I’ve written many blogs since being home and never posted one. Mostly about my feelings of being back home and what’s been going on in my life. But none seemed worth posting. I had kind of decided not to make another blog post, until today. I got a message; did you hear the news about Belfast? No.
I Google and this is the article I found. All 103 words of it.
Since being back I have had many small brief conversations with people about what I did in Belfast, why I was there, etc. I usually start with the same thing, “Have you heard of the troubles of Northern Ireland?” I am sad and disappointed that most of the time the answer is no or a halfhearted yeah I think I know what that is. Articles like these make me even sadder. The same article can be found in the Huffington Post as well, almost exactly the same. I read way more into this article then the minimal detail given. Let me dissect it for you to give you a glimpse of what I have begun to digest that I learned this past year.
Band parades are an integral part of life in Belfast. It’s something people take a lot of pride in. If your area has a band and they are marching, most of the neighborhood goes. My youth kids never came to club on nights when the band of Tiger’s Bay was on. I went to one of the big ones at the end of the year. It was down pouring and I sat in the car of a church member and watched. It was crystal clear when Tiger’s Bay was in front of me. Heading the front was one of my favorite boys from Boys Brigade and one of the youngest in the group proudly swinging a baton. On the sidewalk I saw his Mum walking along to supervise and look at her son with pride. Behind her came more then half my youth club walking along with the band. I asked the person I was with and she told me they would walk along the whole way. And the band itself continued to play, soaked all the way through, still proudly wearing their uniforms. It was raining and it wasn’t a normal, everyday rain. It was an absolute windy downpour. The kind where nothing will keep you dry. But little to nothing stops the bands from going out, or the people from following, especially for the big parade days.
Now we come back to today’s article and the questions in my mind as I read. What route was the band taking? What area of Belfast was the band from? Were there kids in the band, like my young Boy’s Brigade baton boy? What about the people following the band? Were they involved? Important details to why and how a conflict would escalate to the point of such a long disturbance. The article says 47 police officers were injured in an overnight clash. In that 47 I see a lot more then just police officers injured but no one else mentioned. I see nothing of property damage, the on looking crowd or the band’s involvement in this “clash”. For 9 hours there had to be substantial involvement from a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds but no information offered. But then I look back up at the top to the caption under the picture where you can see obvious property damage. The parades weren’t even occurring at the time of the riots. The parades were the weekend before and the riot seemed to be a result of tensions rising throughout the week, at least from my understanding of the reading. But it does finally gives a location. North Belfast. My old home.
I move onto the big question, how and why did it start then? A question I know an article can never an answer, a question I doubt I could even formulate an adequate explanation for myself but feel I could come up with a semi good idea of an answer without being told anymore information. But it’s still a far cry from a simple answer. A spark of rioting from a larger fire that has been raging in Irish history for a very long time. When you try to explain the troubles you have to go back and explain more then just the 70’s, when you try to explain the riot in Belfast last night you have to try to explain more then the band parade.
And when you tell the story, in some way, you are going to fail. The last week when I left a few people asked me what the biggest thing I learned in Belfast was: the answer is that nothing is simple and there is no unbiased story. You have to talk to both or all sides and even then you will form your own opinions to cloud the actual events of the past. Every story is told from someone’s perspective and you have to remember that.
The last part of the article is the part that strikes me the most, “One suspected rioter, a 17-year-old boy, was arrested Monday morning.” Out of hours of rioting, ONE person was arrested and he was 17. In that 17 year old I see the face of every one of my youth kids. My kids who don’t trust the kids in the neighborhood next door, who hate without even always knowing why, who have inherited the hate and troubles of their parents, who don't always understand their countries history any better then the Americans I speak to everyday. In that last statement I see the absolute necessity of the work being done by FMPCI at Macrory.
This is a very cookie cutter post. I don’t have faith in my capabilities to comment broadly on the situation of Northern Ireland. I have never really posted or commented publicly about any of it. Its because I’ve always been too scared to do so. I don’t want to further the stereotypes and misconceptions, and I’ve been scared I’ll say the wrong thing. I’m sure I’ve probably said something in this post that will be taken not as I intended it to or that is quite disputable but I hope not offensive.
While I was in Belfast, there were bomb threats and riots, some very close to my home but I never witnessed one. During my year I chose to blog about what I actually did because I wanted you to see the good work being done and the progress being made.
I did witness the hurt and hate that leads to the riots and clashes of Belfast. The hurt and hate left from a long history of conflict. A conflict that the rest of the world looks at and pretends to know about but really is more ignorant then they’ll ever know. But I witnessed a lot more while there. I witnessed the faith of many to make their wee world better and reach out to their community. I’ve seen the progress they’ve made, the obstacles still in their way, and have grown to share their vision. Little by little, conversation by conversation I’m trying to show the world at least the people of my world, that Norn Ireland is more and greater then their history. Belfast and Northern Ireland is more then articles like these show. It is more complex then the current understanding. So I will keep up my conversations with my fellow Americans and teach them to look for more then our news offers us or at least to know there is more underneath the news article. And in the mean time offer up a prayer to all those involved, both Catholic/ republican, Protestant/ unionist/ loyalist, police officials, bystanders, or lost confused youth, especially the one 17 year old boy and continue reflecting on everything Belfast and its people taught me.