Rolling hills and steep cliffs with castles on top. Northern Ireland has breathtaking scenery that has more than once been used for films and popular series, such as Game of Thrones. But beneath its peaceful surface and raw nature lies a troubled history that still seeps into many aspects of its everyday life.
For thirty years, Northern Ireland was in conflict. From the 1960s up to the 1990s, nationalists and unionists fought. One wanted to reunite with the Republic of Ireland. The other wanted to stay loyal to the United Kingdom. The long-lasting struggle enveloped not just the border, but the entire country. This conflict is now known as The Troubles. It ended on April 10th 1998, when the Good Friday agreement finally established some semblance of peace. Over 3,500 citizens died.
But it is a fragile peace. Northern Ireland is keenly aware that these concerns are still bubbling under the surface. All of its citizens, except for the youngest of generations, still have vivid memories of that time. Extensive murals, scattered throughout Ulster cities are a daily reminder of those times. Yet some would argue the conflict has never truly stopped. With both sides still partaking in clandestine and shady affairs, distrust is a key issue in the region, and the chasm between identities is hard to bridge. Each aspect of Northern Irish life is seperated and made two-fold. Specific schools and churches for Protestants and Catholics. Different bakers and shops for nationalists and unionists. Even though many are neighbours, their lives are disjointed by a history of violence.
Evidently, to this day, Northern Ireland stays an incredibly divided region and a modern example of a nation struggling with its national identity. One contemporary example being Belfast, its capital. East of the river Lagan, 90 percent of the population identifies as Protestant. On the western shore, 90 percent are Catholic. And it’s not just the river reminding everyone which camp they belong to each and every day. The peace walls, erected during the Troubles to keep both sides at bay, are still there.
Open EU borders, EU subsidies, peace projects, an improving economy, and immigrants with new stories and views from the outside world have been successful at knocking the wind out of any hostilities. But Brexit could once again ignite the flammable tinder of old. The troubled border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has now become the stage of a fierce political battle. With a divisive referendum, England has called for a return to complete sovereignty. Note the use of the word England. As the only region of the United Kingdom that shares a physical border with the European Union, Northern Ireland is once again caught in an ideological crossfire. The majority wants to Leave. The other 49% want to Remain. But in order to enact the democratic will of the people, the United Kingdom would have to tear open old wounds and trample over the Good Friday agreement. Even though they swore there would never be a border between the two Gaelic nations again. Northern Ireland will once again be stuck in the middle of adversity. Between a rock, and a hard place.