Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Corrymeela Retreat Weekend

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone it really means time is running out for me, here in Northern Ireland.  Something I should have done before Thanksgiving, I am now finding the time to reflect and realize what this semester has meant to me.  I also want to update you all on I have done in the past week.

Wow I just realized it’s a lot.

So last weekend, the rest of the Bluffton group that are in Derry came up to Corrymeela for our final retreat weekend together.  Megan and I were filled with anticipation in being able to show/share with our group all that we have experienced here at Corry and why we love it so much.  We even made posters the night before to welcome them all back.  Oh and I can’t possibly forget that our Corrymeela volunteer from our first weekend here, Sean, came back to spend the last weekend with us as well! We all talked during the weekend and decided that he is basically part of our group anyway.

Our Programme Director, Mervyn, was the first to arrive and unknown to us he snuck in a box full of goodies for the weekend and a birthday cake for all 4 of the students who have celebrated their birthdays over here! It was so kind and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.   After the group arrived we shared a meal together and got caught up on everything. We then went to our meeting room and talked a little bit before Mervyn read us a ‘bed time story.’ Some of my classmates don’t like his stories much because normally a cute, helpless animal dies in the end but I love them because he is an awesome storyteller and there is a deeper meaning in most of them.  He then proceeded to show us the Birthday cake (chocolate with rich chocolate icing from a local baker in town!!) It was delicious to say the least.  Mervyn left for the night and then some people who weren’t feeling well went to bed and the rest of us played games until midnight. First time I have played the game mafia and thanks to our awesome storyteller Andy it was a lot of fun.

The next day I got up and had porridge!! I was so excited and I really don’t know why but they make it really good here and I really like it. And sat around for the rest of the group to gradually make their way down to breakfast. Then we grabbed our packed lunches and got on the bus for a coastal tour for the day. Where we are situated we have previously gone to the west toward Derry and all the major ‘tourist sights’ but this time we went to the east and what is called the Glens of Antrim. I have heard that some people like it and others think it’s a waste of time but I personally felt it was beautiful. Of course pictures are to follow but it was a great way to spend the day together. We got stopped about three or four times during the day because of ‘traffic’ on the roads. Meaning really, one car with a flat tire that parked in the middle of the “two lane”-but actually no wider than most one lane roads in America, road construction, unloading of sheep to a field and something else I bet. It was just a very random day. Our first stop was at the top of a hill so that we could see the other side of Fairhead cliff and look over to Scotland. I believe it was called Merlough Bay. Mervyn said that seven different currents all meet in this area and it is one of the most dangerous places to try to cross, especially swimming and he knew at least one guy who did it twice. He showed us places along the way to our next destination of where the IRA and different paramilitaries burned out the families or destroyed houses, etc. and even one place that was believed to be the coast guard but they found out later that it was a secret underground base for British and American Troops during like WWII in trying to keep out German U-boats from accessing the channel.

We went on to a small town called Cushendun that had a beautiful beach with sea glass I think it is called, or at least I found a few pieces. Here we saw three swans, two adults and one baby, and a random goat standing by a statue of a goat…

After lunch we went on driving through the coast and the glens, apparently there are like 8 or 9 ‘glens’ or valleys in this region and they are very cool to see because instead of a normal hill or mountain, it’s a plateau on each side. I was speaking with my family via skype this Thanksgiving and told them that is probably my favorite part of Ireland, the scenery. It’s just so beautiful and there is actually a lot of variety around the whole of Ireland that surprised me.  We ended at a park and walked down trails to the waterfalls. They were so pretty and it was just such a relaxing day. We returned to Corrymeela with a few hours to rest and get ready for our evening meal. We loaded up on the bus again and went to the Giant’s Causeway and ate at the Causeway Hotel. We all were dressed up and it was a nice, fancy meal for a change. It was a great dinner and very filling! We then returned to Corrymeela and loaded up in Taxi’s to head out to the pub to celebrate Josh and Megan’s 21st Birthdays.  Everyone came out and we had a great time. The next morning was our last and I had to help everyone pack up and clean up their rooms. Then we all met in our meeting room for our last discussion with Mervyn. We filled our course evaluations and verbally told Mervyn our opinion of the whole trip.

