Cross-Border Encounters: Cross-Border Camp 2007

Schools Across Borders organised its first weekend residential event at Farset International House, located in the Springfield area of Belfast, 4-6 May 2007.

The event involved 18 Dublin students, 1 Dundalk student, and seven Belfast students (representing both Nationalist and Unionist communities).

Why organise a Cross-Community & Cross-Border Event?

In the spirit of the Schools Across Borders project, we feel that we should try to encourage greater respect and cooperation between the students from the different communities in Belfast, and also between these students and the students from the Republic of Ireland.

All the student groups in Ireland and Northern Ireland completed the Schools Across Borders schools programme by producing videos, posters and messages for the Israeli and Palestinian student groups.

The Israeli and Palestinian student groups reciprocated with their own video, poster and message feedback for all the school groups in Dublin, Dundalk and Belfast.

In 2006-7 the Israeli and Palestinian students also made their own posters for the family and friends of Thomas Devlin, a student of Belfast Royal Academy, who was tragically stabbed to death in August 2005.

We decided it would be fitting to take the next steps. Just as Thomas Devlin crossed so many borders, making friends with young people of both communities, our aim was to encourage the Irish and Northern Irish students to develop a common message for both communities in Belfast.

On a pedagogical level, our aim was to provide all participant students with opportunities to enhance their leadership and communication skills on the themes of greater mutual respect, understanding and reconciliation.

How did we do it?

Through respect for each other’s identities and traditions, but also to highlight what young people want from their city and what positive steps they can take together.

We proposed two main actions for all students to participate in:

  • to produce a painting in memory of Thomas Devlin. This painting will be put on display as a permanent memorial to Thomas in the Belfast Royal Academy, where he went to school.
  • to produce a short film, based on realities of life in different areas of Belfast, which we could use in all the schools involved in the Schools Across Borders project, in Belfast, Dublin, Israel and Palestine.

We also organised other activities:

  • a workshop on anti-sectarianism, presented by Ms Yvonne Naylor
  • tee-shirt painting for the film task
  • a talent competition for the brave and foolhardy

How did it go?

The whole weekend was memorable from beginning to end! Everyone participated fully, everyone got on with each other and all the set tasks were completed!

In particular, all the students worked in pairs or small groups on the memorial painting for Thomas, each pair/group contributing their own original design and content in keeping with the cross-community and cross-border themes of the project.

Making the film was the other main action, and this also proved to be packed with all the themes and messages of the Schools Across Borders project.

Walking together as a group through the Springfield and Falls areas, our Belfast Protestant friends felt uneasy, but safe with the group! Then it was the turn of the Belfast Catholic and Dublin friends to sense similar levels of quaking in their boots ,as we were brought through the Shankill by our Protestant friends!

This was the first time any of the Belfast students had actually walked through these streets “on the other side”. Everyone admitted that there was no real risk of intimidation, but it still felt intimidating! The exercise focused minds on what is needed to make progress: more walking, more friends, more reasons to visit these areas!

The Belfast students brought us then into the city centre. The Belfast Festival of Fools was in full swing. First there were the jugglers in front of the Castlecourt Shopping Centre. A quick dash past all the Saturday shoppers brought us to an Indian magician doing his street act in front of about a hundred giggling kids. On we went then to the places where young people in Belfast like to hang out: at the City Hall, the Waterfront (where one of the Dublin students demonstrated his cool juggling with his bibelo), then across the Lagan to the Odyssey Centre and then back over again to collectively out-stare the Big Fish.

We finished our own little odyssey at the back of St. Patrick’s College on the Somerton road, where Thomas was murdered in such a cruel and cowardly manner on August 10, 2005. Aoife, one of the Dublin students, played an air on her flute in his memory. Most of the students then gave their own personal reflections on the moment.

The whole day, complete with all the in-between interviews, has been put on DVD and given to each of the students as a memento.

Schools Across Borders shall also include it its own school programme, where it is sure to provide added impetus to our project aims as well as the inter-school ethos in Ireland, north and south.

We will continue to carry the message that these students have started: to cross borders and to celebrate the role that all young people have in opening up the city to each other. Too many corners of Belfast are still either too shady for young people to venture into, or too shady for other young people to go into. But young people have always Thomas was one, full of life and always checking out new possibilities. We encourage all young people in Belfast to do the same: keep crossing the borders. Get out there, make it go around!

Everyone mentioned their own personal benefits and highlights of the weekend in their final evaluations. Below are some of their comments:

What were the highlights of the weekend for you?

