by Michael Fox '18
Our second half of the day started off with an American classic lunch: McDonalds and Starbucks. Although the McDonalds was packed with people it was a nice way to decompress after a long morning of learning about Unionists narratives. Following our lovely meal at McDonalds, we met with Gordon McCoy who taught us even more Gaelic. Something interesting about Gordon is that he is a Unionist who is learning the Irish language. This is absolutely not the norm and there was even backlash from his own community when he started to teach Irish. One highlights of our session was writing our names in Ogham which is an alphabet that consists of many notches on a rock to make different letters and spell out words. Mr. McCoy gave us the key and we all wrote out our names in Ogham. Another highlight was singing songs in Gaelic. We all sang two songs together and Mr. McCoy helped us with the pronunciation by having us repeat after him. This two songs were very catchy and are still stuck in my head.
After learning some more of the Irish language, we set off across the street to The Reach Project where we met with former Red Hand Commando member Robin Stewart. Staying with the theme of meeting people who do not fit the normal Unionist political view, Robin Stewert identified as a “Republican Protestant.” He was a Unionist (so wants to remain part of the UK) who did not have a religious affiliation during the conflict stating that he was an atheist, and he strongly had no allegiance to the Queen. Robin wants the UK due away with the monarchy and turn it into a republic where the working class gets represented properly. Robin works with the East Belfast community to develop a safe place where people are fully educated about their history and nothing is left out. Another project Robin does is working with young people to get them jobs even if they drop out of school. Robin said, “At Reach we educate not by the smarts but by hand work.” This training at Reach gets the kids out of unemployment and off the streets which helps all parties involved. One of the more frightening comments from Robin when posed the question what happens if a united Ireland comes about, and He said, “I would train them to resist.” Robin went on to talk about how a united Ireland is not what he thinks should happen to Northern Ireland and he would be willing to pick up arms once again to defend his beliefs. This is just one of the many mind-boggling things Robin said in our talk with him.
After our slightly unsettling talk with Robin we headed back to Queens Elms to get ready to go out to eat. We dressed up and walked down to the Barking Dog where I had a delicious short rib as a starter, a massive burger as my main, and a phenomenal brownie to round it off. This dinner was the most filling we have had on this trip and may have been the best. Overall, a very mind provoking day with a brilliant meal to finish it all off.