Saturday, April 28, 2012

Alexandra Park Gate Open

Alexandra Park is tucked in the heart of North Belfast between the nationalist New Lodge community and unionist Tiger's Bay community. The interface between the communities physically manifested itself in a Peace Wall after "peace" was found in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement.

Shortly after my arrival in Belfast in September, a gate at the center of the park that had been closed for years was opened during certain hours of the day, marking the end to the last public park divided in Europe. However, during my subsequent visits to the area I hadn't experienced the park opened because the gate closes at 3pm on weekdays and is not open over the weekends.

Just a few weeks ago I finally passed through the park when it was open in the early afternoon. There were very few people using the park at that time and, unfortunately, the people we did see using the space turned around when they came to the wall. Essentially, each group continued to use the area of the park that they felt most comfortable with. Even though the gate is open, the peace wall still completely bisects the park and clearly defines whose space you are in. Until the opening is more permanent and people can regularly move throughout the park this will probably remain. However, strengthened mutual trust and diminished (perceived or real) fear in the surrounding residents must first be achieved.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gaelic Athletic Association

A week ago I ventured to Casement Park in southwest Belfast to watch two of the original Gaelic sports: Hurling and Gaelic Football. Both of the games are played on the same field with the same scoring, but while Football combines hand and foot with a soccer sized ball, hurling includes a field hockey size ash-wood stick and a baseball-size ball. Football is a bruising game full of hits and rugby tackles (without pads), and Hurling is the fastest ball sport on grass.

Gaelic Football:


Yet again, I was very impressed with the sportsmanship involved in the activity. The athletes and the coaches are unpaid/volunteer athletes that play for local club and county and the fans travel from around the country to support their local athletes. This is how sports should be supported.