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REFLECTING ON NORTHERN IRELAND EXPERIENCES

By Kristiaan Magnus

Kristiaan Magnus

Do not expect a complete survey on this three-week trip in Ulster. My aim is just to give you some hints that I recall looking in the 3 photo-albums I made from this event, and that anyone is welcome to look in!

1. ARMAGH

Armagh was our first city and site, amazingly completely unknown to us until recently, was waiting to be discovered by us, the Belgians. My first impression after walking around was that there is plenty of room for lots of tourists to visit, many interesting spots and history to discover, however, we didn't see much of a crowd in the early September days of our visit.

Also while walking around, we remarked that the remains (like completely wired former police stations) of ancient conflicts between Catholics and protestants, which the inhabitants of Ireland call The Troubles, are similar to what we ourselves had in the 16th century and that we call the Religious War: the darkest century in our history, which had consequences until nowadays, being responsible for the split of the Netherlands in North and South.

As for the visiting program: it was well loaded so no time to loose! Cathedrals to be visited, with George Minne as organist as a surprise and the Libraries visited, which was the main aim of this trip:

(being fond of maps, spotted this one at Armagh Public Library)

These libraries held amazingly interesting (hi)stories, especially when we are asked to participate actively in sorting out cardinal Thomas O Fiach's archive boxes into different topics, as they were belonging to his time as priest in the bloc H for political prisoners: This was our first concentrated look at these troubled times.

Starting from Armagh we visited very interesting remains of ancient inhabitation and fortifications, also pre-Viking times that were most revealing. Another topic of interest to me in the brochures on Irish history and the plantation times, that were offered to us together with a group of transcription texts: I did do this transcribing job. Maybe the smallest surprise was here the mini-art exhibition through the city, called the Public Art Trail, where Rudi and I were scouting the minuscule statues hidden on a balcony, underneath the stairs of a house or even on a window ledge at our hotel:

This week ended with the presentation of my lecture on Spanish influences on culture in Flanders today, which is to be found on the website at Kristiaan's Presentation

2. DERRY

The name of this city is controversial already: Protestants would call it Londonderry, but wanting to stand with the underdog, I go for Derry. Another flash back in times of plantation (we called it colonization by the English) and yet, we were proudly standing on the Peace Bridge, wanting to look forward. The Protestant walled city and the Catholic Bogside side by side impressed us mostly.

Although not in the program we did visit the Free Derry museum with comments by one of the women that stood there on Bloody Sunday. It makes you very quiet. Most interesting visit was to the Tower museum, where we saw a canon with the arms of (our own and known) Spanish king Philips II, fished up from the armada ship, La Trinidad Valencera that sunk off the shore of Derry in 1588.

Not the local cathedrals, but the small Saint Augustin church caught our attention for its art nouveau lettering at the entrance:

Also amazing was the co-operation between Donegal county archives in the Irish Republic and the Northern Ireland Cultural Department of which we attended a meeting. The more collaboration, the better chances for the future.

I mention also the flamboyant museum of Prehen House where we had a superb tour and also the visit in the former plantation site called Cavanacor House, where our friend Ron is living and painting.

Finally we had the experience of walking around in Irish emigration times in the Ulster American Folk Park:

3. BELFAST

The third week in our tour of Northern Ireland brought us to the largest city (we moved from small to bigger and now biggest). Lots of interesting places for us! The first spot to be discovered (on the free day that is) was the Lisburn Linen Museum, where Claire and I could appreciate the history of the now historic textile industry because of its connection with the Flemish flax industry.

It was the work of William III to have sent over a certain Cromelin from Picardy that started a linen weavery in Lisburn. We even found out that Damast is the name of a weaving family in Kortrijk, Flanders!

Most confrontational with the troubling times now decades ago is the collection at Linen Hall Library, where we were able to have a look into "the hell" or embargoed division, with packages labelled as "not to be opened before 20 years, 50 years, or even not to be opened for ever"

Of course the Titanic museum was the empathetic closure of our trip, a surely most worthwhile experience!

After weeks living so close together, friendship between this bunch of Belgians will last much longer than before. Also our Irish friends are on our visiting list on the next flight over. They are permanently welcome in mainland Europe!

Thank you, united Europe!

Kristiaan Magnus
volunteering both at
City Archives Leuven
and Park Abbey Leuven

September 2013