I recently went on a trip with my husband. It was a wonderful getaway to two different places. One was at Lake District — I will speak about this trip at length in another blog — and another was at Belfast, Northern Ireland.
We landed at Belfast International Airport. We had to travel by bus from the airport to the city. The moment we entered the city I felt a sudden ‘negative’ and ‘harsh’ vibe. The walls were covered with graffiti, the sidewalk was littered. But none of this was responsible. I am from Mumbai, the city may have rubbish in the street — but it will always elude a bright warm vibe. Never a negative one.
I looked at my husband and asked him if he felt the same. We were both walking towards the Youth Hostel, and he looked at me and said he had the same feelings. We both decided it was the evening time, we were probably tired from our journey. Moreover, we had visited some beautiful old towns in Lake District. So this place must have simply come as a shock to us. We checked in and were received warmly at the reception of YHA.
We had dinner at a local Indian restaurant, as I was craving something ‘from home’ just to shake off the cold vibe of the city. The next day, we had a long day of exploring the city in front of us. I was hoping it will bring better ‘feelings’.
We woke up and decided we would be visiting the Titanic museum. The famous Titanic ship was made in the city, and we were looking forward to knowing its history. We took a bus and a glider to the Titanic Quarter. It was a beautiful site away from the city.
The museum held stories of other trades which took place in the city, and of course a detailed account of Harland and Wolff’s historical shipbuilding. Some parts of the museum were interactive, and we spent a good two to three hours over there. What touched my heart the most was the stories of the workers behind the ship. There was a story of one of the workers who ended up going on the ship as a stand-in for his friend — who was expecting a baby — and ended up passing in the accident. This worker had his wife working in the famous linen mills of Belfast. Women worked from morning 6 am to evening 6:30 pm in these mills. Sometimes their children would join in. The children would go to schools only half-time. Once I read the story, my thoughts immediately went to his wife’s predicament. They may have passed now. But, somewhere human mind is capable of feeling the emotions of those who have passed. You can call it empathy. It feels very special.
The stories only made me realise that the city has seen its share of hardships. And then I came across ‘The Troubles’. Let me tell you a little background of Northern Ireland first. You probably know this already. When the United Kingdom was being formed, Ireland was divided. The northern part of Ireland wanted to be a part of the UK, the people who were associated with this movement were called ‘loyalists’ and the people who wanted Ireland to be an independent country were called ‘unionists’. At the same time, there was also a religious divide between Catholics and Protestants. This divide was extremely violent and aggressive. This period of conflict was called ‘The Troubles’.
After the Titanic museum, we visited the Ulster museum near the Botanic garden. We were far too tired to read through everything.
We later saw a bookstore across the street called Books, Papers and Scissors. This was where I knew I would find my answers to an explanation of ‘The Troubles’ and the city’s vibe. I found a book of memoirs by Seamus Kelters and A book called ‘A place apart’ by Dervla Murphy. Both the books told me about the hate that persisted in the city. It persisted up to 2001. 3,500 lives were lost, and more lives were injured.
Rest of the trip, I became more aware of the vibe. I also became more empathetic to the city. The people in the city were nice, as everybody is in the UK. But the city’s walls, roads, had seen extremely harsh times in the recent past.
It made me wonder how a city can hold memories in just its atmosphere. Just as a child holds the memory of parenting in conditioning, a city holds memory in activities occurring within its walls.
I hope to read more through the books, and understand better this conflict. Why? Well, I don’t know. I am perhaps just a curious person that is all.
That said, the country did show us some wonderful scenery at Giant’s Causeway, Dark Hedges, and Dunluce castle. They were all very beautiful, and I am very grateful that we both had the opportunity to experience the beauty.