Northern Ireland: Peace Walls and the Marching Season
Well, I am leaving in about 22 hours and, as promised in my last post, here is a little preview information on my next trip. Myself, my husband Dennis, and our good friend Ben will be leaving for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to document a notorious period of conflict for them.
Certainly romantic landscapes and castles come to mind when you imagine Ireland. Politically, however, tensions are high. Although things are much better than they used to be, strong sense of loyalty and community means that in the North of the Republic and in Northern Ireland, Catholics still fight Protestants, and those loyal to the British crown fight those devoted to uniting Northern Ireland with Ireland.
This violence is responsible for the “Peace Lines”, which are large walls, in the area of Belfast. Entire communities are walled off from one another, kept separate for their own protection. Some people say the walls have helped greatly in keeping the peace between neighborhoods. Others argue that the walls are offensive, making them outsiders in their own cities, or that it is time for them to come down. Our journey has two purposes, the first is to document these numerous walls, their stigma in the community, and how the citizens feel about them. The second purpose is not so easy to explain, but I will try.
Each year, on July 12th, the Protestant community of Northern Ireland celebrate the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in1690. This celebration involves parades and massive bonfires. Exercising their right to march historic parade routes, these groups are allowed to pass through the interfaces of the Peace Walls. This is where the trouble starts.
The catholic citizens behind the walls begin to riot because their neighborhoods are opened up to a parade that celebrates a topic very sensitive to them. It also means that the people who were meant to be kept out by the walls, are invited in and through the neighborhoods on this day, which can mean vandalism and offenses by the marchers. While on the other hand, innocent marchers, simply wishing to partake in the celebration of a National holiday, often come under verbal and physical abuse from those riots in the communities that do not welcome the parades.
The end result is the heavy police presence including riot police, more violence, and a hurt community.
Our goals are relatively simple. While reading this, a high percentage of you probably said “Why haven’t I heard about this”? The answer is, it is not highly publicized, and normally stays out of mainstream media sources. Although my husband and I are by no means a mainstream media source, we hope that in documenting this situation and the people on both sides that live under siege from the opposition, and in compiling our photos and interviews into a book, we might bring more attention to it. We plan to title it “Peace Walls and the Marching Season Siege”. Our second goal would be to encourage others, in Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, and abroad, to contribute to the peace process the best they can: Their community is pleading for a sustainable peace, and can live beside their Protestant/Catholic, Nationalist/Unionist brothers and sisters violence-free, they just need help.