 He was saying how Bluffton wants to take out certain parts of the programme for budget costs but we just don’t understand how they could do that. Every part of this programme has provided such an array of learning and changing experiences that if anything we wished we had more time here! We pay so much to go to Bluffton for a semester that we are away here in Northern Ireland that we just don’t understand how we could be short on money. Yes, Dublin is expensive but it’s so necessary to rounding out our understanding of all of the history we learned about the Troubles and before! Let alone Dublin is a completely different culture than Derry and Belfast also has many valuable sights….sigh…it’s just hard for us now, as we have experienced it all, to put a price tag on all that we have learned and all the ways in which this experience has changed each and every one of us so much! We have all grown and matured, gained confidence and communication skills, we have developed compassion for a community outside of our own, and realized how important the little things in life are. These are things you can’t learn from books, I can’t be taught to have compassion, but by the whole scope of this programme I understand so much more about what it really means to be a young woman of this world.

After our deep talk, it was time for the group to leave. They packed up their things in the bus and went back to Derry. It was sad to see them go, even though we knew we would see them again, and very soon actually. But this time it meant final goodbyes of the places we have come to love are imminent and real. Megan and I sat in Coventry as Sean and Andy left for Belfast and that was the final goodbye for Sean, though we are all hoping to be able to meet up again either in Ireland or USA! It meant that we really have to leave. So it was a bittersweet weekend, good times shared together and reflecting on the best semester of my college career, but saying goodbye to our good friend Sean and knowing that soon we would say goodbye to Ireland.  Next post I will update on this past week. Sorry it’s so long!

Fairhead cliff and Rathlin Island behind it. 
Scotland is to the right.


The roads are tiny! Oh Fairy Tree to the left/behind us.
Mervyn told us this long story behind why farmers will protect the 
trees and everything, hence the large stone wall surrounding it.

Our bus is at the end of the road.

Cushendun (sea weed/kelp on the beach)


The random goat by the statute of the goat.

Cool hill/mtn


My friend Becca and I.

Left side of the glen

Right side of the glen

Group shot all dressed up!

Becca, Megan and me.

Becca, Me, Kayla, and Sean.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Learning not from books but from serving...

After Hallowe'en in Derry, we had to start packing and leave the next morning for Corrymeela. My housemate, Megan, was going to Corrymeela too so it was nice to have someone else to travel with. We got a later start than anticipated but it worked out in the end. Upon arriving in Ballycastle we were a bit lost on what to do because Corrymeela is like a 30-45 min walk from the town and with 2 suitcases and a book bag each...we really didn't want to walk---and of course it was raining. Thankfully Aileen, our supervisor, pulled up and helped us load our luggage into her car.

We drove to Corry and got a quick welcome and intro to how our day would go. They were already in staff meetings and we would join in for the last 20 min. and get introduced to the whole staff at once! Yay!  Ha, it was actually quite nice. They even had little cupcakes for us :)  The rest of the day is kind of a blur now but I know we were able to move our stuff in and unpack a bit before dinner. We had another session in Coventry (the building the volunteers stay in) that evening and was very interesting.

I guess an intro about Corrymeela would be nice. Well after studying in Derry for 8 weeks, we were to spend the last 4 weeks in volunteer placements at local agencies. I was very grateful to be placed at Corry because they don't normally take two volunteers.  I wanted to volunteer here at Corry because I'd only ever hear great things from previous groups about it and those who did volunteer loved it. Then when we came here our first week I fell in love with it. It is in a beautiful setting that is so serene and calming which just adds to the atmosphere they are trying to achieve in creating a setting that is beneficial to facilitating communication between people and groups that need or desire it. Originally it was set up as a Christian  reconciliation center focused on dialogue between all peoples. It still holds true to those traditions as well as encouraging learning and growth about others and Christ.

