Cultural Politics on Tour in Northern Ireland

Reflecting the amazing diversity of issues and applications that can be addressed through the study of anthropology, the second year study trip within the module ‘Cultural Politics on Tour’, took to the road again this autumn in Northern Ireland.

During the delivery of the module in the lecture rooms at Roehampton, students are introduced to theories regarding cultural production, consumption, domination and resistance. On the field course, these themes and the module reading were brought to life. As a core teaching and learning experience, the travel, accommodation and entrance fees are all paid for by the Department.

Here is a photo diary from student Elena Maria Edokpolor Pernia showcasing the trip:

DAY 1

On the first day we travelled all the way to Londonderry/Derry from Belfast airport. This gave us the chance to look at the different urban environment that Belfast has compared to London. When we arrived at Londonderry/Derry we got the chance to go into a local pub before starting the route around the nearby ‘tourist’ points.

We started our tour by going to Butcher Gate, which was one of the original gates of the walls built in 1617. It was originally called the ‘Nugate’ or King’s gate, but it was later renamed Butcher Gate after the nearby meat market.

Students at Butcher Gate

After that we made our way to The Platform – literally a platform that projects out from the line of the Walls – which was designed to give a better field of fire along the Walls as well as outwards. Along the trail we were able to collect different information from set points along the walls, which really helped us to understand the history and events that shaped the place.

Later on, we went down the streets in order to look at the murals and to some extent appreciate the level of conflict portrayed in the murals. We were also able to identify different types of murals: they didn’t always involve the Troubles. There were some that were related to other matters. Yet they all remained politically orientated.

While on our way to the Giant’s Causeway we made a stop at a nearby beach to take a short break. Incredibly enough there was no one at the beach. Our lecturer raised the point that maybe the cultural heritage sites of Northern Ireland were occupying other tourists’ wish lists and the natural sites were left off as a result.

Aintrim beach

After that, we made our way to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre where we were able to appreciate the rocks and landscape that make it one of the key heritage sites in Northern Ireland.

Film tourism is new to Northern Ireland. On the way back to Belfast we had the opportunity to go to another tourist attraction: the trees seen in a scene of Game of Thrones. This allowed us to compare different sets of tourist sites, as well as the public’s reactions to them.

DAY 2

During our second day in Northern Ireland we did a tour in Belfast with DC Tours. This gave us an opportunity to evaluate the conflict via the analysis of different streets, murals and stories that were presented by our tour guide.

After walking through some cold streets we had a break. I took this chance to look around and luckily there was a market nearby, so I decided to go to check out what they were selling and whether it would be different from the markets in London. I was very surprised by the things they were selling at the market because it was largely politically orientated. This made me realise how deep the conflict had been in the past for the market to be selling books mainly about politics or religion, and among other stores, badges of different past political parties and of armies. This, nevertheless, was very interesting – if sad – to witness.

After that, we made our way to the Titanic Museum, where we were able to look at how the Titanic was built. The university tour included access to the museum as well as entry to the SS Nomadic. There were different exhibitions within the museum. They had videos of how people constructed the Titanic, as well as videos and images of how the Titanic sank, and the items that were salvaged from the ship. It also included voices of individuals right before the Titanic sunk. Overall I found the experience a bit morbid, but it was very educational; dark tourism lite maybe?

DAY 3

On the third day we went on a different tour (The Falls Tour). We were able to look at a variety of focal conflict points throughout this tour; from bombed-out areas to murals and memorial sites of those who died during the Troubles. We were able to compare two contrasting sides on the Troubles because, after we finished the tour, we had the chance to walk down Shankill Road, which is in the Loyalist side of the city. We were also able to compare the tours and guides from the DC Tours from the previous day and the Falls Tour guide. Should a guide be neutral or should they personalize their experiences for the tourist? Are they commoditising their pains? These were some of the course questions we were examining on the streets of Belfast.

Shankill Road (Protestant area)

And then it was time to return to London

Flight-home

Our university lecturer Dr Jonathan Skinner who leads the tour has also researched and written further on the subject of murals, tourism, politics and identity. He co-edited the book, Murals and Tourism: Heritage Politics and Identity.

And find out more about our anthropology programme or follow Anthroehampton, the Roehampton Anthropology Blog.

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