During my short weekend in Belfast, I was given the chance to speak to three reporters working for the Northern Ireland sector of the BBC – Claire Savage, Martina Purdy, and Mark Devenport. All three journalists were full of ideas for sources for my own story, as well as my peers’ stories, despite our three stories being entirely different. It just goes to show that a good journalist will know just about anyone.
Claire also gave me a better insight into how different the business of news is in Northern Ireland compared to North American news outlets. She explained how she opened a neutral newspaper, as opposed to the more commonly one-sided newspapers that currently run, and it only lasted for six weeks. While that in no way means that the quality of the journalism for the newspaper was poor, it does prove that political and religious beliefs are directly linked with what news outlets people in Northern Ireland choose to read. This was something that I was not used to seeing at home.
My weekend in Belfast also surprisingly provided me with more information on my current feature topic – the Armagh Gaol. While on a West Belfast Mural Tour, I was provided with incredibly detailed information about what life was like for political prisoners in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, with a large focus on the various hunger strikes that occurred.
My tour guide, Tom, also directed me to the Irish Republican History Museum, or the Eileen Hickey Museum. The museum has a replica of what an Armagh Gaol cell would have looked like, with the furniture and cell door that was in an actual Armagh Gaol cell. The minuscule size of the cell shocked me, considering many women spent up to 23 hours a day, every day for years locked in those cells.
Simply put, the history of Belfast left me speechless. I have never visited a city that so openly discusses its considerably recent violent history from all sides, with such a positive outlook on the future. While many believe barriers like the Peace Wall will be up for years to come, a few, like Tom, have a strong belief that the wall will be down within a decade.
Belfast was admittedly not the most visually appealing site I have seen in Ireland so far, despite beautiful buildings like their city hall. In all fairness, it’s hard to compete with the Giant’s Causeway. However, I had the most enriching experience out of my entire three weeks of European travel in just two days. You simply can’t beat a good history lesson.