We do live in a Community, meaning we live in a building separate from the guests which is in the main house with the meeting rooms, offices, kitchen, etc.  Coventry is what our building is called. Here we live with 10 long term volunteers LTVs who are here for 1 year, 1 resource couple (from the US!) who support the volunteers, Aileen and her partner are here as well as one mid-term volunteer who has been here from Sept-Dec. We also have short term vol's who just come up for a week or most likely a weekend to help out that stay here too. Anyway that's the basis for our community, we have a few more members too. Living in a community is a new experience for me. At first I didn't know if I would like it but it's not too bad. Most people are respectful and it helps having 1-2 cleaning days a week, haha. We share all the food unless marked and all the food comes from the kitchen so just basically ask for what u want. We share most all lunch and dinners together. Share living spaces, kitchen, front room/lounge, 4 ppl per/bathroom, Megan and I share a room, computer lounge, tv room, laundry facilities. Basically everything we need we share. It's a nice place very comfy. Just a short walk to the main building called the House.

Anyway this all connects with the very interesting evening session we had upon arriving. What I thought was a simple name/introducing game turned to be a little heated at the end. After all the LTVs went around and introduced themselves we noted that one of the guys was from Ohio so Megan and I both mentioned we were from Ohio too. Well this offended someone. The LTV is from Cameroon and judged us Americans by inferring that he should know Ohio is in the States as well as where it is. Now we did not know what we were walking in to here. Thankfully it was handled very gracefully by our faithful leader, Paul who calmly began asking questions in uncovering why this upset our fellow LTV. We were able to eventually open it up as a group and discuss why we had connected it with the other LTV from Ohio and not all Americans mean to be rude and ignorant of others. But to be honest, I had no idea where Cameroon was. I knew he was African but I know that's a continent so I can't mention it because I was afraid then he would hate me more as an American for being naive and not knowing geography... Yeah eventually I looked at a map and answered my own question. It's actually close to Ghana where another LTV is from! So like a said, interesting first day. Oh and to end it all we had Philippino dinner served by the LTV from the Philippines which was delicious and then he gave us a presentation about the Philippines too.

We have begun to get into the swing of things around here, Monday staff day/training/community, Tue-Thur rotation, Friday community/all site clean up day/begin new rotation-Sunday, and start all over again! We work 2 rota's on then one off. This weekend is my second time off. I thankfully had the first week off, which worked out well since I was ill with hives and a cough. Next week I work in different areas then the rest of the Bluffton group is up for the weekend. The following week I have off but will be going to Derry on Tue for the Mayor's performance of our Irish dance and Tin Whistle then I will work the following weekend which will be our last. We leave here the following Monday spend a few days in Derry then off to travel Europe! Then home for Christmas! Time sure flys...

Anyway here are some pictures/video I took today on my short walk around here. Enjoy.

Looking out to Rathlin Island

Walking toward Ballycastle

That's the town!

Looking back toward Corrymeela, the mountains in the distance are Scotland


See I'm all in one piece! haha

Best Wishes!

Hallowe'en Done Derry Style!

Hey all! Like I said before I am quickly trying to get everyone caught up on what has been happening here in the past three weeks. So picking up where I left off, my Aunt flew back to sunny California and I began to prepare for my final papers, moving everything to Ballycastle for a month, and celebrating Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en is BIG in Derry. I mean they have a festival the week leading up to it and everything. They have made it nice though because most of it is kid friendly stuff.  Anyway I had kinda been stuck on finding a costume for a while until I found something at the pound store one day. It related quite well to another friend's outfit so I asked her opinion and she loved it. We then proceeded to go to Primark-the most sinful store, they have really cheap clothes (both in price and quality) but are very stylish for the most part with their fashions over here. Well my friend found the rest of my costume if I wanted it and I was looking at it when my other two friends walked up and got really excited about how it would just make my costume. Anyway so all in all I ended up spending like four pounds on my costume, two for face paint, one for the pound store purchase and one for the dress at Primark that was on clearance! So here it is!

Cruella de Vil and Penny-one of the 101 Dalmatians!

I thought it was creative...Anyway we made it down to the Strand Rd. just in time to see part of the parade which was very cool. Then they set off fireworks! Like I said before it's a big deal in Derry. And also there are a lot of people who come from all over Ireland and beyond to celebrate Hallowe'en. This means that the pubs/bars/clubs were all going to fill up fast and some of them you even had to get tickets in advance which we didn't we got bored with fireworks and decided to try to find some place to hang out for a bit. We went to Weatherspoons which is part restaurant part club at night and saw everything you could imagine. It ended up being a really interesting night and one I'll always remember as how they celebrate Hallowe'en in Derry!


