Nearly fresh off a cross-Atlantic flight, a group of 21 students from Saint Ignatius, Walsh Jesuit, and University of Detroit high schools sat in a room at Queen’s University in Belfast for the opportunity to learn about the Troubles in Ireland and peace resolution from college professors.
“Peace without justice will always be fragile,” says Professor John Brewer of the George Mitchell Institute. These students experienced first-hand the reality of this statement as they dug deeper into the complex history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Since 2006 the Irish Studies Program has been introducing students to Irish culture, conflict and peace resolution. Saint Ignatius High School officially named James Brennan ’85, Theology teacher from Saint Ignatius High School, the Director of the program in 2012. Along with Dan Bizga ’93, Theology teacher from Walsh Jesuit High School, they have been traveling to Belfast with students from both schools ever since. Eileen Varnish, English teacher from Walsh Jesuit High School, has been an integral part of the program since it's inception and alumna of the program, Katie Brennan, has returned to help teach the course for the last three years.
While students are immersed into Irish culture and history during this 17-day trip, they also have the opportunity to make connections to real life situations back home. While touring the Irish Republican History Musem, Kevin Emery '18 was struck by a newspaper headline on display that read, "DO YOU CARE IF THIS MAN DIES?" with a cartoon of a hunger striker. "It was shocking because we have never seen hunger strikes like this in the U.S.," says Emery.
Students wrote reflections during the trip that can be found on the program's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ISPBelfast.