Early on in the class it occurred to me that I did not have many preexisting beliefs or expectations of the culture of Ireland. Going in, the only expectation I had was that the Irish people and their culture had a strong connection to Catholicism. Being someone who is skeptical of all religion, many questions came to mind about their beliefs. As it turns out I was more uneducated on the subject than I had realized.
Religion had been mentioned in many of the course readings that lead up to the trip, but it was not until I had read Document B by Robert Bell that I realized my own view of Catholicism was unfair. In some ways Bell reinforced my expectations, commenting on blind faith in the church and the priests.
However, after Bell describes the Irish as being “the most credulous and superstitious than those of any other country” I wondered what differentiates any religion from superstition. My skepticism began to turn more towards Bell than the religion after his use of the derogatory term “popery” illustrated his bias. This brought my own lack of understanding to my attention.
This bias left me wanting to claim his assessment as unfair, but I could not do this without accepting the same criticism of my own expectations.
As it turns out religion was just as prominent on the trip as I had anticipated, but not at all in the way I expected.
Upon learning of the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants I was surprised when I noticed that none of the fighting seemed to be over specific beliefs of either religion. The Irish people were divided into groups and classified by names that did not truly represent the problems.
Though technically it would seem that the terms of Catholic and Protestant do fit the division, they were fighting because of cultural oppression not a difference of religious beliefs.
It seems more fitting to say that the conflict occurs between the Irish that want to be independent (who happen to be Catholic) and those that wish to remain a part of England (who are likely Protestant).
One such conflict was the Battle of the Bogside, which was a riot that took place in Derry, Northern Ireland. It would be easy to simplify these groups down to Catholic and Protestant, yet these titles would not truly reflect the heart of the conflict that was taking place.
To simplify Irish culture down to either Catholic or Protestant would be to overlook many of the finer details present in the history of the land. In truth it is a land rich with culture and passion despite the turmoil and suffering.
My advice to future students hoping to travel to Ireland is to not underestimate or simplify the amount of history present. Both Dublin and Derry are packed with history and knowledge that extend beyond the boundaries of religious differences.
The amount of information present will likely be overwhelming at first, but it is best to retain as much as you can. Though it is true that there will be plenty of people and noise around (more so in Dublin) I recommend taking a few moments along the way to reflect on what you have seen and heard as you are able throughout the trip.
I found that keeping a journal helps with this process, so a pocket sized note pad is strongly recommended. Additional, the places I found to be the best for thinking would be Killarney, Howth, and the Giant’s Causeway.
Finally, the obvious recommendation, keep an out for the safety of your fellow group members and have fun!