TY History Trip to Belfast

Belfast-7TY History Trip to Belfast

By Peadar O’Loughlin

 We left at 7 that morning; no problems there, we got a decent 6 hours of sleep and we were still 6 hours from our destination, which effectively meant, for me anyway, a total of 12 hours of sleep before reaching Belfast.  Our journey was divided into smaller segments due to regular stops so I hardly noticed the journey go by.  I suppose you could say, then, that the whole ‘travelling’ part of this trip couldn’t have gone any better.

Upon reaching the city of Belfast, we travelled immediately to the W5 Science Museum (the W5 referring to the five questioning W’s: Who? What? Why? Where? When?).  Now, if anyone could call that museum boring, I’d refer them immediately to a psychiatrist or something;  I don’t ever recall visiting such an interactive museum before in my life, with everything from a build-your-own racer station (where you could build a K’Nex toy car with a motor in it and then send it around an enormous track), to a flight simulator, to a marble ball the weight of my house plus the entire Munster front row together floating on water, that for some scientific reason we could spin with little effort.  There were enough cool things in that museum to fascinate even the dreariest of people.  The only problem with that museum was that absolutely nothing in the building was explained.  No scientific reasons were given for any of the exhibits and the majority of the exhibits were not even introduced.  It was an entirely interactive museum, and despite all of the exhibits there being based entirely around ‘learning from doing’, in most cases it was impossible to derive from simply ‘doing’ as to how the exhibits worked.  I left the building disappointed due to the lack of knowledge I gained from visiting it, especially because it did have the potential to be an excellent science museum.  The place should really be called a ‘museum of inexplicably cool things’ as opposed to a ‘science museum’.

After the museum, we proceeded to the city centre, where we picked up our tour guide.  She directed our bus around the most iconic parts of Belfast, particularly those parts that had a special connection to The Troubles, giving us an inside view of what life was like in the city during those torrid times, having had first-hand experience herself.  Tales of friends of hers being murdered and soldiers in her garden both shocked and humoured us as we gradually progressed through the most nationalist and loyalist parts of Belfast.  Beginning at Falls Road, a former IRA stronghold, we were guided through the murals painted on the walls there.  Although I strongly disagreed with the majority of the messages displayed upon these walls, with nearly all of them representing the views of religious extremists or those with radical political views, I think I found what I saw upon those walls the most interesting part of the trip.  And that certainly isn’t an insult to the trip.  The murals shocked me; to find that some people idolise such criminals or believe in such ideals, but I found that after seeing the murals, maybe I still didn’t have a better insight into the world, but I think that I now look upon people with what normal society considers ‘crazy’ beliefs with a bit more of an educated perspective.

After Falls Road and the most nationalist parts of the city, we passed through the peace wall to the predominantly unionist Shankill Road.  There, we saw new murals.  Murals that, the absolute converse as to what was seen on Falls Road, promoted violence on behalf of the UK.  One mural represented a man whose name I’ve forgotten who, during the 90s, was renowned as the man who had killed the most Catholics.  He was responsible for the killing of an innocent woman in her 20s, working in a pharmacy, and died from his involvement in the drug trade.  Now, most of us had heard stories like these before, but when we heard that the mural of this murderer had been repainted only a few weeks previously; well, let’s just say that there wasn’t a sound on that bus bar the engine for at least a minute afterwards.

After visiting loyalist Belfast, we departed for our hotel, passing the Victoria Shopping Centre and the Game of Thrones studio on the way.  We arrived at the hotel at around half past six and retired to our rooms until dinner at 7.  Never before had I stayed in such luxury while under the care of an institution.  Obviously, I was delighted in the first place to find the Scottish Women’s Soccer Team in the reception as we were checking in, but that hotel really was something.  Really, if you could have seen the size of the TVs in our rooms, you’d know what I’m talking about.  Dinner was great anyway:  A sophisticated buffet which involved us coming to the food in order of table, allowing a smartly dressed waiter to serve us either burger or chicken, then leaving us to do the rest.  Of course, the Glenstal boys, me included, weren’t all that good at waiting for our food at first and barged up towards the buffet as if there was no other food on earth… but then we got the hang of it.  We kind of relaxed.  We queued like gentlemen until we’d finished our main courses.  But then, of course, Glenstal gentlemen do eat substantially more than your average gentlemen.  Up we go again, fighting for our territory to gain possession of the few remaining burgers or chicken bits.  How neither Greg, Miss Foley nor Cameron collapsed with embarrassment or stress, I don’t know.  But anyway, they didn’t.  It was a great night and at 7:15 the following morning, those who desired to view Stormont Parliament across the road up close would be permitted to do so under the supervision of Miss Foley.  About six of us turned up and walked the mile towards the parliament.  Of course, it was very interesting to see the home of Northern Irish politics, but really the highlight of that early morning excursion was witnessing the awesome course for the Red Bull Crashed Ice race event on the drive up to the parliament.  I mean, which is cooler:  A big grey symbolic building with six pillars and a statue of James Craig, or an X-Treme (with an ‘x’, of course) ice skating course with unbelievable jumps and turns that appear to the untrained eye impossible to navigate, and with slopes that could only enable whatever skaters that would be using the course to break the sound barrier?  Sorry, but Red Bull awesomeness simply wins.

After what I believe was the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had, we checked out of the hotel and left for the Titanic Museum on the docks of the city.  A flabbergasting architectural feat, the museum stands tall, resembling both an iceberg and the hull of a boat in the lowest part of the city.  The museum had a fantastic layout and gave plenty of information that was presented magnificently (nudge, nudge W5), and also contained features such as a virtual tour of the Titanic and a sort of amusement park ride.  I loved the museum, as it did not focus solely on the Titanic’s voyage and sinking, in fact, they seem like only minor parts of the museum when I look back; but the main emphasis of the whole thing was on the building of the Titanic.  Starting with how Belfast became such an important city, to be able to facilitate the construction of such an enormous ship, then to the building of the ship on the docks of Belfast, to the people on board the ship when it sank to, yes, obviously and eventually, the sinking; but then to the discovery of the ship again over 70 years later and then to the history of underwater exploration and finally, to the computerised mapping of Northern Ireland’s cost and seabed today.  It really omitted zero info, that museum, and I for one never felt that there was too much writing either.  However, there was still one problem: The lack of artifacts.  Although there were numerous items such as letters written by people from the Titanic on display, there was nothing actually that was on the ship when it sank in the museum.  Maybe it was wishful thinking of me to expect to see the ship’s wheel in there, but I still would have liked to have seen at least one thing from the wreckage.  I’m sure there’s a proper reason for it; I’m sure that if the museum could, they’d have those artifacts straight away, but still.  Probably no one’s fault, but I admit, I was still a little disappointed about that.

Anyway, that’s that:  That’s our Belfast trip for you.  We came back to the Abbey after the Titanic museum, and we had a laugh afterwards.  It was a great trip, one of the best school tours I’ve ever been on, and hopefully Miss Foley will find another way to get the TYs off of two days of school again before the year is out (wink wink).