Pat Baillie, Out & Equal Director of Training & Professional Development, will be contributing to the Out & Equal blog while she is on the road for a month, traveling and training. Pat was in London for the Global LGBT Workplace Summit, which took place July 5 & 6, 2012, and now is in Ireland.
We arrived in Belfast and knew there were a few things we wanted to see, so we took the city bus tour to get started. We did stop and have a Guinness so we knew we were in Ireland. There seemed to be a lot of things that didn’t quite make the tour book. For one, because we were in Northern Ireland, we were paying in British pounds and not Euros like Southern Ireland. This fits in with some of the other insights I talk about in a bit. We also realized that we were getting a lot more stares as we walked down the road holding hands–but we were glad to see a gay bar as we toured to the city.
Part of the bus tour included seeing the wall murals in both the Protestant and Catholic sections of town that chronicles the “Troubles” that started back the late 1960’s. I grew up Catholic and heard a lot as I grew up about what was happening in Ireland. When I visited Ireland back in 1983, I was in the military, and was not allowed to travel to Northern Ireland due to the civil unrest going on. Although the peace proclamation was signed over 10 years, there is still a lot of tension as Belfast tries to move into a new era and build its tourism trade. The hotel we stayed in was the most frequently bombed hotels over those 30 years. The peace wall that was built to keep both sides apart are still locked each weekend to avoid problems that happen when the two parts of the city clash. Our driver and narrator had to go by different names based on what side of the wall they are on. This so much sounded like what many LBGT have to do with their lives when they can’t be out and be themselves. Here, even though the “Troubles” have ended, there is still so much more that needs to be addressed and only time will tell how things will turn out.
By the time we got done with the tour, both Sharrin and I felt drained and decided to have a quiet night and catch up on sleep and figure out what we wanted to do the next day. We decided we needed to give Belfast another look and see if we could learn more. The issues in Northern Ireland are about sovereignty, economics, power and yes, also religion. We took a black cab tour which lasted 90 minutes, and took us to both sides of the wall to look at the murals. The narrator, John, explained the history, perspectives and impacts on today’s residents of Belfast and Northern Ireland. We saw the remains of huge bonfires from the “Eleventh Night,” where huge bonfires are lit in many Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist areas of Northern Ireland. It is part of Northern Ireland’s “marching season” which begins on Easter and goes until July 12th. So many have died from violence – bombings or shootings – and for many the conflict continues today. It reminded me of those in the states who continue to keep the Civil War issues alive.
As I walked around the murals, I found this one on the back of storage shed. Even here where so many other issues are right at the surface, being LGBT still seems to transcend the discussion. I made the comment when we ended our tour with John that we may not understand all the issues, but at least we had more facts and could see for ourselves what is going on. We ended the day in Belfast at the new Titanic museum which opened just a couple of months ago and has become one of Ireland’s biggest draws. The Titanic was built in Belfast, and when the inquiries were done after Titanic sunk, their answer had all the wit and wisdom of Irish thinking. Their comment: “Well, when she left here, she was fine!”
It felt good to get back out seeing the country again as we headed up to Londonderry/Derry. We went by the coast route and stopped at the Giant’s Causeway which is part of an amazing coast line. We ended up at the new visitor center which is state of the art in terms of energy use and design. It had been open for three weeks and has a great audio tour as you hike the 1km tour. More on our Derry adventures in the next update as we explore the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland, and is reported to be one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in Europe!