Supported by a generous Lilly grant, Professor Casey Andrews joined fourteen scholars from Lilly Network universities in the United States on a summer seminar for three weeks in Northern Ireland.
The group was based at the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle—so far north that on clear days (there were two of them) you could see Scotland.
This idyllic location has been a resource for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland since the 1960s. Their mission is to bring together people affected by the Troubles—the 30 years of bloodshed (roughly 1968 to 1998) among Catholic Nationalist Republicans and Protestant Unionist Loyalists.
The first week of the trip was sublime, featuring a poetry reading by one of the greatest living poets, Michael Longley.
This week also included witnessing the Orange Order celebrations on July 12 when Protestants display their cultural pride (read: anti-Catholicism). In Belfast at midnight, bonfires fill the city as Protestants sing paramilitary songs and torch tri-color flags of the Irish Republic:
And one ignited:
Following these somewhat frightening displays of celebration plus aggression, the seminar met with peace activists, lecturers, and “direct actors” (i.e., members of paramilitary groups like the IRA and the Ulster Defense Association). Below, a Protestant paramilitary mural in the Lower Shankill area of Belfast:
For a few more literary connections, Professor Andrews recommends the following books and films:
Troubles by J. G. Farrell, winner of the “Lost” Man Booker Prize for 1970, is a blackly humorous look at the origin of the Conflict beginning in 1919.
The Truth Commissioner by David Park is a lyrical, suspenseful 2008 novel that imagines a Northern Irish Truth Commission as in South Africa—with complex and disastrous results.
The difficult but deeply rewarding 2006 Ken Loach Film The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a great starting point for learning about the Conflict.
Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday (2002) offers a look at the harsh British response to the Catholic civil rights movement in Derry City, 1972.
Casey is working on an article about Steve McQueen’s 2008 film Hunger depicting the self-starvation in 1981 of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands played by a striking Michael Fassbender.
Below, the Bobby Sands mural in a Republican area of Belfast:
And finally, Pete Travis’ shocking film Omagh (2004) about the horrific 1998 bombing of a small town by members of the Real IRA.
Amidst the intense learning experiences, there were occasional times of relaxation, as well.