Travel Journal: Northern Ireland
We take them to those streets / they want to see most, at first, / as though it’s all over and safe behind bus glass / like a staked African wasp. Unabashedly, this is our splintered city / and this, the corrugated line between doorstep and headstone. —from Sinead Morrissey’s “Tourism” in Between Here and There
Belfast certainly doesn’t feel like a “splintered city” to me. However, after reading the poem “Tourism,” which is, in part, a virulent criticism of the commodification of the Troubles in Belfast, in my Contemporary Poetry class, my classmates had some strong reactions. My discussions of the Troubles with people from Belfast had always had a “but now that’s all over with” feeling. The cleaning lady in my building seemed offended by the notion that people in general still held onto a Catholic vs. Protestant mentality. However, the general politeness of Northern Irish people had prevented me from seeing some of the deeper emotions. In particular, almost everyone in my poetry class agreed that it felt “too soon” for the “Troubles tours,” in which a black taxi would take you around to see the troubling sites from recent history. I never did go on this tour, but many of my friends did. There was a sort of uncomfortable atmosphere as we talked about the problems raised by the poem.
This discussion took me back to a tour of the city of Derry/Londonderry in my fourth weekend in Northern Ireland. It was a trip hosted by the History School, so there was a historical emphasis to our tour. Because the tension over its name (according to Catholics, “Derry,” Protestants, “Londonderry,” and the English history professor who accompanied us on the trip, “Slash-city”), you had to be careful which name you chose to call it. I will call it Derry for the sake of brevity. Derry seemed to me to exemplify the splintered city that Sinead Morrissey was now telling me her hometown, Belfast, represented to her. It is true there are areas of Belfast that are more Catholic or more Protestant. I’m pretty sure an area called the Holy Lands is predominately one of the two, though I can’t remember which. Honestly, discussions of denomination hadn’t come up very many times for me in Belfast thus far.
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