Parade-I think Derry City Football Team-Oh and Scooby Doo on the right.

Group shot!

Wizard of Oz

Jen, Andy and Ashley

My favorite of the night-Lego men!

I also apparently looked like a potential target because when we walked by the Guildhall here, I was given a two things: a reflective wristband (we all got these) and I was one of 2 of our group that got a second pack of things, drink tester for date rape drugs, something else I laughed about and the third thing I actually kept, a protective keychain that when u pull it apart it makes a really loud alarm noise. 

One more then all caught up!

"Paper writing week"

     I'm almost caught up now on my blog posts. It got a little hectic in the past three weeks or so with the end of classes, writing of final essays, "paper writing week" aka travel week, Derry Hallowe'en, and finally moving from Derry to Ballycastle where I am volunteering at the Corrymeela Community. Oh and add on top of all that getting sick with a cough that lasted the whole three weeks (and also gradually got much worse) and getting hives my first week here at Corrymeela. Yeah, it's been a little busy-ha... So anyway, sorry for the delay on these but I'll make up for it in my last two weeks here! Yes I said 2 weeks. I can't believe the time is gone already.

     I still have a lot to experience here at Corrymeela and look forward to that but we are all anxiously awaiting our flights home. It's a bittersweet time because we have learned a lot and enjoyed our time here in NI but I think the group consensus is that we miss all our family and friends. And with the Christmas season fast approaching it makes it even harder to be away from home.

     I should also add though, I won't be home in two weeks time, because I will be traveling around Europe for 2 weeks as well. Given the chance of already making the flight over here, and having time left before needing to be home for anything, we couldn't turn down the opportunity to see more countries and more cultures.  That trip will also be blogged on here as time allows but this is our tentative schedule, leaving december 2nd from Derry-Rome-Verona-Venice-Germany (town yet to be decided, suggestions welcome!)-Paris-London.  We are hitting a lot of the main 'tourists towns' but we've never seen Europe before so we are looking forward to it all.

     Ok back to playing catch up. After our classes ended in Derry, we had a week to write our final papers. However, not everyone focuses 100% of their time that week on papers and we squeeze in some time for travel during that week. This summer when I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in California we had decided that since Ireland was a place my aunt always wanted to see, I gave her the perfect excuse for making the trip happen!  I should also mention that some of the group went to Scotland/Wales and the boys went around Ireland with Andy's parents that flew over as well. They were the lucky ones that got to join in on our Irish Dance class-that was a very fun last day for Megan and I!  Anyway so after some slight confusion of where to meet my Aunt Sue at in the airport after she arrived, we finally ran into each other. Which for some reason was difficult even though the international airport is one of the smallest airport's I've ever been in.  Then we found out that our car that she rented was at the other airport in Belfast, which is on the complete other side of Belfast. So we waited a bit and caught the next bus that went to the other airport. Also noting that the Belfast City Airport is bigger and much nicer than the Belfast International Airport. We got our automatic car and were on our merry way. Thankfully she had a GPS so as long as the battery would last we would be fine.

    We stayed the first night in Belfast. I took her on a walking tour of the city center. I have now been to Belfast a few times myself and been on a total of 3 city tours so I feel semi-confident in my ability of knowing about the city.  Wore her out a little bit and then persuaded her to go to bed early and catch up on sleep. We had a nice little wake up call when the fire alarm went off and she jumped out of bed obviously disoriented as anyone would be. Thankfully it was just a prank or something. Oh it was a fun start to our trip.

    Then the next day we headed up the coast toward Derry. We made a stop in Ballycastle and grabbed some lunch then went on to see the Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and Dunluce Castle.  Then we headed on to Derry! With our GPS slowly losing power I hurriedly wrote down some directions before it shut off but of course that doesn't help a lot. When we lost it I knew we were heading in the right direction and at least in the county of Londonderry...eventually I saw the river and was able to guide us to the bridge from there. We made a quick swing through town (me getting slightly lost in my own town because I have never driven in it before..) and made it to my University where we stopped to use the internet and to show her around. Then we made it to my host family's house, who were away for the week so we were able to stay there for the night.