Meeting new people, making friends, getting to know more about Belfast.
Climaco, CBS Oatlands College

The train up and walking around Belfast!
Graham from Oatlands College

The talent show!
Shafqat, CBS Oatlands College

Meeting the other students + Darran dancing to Britney Spears!
Sarah, Our Lady’s Grove, Dublin

Keeping Darran awake! Getting our point across; going to the place where Thomas was killed. It was also very important that we were able to visit the places where he used to hang out. By doing the Painting Task, we were able to get the point out that people shouldn’t die the way Thomas did.
Kevin, Fingal Community College

It was all a lot of fun, but I also got to understand the situation more (especially in the workshop on anti-sectarianism). I never realised how bad it was in certain areas. By doing the Painting Action, we felt we could do something to communicate with the students in Thomas’ old school.
Shauna, Fingal Community College

It was about meeting new friends and meeting some Protestants. Also seeing things and places we only see on the TV and to really understand what is going on in Northern Ireland.
Greg, CBS Colaiste Choilm, Dublin

The video …. we got the message out to people that this kind of stuff can’t go on …. and it was very important to see and show where Thomas was killed. It was also very important that we got a chance to talk to Thomas’ parents even though it was only a quick chat…and meeting people who are Protestant.
Suzanne, St. Michael’s Holy Faith, Dublin

Cross-Border Encounters 2009

In the 2009-2010 school year, we arranged a number of encounters between Dublin & Dundalk school groups and Belfast school groups.

On five separate occasions, we brought a total of 12 school group delegations from 8 of our Dublin schools and our school in Dundalk to meet our cross-community group of 3 Belfast school groups (Belfast Model School for Girls, Our Lady of Mercy and Little Flower).

The purpose of these encounters were clear and simple:

  • to give the students from Dublin and Dundalk a chance to see a bit of present-day Belfast for themselves, and to find out more about the identities and realities of the Belfast students
  • to give the Belfast students a chance to share some time with the students from “down South” and to tell them that life is Belfast is much more than a shopping spree!
  • to give the help the students from Dublin, Dundalk and Belfast to discover common personal interests and lifestyles

By doing so, we could create a bit more dialogue, mutual appreciation…and whatever else that those magical forces of teenage energy and enthusisam can create!

For these single day trips to Belfast, all the visiting students completed pre-prepared questionnaires in order to facilitate an exchange of information and awareness on post-conflict realities and perspectives in their discussions with the Belfast students.

The Belfast students also gave Powerpoint presentations of their findings in order to facilitate these discussions.

All Dublin and Dundalk groups were given an hour tour of murals, memorial gardens and peace lines located in both Catholic Nationalist and Protestant Unionist communities. All Dublin and Belfast students took photographs and wrote reports of their visits.

Next year, we also hope to bring the Belfast students to Dundalk and Dublin. We just have to work on the school management! Please read on and be inspired…

Reports from some of the visiting students to Belfast (Autumn 2009)

Caritas College, Dublin

Eight girls from our school went on the Belfast trip, four girls from 5th year and 4 girls from Transition Year. We met at Connolly Station at nine o clock where we were introduced to the boys from Lansdowne road. We got on the train with them and on the way students from Dundalk boarded it. There were sixteen students from the Republic of Ireland altogether. We completed a questionnaire while on the train about our personal interests and all we knew about the conflict in the north of Ireland. We were each assigned one question to gather everyone’s answers for to see what we knew.

When we arrived in Belfast we got taxis to our Lady of Mercy school and on the way we got a short tour of Belfast and we were given time to take pictures. We also stopped at the peace wall and signed our names.

When we arrived at Our Lady of Mercy we noticed that there was barber wire on their fences around the school for protection. We noticed the school was very big compared to ours and they served hot food in their canteen. We went to their school library where we met Catholic girls from Our Lady of Mercy School and the Little Flower Girls School and Protestant girls from the Belfast Model School. They made presentations about the city of Belfast and also about their own areas where they lived. They showed us pictures of both Catholic and Protestant areas and asked us to tell the difference. Most of the girls from Belfast could tell the difference but we could not. They explained to us how they wouldn’t go into a community different than their own wearing anything that showed whether they were catholic or protestant because they could be attacked.

We had a discussion then about the questionnaire we completed on the train. We discovered that most of the students from Dublin didn’t know a lot about the conflict but the students from Dundalk did because they were closer to it. We then left the school and got back into the taxis and drove to the Belfast Wheel. That was another quick way to see the city!

We thought that Belfast was a lot different to what we heard about it. It seems more peaceful than we had expected although something’s surprised us like the bars on the windows and the “peace walls”. The students seem to get along well with each other… they said they can’t forget the past but they would like to put it aside and move on to the future.

