excited, young, and rather oblivious to the real problems of the world I was about to experience.

Before getting to know the history of Ireland, I spent my twenty-second birthday at the top of an iconic Dublin staple, the Guinness tower. My itinerary kept me held fast to my drinking duties despite my disfavor for beer–which I kindly declined and took to water as I looked out the massive windows on top the spire. The previous night, I had my first taste of Guinness during an arrival feast and quickly found that I had been cheated out of not one but two of my drinking tickets. Shameful as I felt, I couldn’t complain. After all, I did get to try the famous Irish dark beer. Brewed to perfection by a company that produced one of the world’s most famous Statisticians–William Sealy Gosset. Having seen it all, I left Dublin with all the historic sites left as one massive blurb that I remember fondly. I loved seeing the architecture, the bikers confidently driving on bustling streets, and the endless waterways. It was a city I felt energetically and emotionally drawn to; I often wish that I could go back to see it a little longer. My days in Dublin were numbered, however, so I said good-bye and went on my way to see Killarney, Galway–and the island wool masters– the Aran Islands. While on this journey, I was able to get a most prized possession of mine which I have worn almost every day since its purchase. I was so invested in getting this ring that I actually missed touring Galway with the rest of my group because the shop that I was buying from was about to close for the weekend. I was going to be on a plane on Monday so I made a mad dash to reach the shop. I made it there with enough time speak with the lovely shop keeper, get sized, and purchase an original claddagh ring that cost me 55 euros. The majority of my funds had been used for lodging, transportation, food, and my flights but I was determined to spend the little bit I had left to get such a treasure that currently sits on my left pointer finger.

Galway happened to be the last stop on my journey before heading home. I’m still left three and a half years later thinking about Belfast and the inescapable emotions I feel when I look at my claddagh ring. Although it can be overwhelming, I’m left with both simple and powerful memories. I remember Belfast as a powerful experience in my life for two reasons: The Titanic Museum and the Peace Lines. These dark tourism spots go to show that you never truly know about something until you are immersed in it. I’m guilty of unjustly assuming that I know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes; to some extent I think we all make that mistake at some point in our lives. I claimed to understand the tragedy of the Titanic, and not because I watched the Titanic film in my high school German class. At most I thought I understood the stories, the talk, the textbooks, and the theatrical depiction of what happened to the Titanic. Belfast showed me otherwise. As I walked into the museum, I was excited to see what historic treasures such a large building could have in store. It turns out that the thrill I had been feeling should have been caution. It was quite the ride–literally a moving ride–going through the museum’s section dedicated to the planning and building of the gigantic Titanic. As the car moved, I was able to see, feel, and hear how the astonishing ship was built. From there I was taken on a voyage of politics and excitement from such an amazing achievement that came from blood, sweat, and tears; eight people had died during construction. I remember that anxiety swept over me as I neared the next part of the museum. I had been dreading going through the history of the Titanic sinking but regardless I moved forward.

I should have known better than to stop in this dark room but as an empath I felt the need to watch the lights simulating water on the walls and floor. It was as if we were under water. I read the scripted walls, looked at the morse code calls for help, and listened to the recordings of people yelling. It was one of the most immersive experiences of my life. It’s dark tourism like this that opens the eyes of unknowing tourists. For the most part, I’m not a fan of dark tourism but it does have an effect on us. We walk into a place that was, or replicates, a dark part of history and everyone in the area falls quiet. This pause to recognize history creates an understanding among every living thing, like in that room of the Titanic museum. It was in that watery blue room that everyone shared the same energy. We all listened, digested, and realized that we were listening to and reading the last cries for help before the ship went under. That changes a person and in this case many people–and to think we didn’t even live through it! That shared energy in the room is nothing short of amazing because humanity is such a powerful force of energy. Unknowingly, when we need to we all connect with each other. We stand with each other and as we make this powerful connection. We stand as one in understanding. In the minutes I stood in that room, it didn’t matter that I was American. It didn’t matter that I was a female college drop-out at the time. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be in Europe the following week. In that moment, what mattered was that something terrible had happened and our instinct was to comfort each other. The resilience in people only continued to show as the crowds slowly, silently, moved through the chamber and into the next part of the museum. People held hands, hands clung to an open arm, tears were wiped with cloth as they shuffled to the next section. As the people moved forward so did the museum’s historic events. The museum continued along with this inclusive feeling of sorrow and resilience to recover. The set stages in the next hallways showed the then quiet tourists how tragedy affected the loved ones of those lost to the Titanic sinking. This last part of the museum displayed recovered items and recordings of survivors. Belfast and the world had to recover from not only the lost lives at sea and the sunken ship but they had to continue moving forward without knowing the true cause of the horrific accident. The museum ended with humanity continuing to keep moving forward after all of the awful events that occurred.

In my short lifetime, I’ve witnessed the sorrow of 9/11, the tears shed from the attacks in Paris, the fear caused by immigration restrictions, the justified cries of Black Lives Matter marches, and so much more. I also know I will witness more events as I continue on my path but it doesn’t scare me. From the short time I’ve walked this earth I have seen the beauty and the compassion in people despite humanity being the cause of a catastrophic event. Blame is not the cure humanity has enacted all these years. Love and compassion are what keeps us moving toward the future and I love that. Hate, envy, power, and these things that seem to easily control our lives are not what we need to consider right now. I think what’s beautiful in life is the love and kindness we all show each other through the hard times. Which brings me to the walls of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

Today, the Peace Lines divide Belfast in political and religious stances. The walls were built with the intention of separating and dividing the city. The opposing sides had differing opinions which in turn caused riots and unsafe living situations. The concrete walls were a physical division of the city keeping citizens safe from each other. When I stepped off the bus, I walked along one of the near hundred walls made of cement and iron. At first, I had felt a deep sadness which slipped away little by little as I began to see the walls more clearly. I remember walking with my hand on the wall and watched as it passed over many kind and enlightening words. Also, the color beneath my hand changed as I continued my stride. Artists, activists, and tourists creatively engraved positive affirmations of peace onto the wall. Through their art, kind words, and scriptures hope has shown through what was once a solid fence. People from around the world joined together to make their hope for peace and for the walls to be taken down one day. I would have liked to have added kind words to the wall but the untimely rain made it utterly impossible to make any permanent marks appear on the soaked painted wall. Instead, I took a picture with my hand on the two phrases that stuck out to me which I will touch on in a moment: let there be peace and we are all human. I left Belfast with a hopeful outlook that the city would become one. There was talk in 2013 about removing the barriers but it wasn’t until after my departure from Ireland that the department of justice made a public statement to remove all the barriers separating the city. Hope prevails for peace in Belfast.

Those phrases on the wall that caught my eye bring me to my final point. Let there be peace and we are all human. Humanity may seem to want division in its course but when you look at the proof over the years of debate, politics, and argument, compassion always wins. We, the people, humans will always turn to our neighbor and lend a helping hand in the midst of tragedy. We will always lean on each other and in the end we always come together. Unity for humanity. We the people. We are humans. We are love and light when we accept it. So the next time you’re having a bad day, just remember the Peace Lines. Remember how people came together after the Titanic sank. Remember the moments when we as people triumphed and persevered over tragedy. We are the good in this world as well as the bad, but regardless, we are capable of doing historic things when we do them together. We are the good that needs to happen in this world. So if you’re thinking you’re alone, don’t feel lonely. There is good all around you. Sometimes it’s hard to see it but we are all here for each other in the end.

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