Last year after running with the bulls my wife (then girlfriend) and I went to Ireland. We rented a Toyota stick shift (of note: in England and Ireland it is cheaper to rent a stick shift- automatics are much higher in price) and I was shocked that it took $75 to fill it up. Of course, this was before the US dollar crashed (help in large part to W’s borrowing money from China and Japan to finance the Iraq War). Today I paid $66 to fill my jalopy up, which is a record.
We set about to get a preview of as much of Ireland as possible. Kind of a survey of what the island of nation had to offer. One of the more memorable moments was pulling into Belfast on July 12th. That’s the day known as “the troubles”. Everything was closed. We couldn’t even get fast food. Luckily, we talked to a guy named Patrick who offered black cab taxi tours of the city.
Those tours take you through the city and showcase the struggle for Ireland’s independence from the tyranny of England. While we wrapped up getting the blokes off of our back over 200 years ago, the Irish that live on the northern part of the island are still under control of the foreign invaders. The 12th commemorates William of Orange’s victory at the Battle of Boyne. Oddly, William wasn’t even English, being born in the Hague.
Anyways, what you need to know is every year on this date the good people of Belfast burn a city block of things. Whatever will burn they put out and torch it in a central locale. When we past it a child was sifting through the rubble with parts still burning. It made me wonder what the American authorities would do if the same happened here.
From there we rode around the area of the “peace wall”, which is a wall built to separate the people that live in Belfast who want to continue under British rule- the protestants, and the Irish people that want to join the Republic of Ireland in the cause of independence- the Catholics.
The Peace Wall, Belfast, July 12, 2007
As an atheist I have to just go with logic and say the whole island should be its own country. It doesn’t make any sense to me that the UK commits military forces to keep the natives of the country down. In my mind the island of Ireland should be one.
Here are some pics from the tour with some explanation following:
Picture of Oliver Cromwell- Hero to some, Asshole to Others
Taken from wikipedia’s account of Cromwell’s life “In Britain he was elected as one of the Top 10 Britons of all time in a 2002 BBC poll. His measures against Irish Catholics have been characterized by some historians as genocidal or near-genocidal, and in Ireland itself he is widely hated”. If fact, Ireland has its own September 11th. In 1649 Cromwell led the Massacre at Drogheda where he and his men killed about 3500 people after the town was captured. These included many civilians and Priests.
Along the route were many murals. Here is one to Fredrick Douglas. To the left caption reads, “Inspired by two Irishmen to escape from slavery Frederick Douglas came to Ireland during the famine. Henceforth he championed the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and Irish freedom.” To the right is a quote from Douglas, “Perhaps no class has carried prejudice against colour to a point more danger than have the Irish and yet no people have been more relentlessly oppressed on the account of race and religion”
Probably the most popular of the murals is the one dedicated to Bobby Sands. Sands was jailed by the British for his involvement in IRA activities, but was denied the status of “political prisoner”. While in prison Sands was voted in as a member of Parliament! However, Margaret Thatcher and the UK authorities still would not end their iron hand upon the citizens of Ireland. This led Bobby Sands head up a 1981 Hunger Strike that ultimately claimed his life, along with 9 others. Now before you jump to the conclusion that Sands and others were starving themselves to “free Ireland” or some other large undoable request, here is a list of their five simple demands:
- The right not to wear a prison uniform;
- The right not to do prison work;
- The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
- The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
- Full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
The significance of the hunger strike was the prisoners’ aim of being declared as political prisoners (or prisoners of war) and not to be classed as criminals.
That’s it. They wanted to be treated better. They wanted it to be known that they were being jailed for their actions toward freeing Ireland of English rule. That’s it. But Maggie wouldn’t budge. Instead she allowed 10 of Ireland’s sons to die. But it backfired. The hunger strike led to massive media coverage and people joined the IRA in droves. The deaths continue to be an inspiration to people the world over and a symbol of determination of self rule.
The caption beside Sands reads, “Everyone, Republican (Edit: the Irish nationalist) or otherwise has their own particular role to play… our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”
And so it is…