    Being in Derry, I had to show her around...meaning the pubs. We went to Peadar O'Donnells and had the best night out so far. It was a blast listening to the Irish music and all of us (Megan had joined us out) having fun with the locals. The next morning we got up and we walked to the cemetery and had a nice chat before heading back down to the Bogside where I gave her the full walking tour. We grabbed a late breakfast before heading off to Dublin.

    We started our venture to Dublin a bit late and therefore arrived there in the dark, and of course our GPS wouldn't last that long, so I tried yet again to write down directions before it died and somewhat succeeded. I had been to Dublin only a few weeks before but we stayed mostly on the other side of the town. Thankfully I recognized a statue of Charles Stewart Parnell, famous politician in Ireland, and located our hotel next to it!  We stayed in Dublin for three days, walking around and looking at the sights and driving to Cork one day as well. Then as her time here was winding down, we headed to Belfast for our last night.  We tried to take the open top bus tour of the city but it was raining terribly that day. We did get to see most of the tour but there were some parts they couldn't show us because the roads were becoming flooded. After that we grabbed a bite to eat before taking a hot shower and staying in out of the pouring rain.

    Thankfully during her stay Sue had some very nice weather and got a taste of what the rain in Ireland is really like. It was great fun having someone from home here to visit me and be able to actually see and understand what I have been experiencing and learning about this past semester. I only hope that through this blog you all might be able to understand a bit more about the Irish past and present culture.

More to come as I finish catching up! Please if you have any questions don't be afraid to ask!
Best wishes!

Picking up Sue at the airport! It was really cold!!

Yay! Sue is in Ireland, in a real pub, drinking real Guinness!
To be followed shortly by eating traditional Irish cuisine, fish and chips!

Us at the Giant's Causeway! It was real cold again.

Her favorite Pub!

Us in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Aye, what's the craic?!

This blog is a bit more interesting than previous ones.  I have been keeping a journal of the ‘differences’ in the cultures from the Irish to the Americans. So some of these will just be listed out and other will have a story or explanation with them and if you need any explained just ask! I really hope this one might provoke some comments unlike my last long, boring one about government-ha! Well here goes, and as a warning it might be a bit unorganized too.

Common phrases/sayings/names for food:

No bother,  -- Don’t worry about it
What’s the craic? (Pronounced ‘crack’ but doesn’t mean a drug)  -- what’s going on or ‘craic’ can be used in some places as is it fun or lively.
Aye, -- ‘yes’
Feck, Fecking, Feckless  -- used instead of the F-word
They cuss a lot here! And the cuss words will vary from person to person depending on what religion they are.
Wee  -- and this does not always mean small. Can be used to describe any size.
Cheers/Cherrio – form of goodbye
Ye alright? – Normal question kind of like how are u doing?
Fortnight –two weeks time
Chucks=slang for IRA
Plaster=band aid
‘want a ride?’=sex; instead ask ‘want a lift?’
to let=to rent
Quay=pronounced ‘key’’ land form
They use the middle finger to flick people off as well as the first two fingers with back of hand toward them. So we have to watch how we count ‘2’ and say the peace sign, not to offend them.

Tea Time—always offer tea—tea time is all the time
Tea is different very general, not flavored; served with milk unless specified and have to ask for sugar.
Supper=tea; or toast w/hot chocolate
Chip Butty- (Sandwich)- Bread, butter, chips (meaning fries). Yup that’s all. Carbs and fat!
Peanut Butter!! Their peanut butter is not very good compared to ours. No PB & Jelly here! My Irish friend, Sean tried it because we told him about it but he said it was just too weird.
Wheaten bread-very hearty, dense bread. Homemade is normally very good.
Sit in/take away=here/to go
Bolognese sauce=red sauce
No alfredo sauce unless from scratch
One word—CHOCOLATE!!! Its sooo good
Potatoes, so many potatoes…
Sausage, tastes a little different but they love it here.
Blood pudding…yeah not going there.
Champ-mashed potatoes w/chives and herbs in it.
Cider-alcoholic drink, really good but bad for your liver.
Pints-what alcohol is served in.
People randomly stop by to visit and normally have a spot of tea and sweets.

