As I wind down and reflect on my trip to Belfast, I feel that it is hard to choose any particular activity that we did as a clear and distinguished favorite. However, I do think that one of the most meaningful experiences we had during this trip came on the second to last day in Belfast. We were able to take a tour of the Long Kesh/Maze prison, where former paramilitaries and political prisoners were held during the Troubles. We were even fortunate enough to be guided by one of the former Blanketmen, named for their refusal to wear prison uniforms and instead wore a blanket tunic. We were also able to see the cells and hospital rooms of the Hunger Strikers, including Bobby Sands’ room.
Later that evening, we had the opportunity to meet with even more Blanketmen and hear about their struggles in prison and the Troubles. Their stories were heart-wrenching, but inspirational. It was impressive how each man had converted his energies from armed conflict to supporting their local communities, through activities such as teaching Gaelic or running community aid agencies. The events of this day brought us as close to understanding the Troubles as we possibly could. I surely will not forget these unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences!