The Troubles – BUCSIS Belfast Trip

30 November 2023

No one doubts that the classroom is core to a student’s learning, but, as Marvin Lee Minsky once said: “You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.”

To offer students a chance to learn something another way, the Buckingham Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS) organised a student enrichment trip to Belfast. The purpose was to offer an opportunity for students to secure better understanding and insight into the period commonly known as ‘The Troubles.’ It was once suggested that, if someone explained all the issues associated with ‘The Troubles” and you understood it, then you were clearly not listening! The challenge was: how can you pack into three days the sights, sounds, stories, and cultural insights required to get a better understanding? Well, we gave it a try.

Mural of Bobby Sands MP Mural in Belfast

The first day witnessed visits to the Crumlin Road Gaol, a Victorian prison that once held many of the terrorist prisoners who gained notoriety during the period. The prison itself was not free from the violence, after being targeted in a bomb attack in 1991. On ’release’ from the prison, the students undertook an escorted tour by a former Ulster Volunteer Force prisoner who had served 12 years for shooting Catholics. His tour took in the Loyalist Shankill Road. The tour group was eventually handed over to a former Republican prisoner who had served 6 years for petrol bombings. He escorted the students around the Republican Falls Road, pointing out key events that occurred, the murals and the apparent support for the Palestinian cause – a contrast with the widespread display of Israeli flags on the Loyalist side of the Peace Wall. There is something strangely impressive, and on occasions disturbing, with the murals that capture the divided communities’ diverse perspectives.

Clonard Remembers On the second day, to secure further insights, students were also heard from speakers from military intelligence, investigators and senior officers from the former Royal Ulster Constabulary . The visit to the RUC George Cross Memorial Garden, hosted by former RUC officers, offered a sobering and moving experience, as students saw at first hand the names of those injured and killed during the conflict in the line of duty.

The third day involved a further tour of terrorist attack locations that became infamous during the news broadcast of the time and then finally a visit to the new Unionist Heritage Centre (well worth a visit on any similar itinerary). As one student commented, the trip provided an invaluable and extremely memorable experience which lifted the Troubles from the text book to a much more visceral understanding of a dark time in our nations recent history.