Twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland was an ideal place to further explore the subject of the conference “Reconciling Realities”. Sixteen participants explored the city of Belfast and the surrounding countryside under the competent leadership of Norman Richardson, EFTRE board member for Northern Ireland. An additional study day offered everyone the chance to engage in dialogue with educators and researchers from Northern Ireland.

For the two hours ride from Dublin to Belfast, Norman challenged all participants to see if they could spot the Irish border. Indeed, there was only one road sign indicating speed limits in Northern Ireland. But the most obvious sign for everyone on the bus was the rainbow that emerged in the cloudy sky right at that moment. What a wonderful start to the trip!

The following day began with a tour through the city of Belfast. The group learned about the history and current situation of the city. Often, one could tell from the flags in the streets whether it was a Loyalist (Protestant) or Nationalist (Catholic) neighbourhood. Stops at several mural paintings reflected very well the past marked by the Troubles. The story of a conflict between two neighbouring schools showed how the animosity affected education. Particularly impressive was the visit to one of the most well known parts of the Peace Wall. Originally constructed as a temporary barrier, it now towers up to eight metres high in the sky keeping the division of the city quite concrete.

The trip further north out of the city offered all kinds of dreamy landscapes with the green meadows, sheep and cattle that one would imagine in Northern Ireland. High above the cliffs at the seaside lie the buildings of Corrymeela. This Peace and Reconciliation Centre has largely contributed to reconciling realities in Northern Ireland over the last fifty years. With thousands of volunteers the community offers programmes for (school) groups, families and individuals and brings all kind of people together. The programme manager Sean Pettis presented one of their programmes entitled “legacies of conflict” during the symposium the following day.

The symposium offered the chance to reflect on the experiences of the previous days. Presentations about the historical background of Northern Ireland and the educational systems and correlated challenges helped to understand the current implications, also in view of a possible (hard) Brexit. A panel and discussion rounded off the very insightful and valuable extension programme. The numerous personal stories that Norman shared with the group made this trip even more special to everyone who participated. The group thanked Norman Richardson warmly and gratefully for the excellent organisation of the trip.

Please note: You find more information on the extension programme and the conference itself on the EFTRE website.

Photos: © Bianca Kappelhoff

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