Top-up phone—most prepaid not plans
Expensive to call-->text
Rain- as expected but different. Heavy mist most of the time.
Trainers: tennis shoes
Dogs walk without leash most of time. A lot run loose through the day and go home at night. They poop everywhere! Always watch you step, yes I know from experience.
Kids run wild through streets all hours of the night, just like dogs.
Broken glass/dog poop on every sidewalk.
Travel by public transportation bus/train and everyone does it.

Coins: 1p 2p 5p 10p 20p 50p 1 pound 2 pound
Shops in Derry close by 5pm except the mall wed-fri. open till 9pm
Kids in pubs
Driving on left side, right side of the car, though the review mirror is in the middle of the car my Aunt said it feels like it’s in the wrong place since its over the left shoulder instead of right; roundabouts, stoplight- red to yellow because everyone drives shift, also goes green to yellow to red.
Bus lane
Driving permits: 18 years old to get license I think.
L-earner --> R-estricted  

Soap Operas! Every night women watch religiously in fact on 2x a day.
Shows don’t start on hour or half hour, varies.
They love friends—3 episodes a day!
They watch American and Irish shows.
X-Factor=American Idol except: 3 groups: under 25, over 25, and groups.

Sunday nothing opens till 2 pm.
Student discounts for a lot of things.
Hot water is expensive as is electricity so we always turn off lights and unplug everything.
Shower string-pull to get hot water.
Coal/peat fires
Different expectations of what is clean, sanitary, or healthy.
Tipping not expected.
Drink from glass not bottle
Duvet-bed covering instead of comforter.
Deodorant or lack thereof, and roll on or spray only!
Body odor is much more common.
Fashions are different, PDA is much more shown here, funerals 3 days/cover mirrors/statues so the soul doesn’t get lost in trying to get to heaven.
Ulster fry-sausage, bacon, egg, white/black pudding, soda bread, potato bread, baked beans.
Hot water bottle
Black taxi-associated with the IRA
Commercials after 9pm are much more graphic. Especially one that is about drunk driving and kills kids.
Halowe’en fireworks/festival

So this list isn't extensive completely but is a lot of what I have observed over my semester about the differences. Hope you enjoy it!

Belfast Day

A couple weeks ago my classmates and I went to Belfast for a day of cultural activities.  We started off the earliest we have had to rise this semester...we had to be at the bus station at 8 a.m.!!  I know crazy right. This meant we had to leave the house around 7:30 am. Yeah I know big deal but we’ve kind of gotten used to sleeping in as much as possible, though this has changed now. Anyway, all 8 of us were there at 8 am. To get our tickets, yes I am leaving out 2 classmates, that’s because they are always late but this time they were especially close to missing the bus. We all had boarded the bus and watched them run up and barely made it on before we pulled out from the station.  We got to ride in a two-story bus—ok this was exciting for me because I haven’t been in one before. We sat right up front so not only did we have an awesome view but extra legroom too! It was a good start to an early morning.

We arrive in Belfast, which we had all visited earlier in the semester, so we were familiar with the set up and everything. Found our bus to go on a tour of the city. A group of us girls had already gone on a tour when we were here before so a lot of it was repetition but it was still a good time and we saw a few new things. I guess I should say that unfortunately my camera was dead so I didn’t take any new photos but I might put a few from some of the other students on here.

After a nice lunch break in the city center, we load the bus again and head off to Stormont. This is Northern Ireland’s parliament building. Had to go through airport-type security, and you have one in every group...Andy set off the alarm. Thankfully it was just a bunch of change, a phone and his house key in his pocket that did it.  So we headed on up and to meet Mervyn, our Programme Director inside. After donning our visitor passes we meet up with a representative from the Education Department who gives us a presentation over the history of Stormont and how their government is set up now.  We then had the privilege to meet representatives from each political party and listen to them talk about their party, their own personal stances, etc. It was nice to get to see the spectrum of stances and beliefs that are represented in their government. It was sort of interesting because it is difficult for me to translate ok so is the Northern Irish government the equivalent to a state government or more on the national government side?  Because they are part of the UK, but yet they are so different and their history is just completely different, and yet they are part of the European Union too.

