Post conflict, Northern Ireland has prospered in peace; it leaves you spellbound
Many people consider Northern Ireland to be the most picturesque part of the UK. The three decades of violence from 1968 to 1998 had made the island a no-go area for tourists. However, the Good Friday agreement arrived at in 1998 was a major step in the peace process and brought normalcy to the region and hence enhanced peace, security and prosperity of Ireland.
I arrived in Belfast on 23rd June as part of a group of Chevening scholars from different universities in the UK. The trip to Ireland was primarily focussed ‘to showcase the national identities, cultures and political institutions of Northern Ireland. We took a bus from the airport to the city centre and the sights for this 30 km ride were breathtaking. The curvaceous roads give you glimpses of the lush green highlands with cattle grazing in the fields. The sheep farms are so well maintained that one feels like stopping regularly and click some pictures with the lovely herbivores. At places, people could be seen engaged in equestrianism and everything along the way seemed majestic. In about half an hour we arrived at the Belfast city centre. The Belfast city centre is like any other modern European city centre with a central market thronged by shoppers. The only difference here is that you find wall murals at many places depicting stories of war times or messages of peace. A person from Kashmir immediately connects to the city for obvious reasons.
After strolling past the city centre for about an hour, we headed to the ‘Stormont’ – the parliament buildings of Northern Ireland. We were welcomed by the officials at Stormont and given a wonderful tour of Irish parliament describing in great detail the history behind the parliament building, modern history of Ireland and lessons about the peace process. The Parliament building of Northern Ireland stands on top of a hillock surrounded by sprawling lush green gardens. History will remember the day we arrived at parliament building, 23rdJune 2016, for ages. It was on this day that the Brexit voting was taking place. At the Irish Parliament, most of the people who we met were confident that Brexit will never happen. They gave examples about how the people of the UK have left behind bigotry and racism and it is only a handful of people who will vote for Brexit. But early next morning, the worst fears came true.
After a long tour of Parliament for an entire afternoon, we headed to the ‘Queens University’ in Belfast. Some of the buildings in the university are about 200 years old but they are functioning and well maintained. These buildings depict the rich heritage and the culture of Belfast. The fusion of the old and the new presents unique examples of coexistence with harmony. At the Queens University, we took part in the sessions which discussed topics like ‘Culture, tradition and conflict in Northern Ireland’ and ‘Community relations and community development after conflict’. The lectures on these topics, delivered by eminent faculty of the Queens University and the Ulster University, were quite engaging and fruitful. As a person born and brought up in a conflict region, these topics were of great interest to me and they presented some very useful suggestions about conflict resolution.
In the evening we strolled past the streets of Belfast. The city has many Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern food outlets serving a variety of food. Many of the restaurants offer authentic Indian food. Chicken Tikka Masala is a hot favourite in the UK and is among the top take-away foods in the UK. Irish pubs are dotted across the Europe in every major city. Pubs are unlike bars and they mean public houses in true essence. A space for playing snooker or other such games form an essential part of a typical Irish pub. The Belfast city hall has a stunning architecture and looks majestic in the evening. A stroll past the city centre and you can see beautiful Irish churches and the clock tower.
Early next day on 24th June, we headed north towards the giants causeway. The sights along the road were so serene that one would want to spend his entire life in those lush green farms. I have travelled to more than 10 countries in Europe but haven’t seen a place more beautiful and serene than Northern Ireland, especially the northern part of the island. By 11 AM we were at Giants Causeway, a UNESCO world heritage site. Flanked by hills on one side and azure waters of the ocean on the other, the Giants causeway is an area formed by about 40000 columns of basalt rocks interlinked to one another. The basalt rocks are a result of an ancient volcanic eruption and the hexagonal patterns formed by the interconnecting rocks leaves a traveller spellbound by the perfect engineering of nature. After climbing up and down the uniquely styled rocks, we headed for a sumptuous Irish lunch in a nearby hotel.
The next destination was the travellers’ paradise. The ‘Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge’ is a famous tourist attraction in Ireland. The bridge connects the mainland to a small island which has some magnificent views of the ocean in front and the surrounding hills and a watchtower on the other sides. The bridge is a rope bridge and a walk across it to the island is awe-inspiring. A day filled with fun and exploring the history of Northern Ireland came to an end with some delicious Indian food in Belfast.
The next day we visited the Titanic museum in Belfast. It is here that the Titanic ship was first built and set for its maiden voyage. The museum is one of the best in the world and describes Titanic in great detail. It also has sections about how Europeans travelled to the US for better opportunities and gives enough reasons for taking in immigrants from other countries in the present context. Just outside the Titanic museum, is the famous ‘Game of Thrones’ studio which is unfortunately not open to public.
Hakim Iqbal Abdulla is a Chevening 2015-16 alumnus, currently working with NTPC Ltd in Mumbai. Feedback at email@example.com