We hope that one day they can all learn from young people and learn to put it behind them and the barbed wire and bars and cages and walls can come down and they can live in peace.

We enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot from the trip and we would like to thank everyone that made it possible.
Aoife, Ciara, Doro, Emma, Jenifer, Katie, Niamh, Shauna

Marian College, Dublin

On Wednesday the 21st of October we went to Belfast to meet with other schools in the Schools Across Borders programme. We wanted to go to Belfast because some of us had never been and other s wanted to learn more about how people live across the border. Also to find out about the difference between life up there before and now after the troubles. On the morning we met at Connolly station and got a bus to the train which brought us to Belfast.

When we got there we met up with two other schools which were the Lady of Mercy and the Little Flower School. We went to the Falls road and the Shankill and we also saw the international peace wall, the peace wall really shows how many people have died for the sake of peace, it’s quite shocking. The murals both on the Catholic and the Protestant side are real pieces of art and are powerful.

At the Lady of Mercy School they gave us a presentation about their neighbourhoods. It was very interesting to hear about their stories about their pass cards and how their school had been attacked in the past. All around the school is barbed wire and when they want to meet their friends and just hang out they usually go to the city centre.

It was good to go and meet people who live in the conflict situation and learn more about how the violence affects the young people, kids get attacked, schools are fighting each other, gates between neighbourhoods are closed at night to keep the peace.

It was good to talk to other people in the project, people who suffer from constant abuse, it makes you realise how lucky we are. We would definitely go again.

We enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot from the trip and we would like to thank everyone that made it possible.
Andrew, Alex, Darragh, Sean and Shane

St. Mary’s College, Dundalk

We expected to see a society that was recovering from a social and political conflict. We expected to hear many points of view and that many of these points of view might be blunt and unapologetic, as the people voicing these views may have a negative history, whereas we can take a step back as we are only reading about them and have no personal experiences in the area.

We boarded the train to Belfast with other students from Dublin. We got to view the murals in both Catholic and Protestant areas, and also one of the many “peace walls”. We eventually met up with the corresponding students from across the border. We watched a presentation on the results of their present project survey work. They talked about their present day lives.

We gained new knowledge of life in Northern Ireland and how the divide still exists in some areas of life. We learned about the the fears still felt by people in the North and how many Catholics and Protestants would not befriend each other. We gained new friends, including four phone numbers, one from a very pretty girl!
Andrew, Conor, Emma, Ivanna, Laura, Rahma

Lycee Francais d’Irlande

We wanted to participate in this trip in order to share opinions and see some of Northern Ireland. We expected to better understand the conflict in Northern Ireland, in particular what the Northern Irish sudents felt about it.

We got the bus and train to Belfast. We visited parts of Belfast, seeing the murals, the garden memorials in the Falls and Shankill. We had lunch at the Belfast Girls Model Schol: it was lovely! We met with the students from the Girls Model, Little Flower and Our Lady of Mercy and learned a little more about their lives in Belfast. They were all friendly and funny. They had different opinoins but they were all friends with each other. The only “strange” thing was that most of them don’t really care about the politcial situation in their country. They seemed disenschanted with the politicians.

They were also curious to know about us. We were asked to sing a song…so we sang the Marseillaise!

After the school encounter, we went on the Belfast Wheel.

This trip was so worth it! We visited a city which had been in conflict years ago. We met young people who were doing the same Schools Across Borders project. We saw another city other than Dublin. We learned a lot more about the conflict especially through visiting the areas with murals and “peace” walls.
Manon, Julia and Victor

Mount Temple

We expected to learn about the issues people face in Belfast, what life is like for the young people there and what their opinions are on politcial topics.

We went to different sites: the murals, peace lines, memorials on both sides. The murals in the Shankill were very disturbing.

We met and talked to the students gathered at the Befast Girls Model School.

We never knew that Belfast was so divided. We learned from the the Belfast students that they don’t really know a lot about the political situation and don’t really want to know. They felt is was boring and that politicians didn’t communicate well, but were constantly arguing with each other.
Cisco, Emily and Lorna

Oatlands College, Dublin

I expected to learn about “their” story. I expected to find some common interests with the students there. I also expected to find that the students would be in touch with the current political affairs in Northern Ireland. I really wanted to do this trip because it is such a unique experience to meet young people who live in Belfast and learned how they feel. I also really wanted to see the murals of Belfast as they tell their own stories.

We went through the Falls, a Catholic Nationalist area and the Shankill, a Protestant Unionist area.

