Are the Troubles Really Over?

By: Mercedes Becker

While traveling through Northern Ireland, I was deeply touched and even a bit disturbed by the lasting influence I could feel still lingering from the Troubles. Peace was finally established with the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006, but tension still exists in places like Belfast and Derry, where murals dedicated to the Nationalists and Loyalists cover the walls and “IRA” is graffitied on the street signs. I wrote a sestina-style poem describing my experiences in this part of the country. This is it:

Our gazes shift to the infamous walls
Block letters and portraited figures painted in blue and green and red
Some faces heated, enraged, some cold
They have picket signs, and weapons, and nothing in their hands
My eyes fixate on the guns
A symbol of violence in a time of peace

Politicians create pen-and-ink peace
But paper treaties aren’t castle walls
In 1998 the IRA still had their guns
And continued paint-splattering these walls red
The blood of innocents on their hands
Children suffering bombs in cold blood, their blood cold

I hide my hands in my pockets from the cold
Remember a conversation the day before about peace
I met a man in Belfast, we shook hands
And I asked him what it would take to tear down the walls
“Integrate the schools!” he shouted, his face red
But he wasn’t angry with me. He was angry with politicians, separation, and guns

In Derry, there is a painting of a broken gun
Placed next to a girl who long since turned cold
The girl wears green, the gun is red
One the symbol of tragedy, the other peace
How can Derry find peace with tragedy written on her walls?
When will the communities of Belfast be able to shake hands?

Funny, how when you unfurl your fists they turn back to hands
How handshakes are easier when you drop your guns
How people have always felt safer behind walls
But skin is warm and mortar cold
The people of Ulster have just tasted peace
But the city walls still turn their vision red

We’re but travelers here, trying to experience the things we’ve read
Trying to paint Ireland on the backs of our hands
Trying to understand a place that hasn’t always known peace
We’re told the Irish aren’t fond of guns
I’m apt to believe, but don’t tell me their spirits don’t turn cold
When they’refacing the murals on these walls

These days, the Republicans and the Loyalists have holstered their guns –
The Troubles have nearly passed and the streets are grey, not red

I walk these curving streets of Derry eager to place my cold hands in front of a pub fire,
But I don’t know if it will do much for my chilled spirit

There is sadness here in Ulster; even a traveler can sense the tension. May I offer my opinion on peace?
Paint over the walls.

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