Circling Eyjafjallajokul - Late Summer 2010 travel blog

This voyage across the North Atlantic has the potential to be plagued by the weather, which is why the fare is considerably less for this leg of the cruise that the previous one. So we would be disappointed, but not surprised to miss a stop in Iceland or Greenland, but we were shocked when the captain got on the horn last night and announced that due to gale force winds, we would not be able to sail the 100+ miles to Belfast. We stayed docked in Dublin and left when the worst was over. We were glad to see the Giant’s Causeway when we were in Belfast two weeks ago, but cannot say that we really saw the city. And now we never will - on this trip at least.

We’ve never been to Northern Ireland before this trip and being here has gotten us thinking about The Troubles, which is what the local folks call the terrorism and violence that has been going on between the Irish and the British for most of our lives. In the late 1990’s some sort of compromise and peace has been reached and appears to be holding, so it got us to wondering how and why it all began.

The principal issues at stake in The Troubles were the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between the mainly-Protestant unionist and mainly-Catholic nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. It’s hard to come up with a simple answer to a complex problem, but it sounds like the triggering incident occurred in the 1600’s when the English king sent protestant English and Scottish settlers to the area, which was lightly populated with Catholic locals at the time. British Protestant political dominance in Ireland was ensured by the passage of the penal laws, which curtailed the religious, legal and political rights of anyone who did not conform to the state church—the Anglican Church of Ireland. Over the next 200 years as the Irish fought and maneuvered to become an independent land, Catholics and Protestants moved about the country and intermarried. So in 1921 when the Irish won the right to be on their own, the Protestants were concerned that they would be disenfranchised and discriminated against as the Catholics had been for all those years. The Catholic Irish felt that the whole island should belong to the new nation and thus a compromise that pleased no one was struck. The country was partitioned and the six northern most counties became protestant Northern Ireland. This meant that Catholics living in the north became pariahs and Protestants living in the south were also regarded with suspicion. As the IRA fought to reunite the whole country, the British moved in troops to maintain the peace. There is plenty of blame to go around to one and all for all the blood shed that took place over the next fifty years. The Troubles' impact on the ordinary people of Northern Ireland produced such psychological trauma that the city of Belfast had been compared to London during the Blitz. The stress resulting from bomb attacks, street disturbances, security checkpoints, and the constant military presence had the strongest effect on children and young adults. In addition to the violence and intimidation, there was chronic unemployment and a severe housing shortage. Vandalism was also a major problem

At this point things seem to be moving forward in a positive direction, but the division is so clear that even we tourists can feel it. We find ourselves constantly changing currencies as we have sailed around Ireland, using British pounds in the north and Euros in the south. When we arrive in southern Ireland we are asked to show our passports, even though we have already done so in Great Britain. The Irish want to make it crystal clear that they are NOT part of Great Britain.

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