Documenting neighborhoods that are surrounded by walls in a last ditch effort to protect its citizens from constant siege.
My mission is to embark on a photojournalism project to document the peace walls of Northern Ireland, their impact on the residents, and their outlook on the existence of the walls. Simultaneously I will position myself within a safe distance of these interfaces, specifically on the 12th of July, a notorious period of conflict.
For those who have never been, I’m sure you can close your eyes and imagine what Ireland looks and feels like. One might picture rolling, green, fields beneath a cloudy sky, a drizzle, and stone walls holding back flocks of sheep. Maybe you imagine a warm turf fire glowing, a tall heady pint of black stout atop a bar filled with friendly chatter. Then your mind wanders to riot police, the scream of hatred, religious slurs and pain. Then there is the smashing of glass, followed by the woof of flame and penetrating heat. “Wait a minute,” you must be thinking, “are we talking about the same place?”. Let your memory refresh and you may recall a blurb on the news, of tension in Northern Ireland. Probably never more than a 30 second spot, explaining there had been some rioting or strife. Maybe not. Maybe you haven’t heard a word about it. Don’t worry, this isn’t your fault. Northern Ireland has fallen off the radar and draws very little media attention; however the situation there is still a tense one. There are still lasting sores from the “troubles” that haven’t healed. Although modern Northern Ireland is nothing like the war zone of the 70’s and 80’s, the yearly death toll as recent as a 2006 can claim at least 5 deaths. This is a far cry from the staggering 479 of 1972 but no less important. The face of Belfast and surrounding towns has changed. Under constant threat of siege, ‘Peace Lines’ have risen to divide neighborhoods of conflicting ideologies. The first few of such lines rose out of necessity, they claim, in 1969. Although they were intended to be temporary, 19 ‘Peace Walls’ existed by 1989. The irony lying in that, if there were peace, the walls would not be necessary. In reality they should be called conflict walls. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, since then Northern Ireland has constructed roughly 22 additional Peace Walls, One for every year till 2011. It is important to make the distinction that the NI Peace Walls do allow movement between communities, but can be closed at night or during times of heightened tension. These lines are open at Interfaces, where segregated communities meet. These are often flash-points for violence and tension during the Marching Season. The Marching Season is the part of the year when parades of different organizations throughout the North, march routes that take them through segregated communities and through these interface areas. Some argue the routes are historic and that they are exercising their right to march public streets. On the other side of the coin, the routes are deemed to be racist/sectarian and antagonistic. Regardless, these marches create havoc, unrest, and frequently erupt into riots which often require police escorts and riot police.
My goals are firstly, to bring attention to the conflict.
Secondly, to encourage others, both in Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, and abroad, to contribute to the peace process as best they can.
Third, to document a people under siege in their daily life.
Lastly, to break the generalization that “they have been fighting over religion hundreds of years, it will never change”.
The majority of Northern Ireland wants to live in peace, and can live beside their Protestant/Catholic/Nationalist/Unionist brothers and sisters violence-free. Despite your views, it’s time to listen. Listen to a community that is pleading for a lasting and sustainable peace.
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