Today we went to the Long Kesh/H Block prison. This is where the hunger strikes took place. One of our tour guides was actually a prisoner who had been in prison during that time and escaped. He spoke about how difficult life was in prison. We visited the cells where the dirty protest took place and saw the stains and holes that were drilled into the walls to air the cell out. One of the most powerful things that I saw was the room where Bobby Sands died. He was the first hunger striker to die. Later that night we talked with men who were also in the prison during that time. One of them was even best friends with Bobby and spoke about what it was like the last time he saw him. They were extremely passionate about their views and felt that what they were doing was the right thing to do. They talked about how they are seeing small changes in the community and hopefully someday Ireland can be united. It was an extremely emotional experience to be a part of and I am very grateful for the experiences that I have had and the people that I have met.
We met the Lord Mayor of Belfast today. City Hall was so beautiful. It was built with three different kinds of marble. We went to a big room to wait for the mayor to come in. We were served tea in the most expensive looking teacups I have ever seen. My hands kept shaking and you could hear the glass clanking together. I fortunately was not the only one that was having that issue. A young man walked into the room and I remember thinking, “When is the mayor going to come in here?” It actually was the mayor. He is the youngest mayor at 26. He was entertaining and interesting to listen to. He spoke about how he tried to keep the office at City Hall neutral. He decorated his office with both Protestant and Catholic items, even though he was a Catholic. He thought it was important to represent everyone. He also would only be in office for two more weeks because mayors only serve for one year. He tried to do a lot while in office for a short period of time. After meeting with him we went on a tour of City Hall which was really interesting.
I climbed to the top of a mountain today. That is something I can honestly say I have never done before. I ate a big breakfast to help me get ready for the climb. I needed all the help I could get since I normally am not this athletic. I thought that walking all day every day for over a week would prepare me a little more for the hike. I wore my Toms because I had no other appropriate hiking shoes. My shoes did not have much traction on them so it was very easy for me to slide down the way that I had just come. It was frustrating and extremely tiring. I did take breaks every once in a while to take pictures. I have been having a lot of difficulty getting my pictures off my camera but I will hopefully be able to figure out that issue soon. I definitely need to show proof that I made it to the top.
The mountain path was very steep and muddy in some areas. I made it up to this cave that was on the side of the mountain. Some of my group was able to scale the almost straight up and down rock wall so that they could sit in the cave for pictures. I took that as an opportunity to rest and take pictures of the ones that were brave enough to make it up that high. I could not believe how beautiful the view was from the top of the mountain. Although it was very cloudy and foggy I could still see so much. On a clear day you can actually see Scotland from the top. I could not see that far but I do have some amazing pictures of the entire town and the Belfast Lough. I am not sure how much I enjoyed the hike up the mountain but making it to the top, which I never thought I could do, was absolutely worth it. I was proud of myself. This entire trip was about me putting myself in new situations that I normally would never put myself in. I am beginning to take more risks.
Yesterday we spoke with the Minister of Arts and with people from Restorative Justice. The man from Restorative Justice spoke about at one time being a political prisoner. It was very inspiring to see someone who spent time in prison give back to his community rather than be angry about what had happened to him. It was amazing how much history the Minister was able to speak about and it actually made me feel disappointed that I do not know my own country’s history better.
Today we visited Derry/Londonderry. We saw the Guildhall and walked along the edge of a fortress that overlooked the Bogside. It was surreal to see the cannons that were once used against the people in this town. I was able to see many of the murals that were painted on the sides of buildings from atop the wall. We walked further down into the Bogside and took many close up pictures of the murals. I also had my picture taken in front of the “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” wall. Hopefully I will be able to upload my pictures soon so that I can attach them to the blogs. I also got to see the memorial for the people killed in Bloody Sunday. It listed their names and ages. It was sad to see just how young many of the victims were.
I was not sure what to expect when I arrived in Ireland. We have been very busy but I have learned so much in the three days that I have been in Belfast. I never imagined the experiences that were set up for us. I am excited to learn all I can about suicide intervention and how it can be applied to people in Belfast. There is so much to do that our day is never dull. Although I am tired I could not be more grateful for the opportunities that I have been given. Today I spoke with a person who experienced suicide in some form in her life. I came into this trip not having any experience or any idea what to expect. I was able to be a part of a powerful conversation and learn more than I ever thought I could learn. I am looking forward to what the rest of my time here has in store for me.