Regardless here is some of the information we learned about:
The Northern Ireland Assembly is set up under the Belfast/Good Friday/1998 Agreement (They can never decide on terminology because of the differing opinions.) How their government works, not only is it a power sharing government but they also use what is called a referendum to gain citizen acceptance in order to pass a bill into law so that the people of Northern Ireland have a say in the law if it is going to change or alter their constitution.  So they decided to take a referendum with the Good Friday Agreement and the North had a 71% consensus and the South (Republic of Ireland, ROI) had a majority consensus of 94.4% in amending the Irish Constitution.  The thing to know about this agreement is it involved 3 main players: Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and England. (America also played a huge role in this but only a persuasive/supportive role.)  So how this all worked out is through what is called Strands in the Agreement. Strand 1 deals with the democratic institutions in NI, mainly setting up a power sharing government between the two disputing sides, Republican/Nationalist and Loyalist/Unionist. Strand 2 deals with the North-South cooperation in setting up councils to deal with matters that affect the whole island.  Strand 3 deals with the Northern Irish government and British government.

Britain still holds control over Northern Ireland, they are considered a part of the United Kingdom (Britain, Wales, Scotland, and NI), but Northern Ireland Government is a devolved government meaning that Britain is gradually giving more power to NI as they see fit.

There is the Assembly and Executive Committee. The Assembly has 108 elected members while the Executive committee has 11 department ministers and the first and deputy first ministers. (Note: First minister and Deputy First Minister have equal powers, this is simply because First minister Peter Robinson’s political party, DUP was the majority winner with, Deputy First minister Martin McGuinness’ (he’s my neighbor!) party Sinn Fein coming in second. This is part of the power sharing deal.
Since 1998 there have been some hiccups in the road to being a devolved government and they had to meet again and work out their differences in the St. Andrews Agreement. This mainly reviewed everything in the Good Friday Agreement and fixed minor details but was very important in giving the impression of keeping the peace.

Ok so that was a ‘brief outline’ of what the NI Assembly does, sorry it was so long but it is very interesting to try to determine what it really does and how it works and everything. Difficult not to constantly compare to the US system because who says we have it right or wrong but just trying to analyze it.   It is by no means complete or completely successful how they have it now. They are going to have to start the reviewing process again soon because things are getting tense on the community levels again.  Also something else interesting, the UK (including NI) system of government uses a different system for elections as far as how often they must hold elections. At minimum they have to have a General Election every 5 years but the Prime Minister (Westminster) can call a GE at anytime.  When they have vacancies in the MP (Member of Parliament) seats, they hold by-elections. So say someone resigns from the post of MP, that constituency holds a by-election to vote in someone new. Their government has a lot of little differences from ours since they operate on a parliamentary system and just because we all can’t be the same I guess.  I know the one thing I do like about their legislative process though is the referendum requirement for changing/altering the Constitution. Just makes sense to have direct support from the voters themselves.

Well in close, it was a very interesting day in Belfast and we all enjoyed being able to understand more of their jargon and acronyms for the parties and everything. It was just nice taking this field trip after we have learned about it for so long. Oh I could keep going…I just remembered a story our Education Dept. Rep was telling us when we were sitting in the chamber of the Executive about how they had to cover the entire building with tar and manure I think, during WWII so that it wouldn’t get bombed! And funny thing is it worked! Belfast did get bombed a couple of times but Stormont was in once piece and was actually used by the English Navy/Air force as a headquarters I believe. Anyway it took about 5 years for a crew of men to clean the building after WWII. And interesting, the building is 365 feet wide, for the days in a year! I wonder if it is 365 and a ¼, ha…

Anyway I know this post is a little heavier as far as content but this is a culmination of everything I have been learning about this great country. And it really is a great country, I mean they have the best intentions but they are just two different views is all. Maybe having they same paths at first but both see a different end goal so it’s very difficult to not be frustrated that they have such difficulties in working together.  Well I will have a fun post after this! I’ve been working on it for a couple weeks now, gradually writing down the differences I see/experience in NI culture vs. the American way. Hopefully that one will stir up some comments :) Have a great day!

Stormont-NI Parliament Building

Looking back at Belfast from Stormont

Inside Stormont

Ceiling inside Stormont