We looked at the murals and visited memorial gardens. We also saw the wall that separates both communities on Cooper Way. In the Shankill, we viewed murals dedicated to the UVF and UDA. Some of the murals were very intimidating.

We went to Belfast Girls Model Schoool where three groups from the Girls Model, Little Flower and Our Lady of Mercy who work together every Wednesday on the SAB project. We asked them questions about daily life in Belfast and got to know them a bit better.

We learned about the different paramilitary organisations. We gained more knowledge on the Troubles between the Nationalists and Loyalists. But also, and in the spirit of the project, we also learned that we had common interests with the girls in these schools.
Sean, Patrick, Kevin and Nicki

St. Louis High School, Dublin

On Wednesday 25 November we took the train up to Belfast for the day. When we arrived at 11:30, we got into a taxi at the train station and went around Belfast, looking at the murals and memorial gardens in both the Catholic and Protestant sides. We signed the Peace wall on Cooper Way – this wall was about 40 feet high, and it seperated the Catholic community from the Protestant community to stop fights breaking out between them.

We learned that there are 87 walls like this in Belfast and that every night at 9pm and on weekends they close the gates between The Falls and the Shankill area.

We visited the Belfast Boys Model School, which is a Protestant school there. We talked to them about the SAB project and took pictures of them with other school’s posters which were made for them.

We then visited an assembly of 3 girl’s schools – Belfast Girls Model School (Protestant), Our Lady of Mercy (Catholic) and Little Flower Girls School (Catholic). They inteviewed us about the conflicts in the two regions and read a poem about conflicts.

Both the boys and girls schools were very friendly and greeting towards us. We loved their accents and just listening to them speak. We were talking to them about their lives there and they mentioned a sectarianist riot at where the christmas lights were being lit at the City Hall.

When we were done, we took a trip to the Belfast Wheel and went around about 4 times before we got off. Then we got the train home at 4:10.

Both of us were very excited about visiting Belfast as we wanted to know more about the realities there and the people’s views and opinions on what happens around them in their own area.

It was strange seeing the Union Jack on lamposts because its not very far from Dublin and even though we are aware that Northern Ireland is officially part of the United Kingdom, it’s still strange that we change mobile networks and see a completely different flag around the streets without any notice of a border crossing at all.
Megan and Shauna

St. Kilian’s, Dublin

We had been excited about the trip to Belfast for some some time. We wished to see the sights, what the schools looked like, what life is like and also to compare their ideas on the conflict between Palestine and Israel. I expected to be a very interesting and successful day and perhaps we might make some friemds along the way.

All our expectaions were fulfilled and all my questions were answered. Not only did we get to learn more about Belfast, we also got to refresh my memory on the conflict between Palestine and Israel.

When we arrived at Belfast, we were driven around and show the “peace” walls filled with graffiti and murals of famous people in Northern Irish history. We found the wall on Cooper Way particularly interesting – how people could express themselves on it and have a voice in public view because some people are not listened to. It is ironic that people would write of peace on a wall that separates Catholics and Protestants.

We were offered a beautiful Christmas dinner at the Belfast Girls Model school. I was so appreciative after the long journey!

We were surprised by some of the answers to our questions. For example, we learned that July 12 riots stopped some of the studenst from leaving their houses! Life in Belfast can be so different to our lives…It is difficult o know that this is happening ony two hours from Dublin.

We learned about the sectarian name-calling that they experienced too. We appreciated all their hospitality.

We also had a wonderful time on the ferris wheel. It was a great end to the trip. It was so enjoyable and educational.
Jenny and Aifric

We were interested in visiting Belfast to hear more about people around the same age as ourselves expressing their views on the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, and learning about their everyday lives. We also anted to learn more about how they felt about relations between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland. We felt it would be a really good opportunity to understand the situation better. We also wanted to know how the violence affects their lives. Our expectations were more than fulfilled.

We visited housing estates which were either Protestant or Catholic. We were shocked to see the large gates separating the Springfield and Shankill areas. These gates are still shut at night.

We then visited the Belfast Girls Model School. The teacher and pupils there were very welcoming to us.

The fact that the students were our age made it easier to relate and understand them. It was shocking to see how almost casual they were when discussinng sectarian conflict. It seemed that they were used to it as this is what they had grown up with. They did n’t show any surprise about the fact that riots and other forms of violence occur. In adddition, most of the students thought the conflict was “stupid”.

We enjoyed the final part of the day on the Belfast Wheel. All in all, we learned so much from this trip.
David, Sarah and Adam