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.


The Land of Saints and Scholars

By: Mercedes Becker

Ireland is often referred to lovingly as “the land of saints and scholars,” a name I’ve come to learn fits the country very well. Ireland has a long history of religious and scholarly influences and after traveling there I’d say these themes remain still. Although there are many religious figures I could and probably should talk about, for this post I’d like to focus on one of my favorite Irish scholars, national poet William Butler Yeats.

I listened to a recording of Yeats reading one of his poems in the Irish National Library in Dublin and was so inspired I decided to look up more of his work. I found the poem titled, “The Heart of the Woman,” a sweet, thoughtful poem written from the perspective of a young woman and wrote a responding poem mimicking Yeats’ style from the perspective of the man. Here are the two poems:

The Heart of the Woman
W.B. Yeats

O what to me the little room
That was brimmed up with prayer and rest;
He bade me out into the gloom,
And my breast lies upon his breast.

O what to me my mother’s care
The house where I was safe and warm;
The shadowy blossom of my hair
Will hide us from the bitter storm.

O hiding hair and dewy eyes,
I am no more with life and death,
My heart upon his warm heart lies,
My breath is mixed into his breath.

The Heart of the Man
Mercedes Becker

O what to me the midnight chimes
Twisting the knob to her bedroom door;
Hands clasped in mine, from bed she climbs,
Bedclothes dragged to heaps upon the floor.

O what to me her father’s estate
For now she’s safe within my care;
A Dublin drizzle deems us immaculate,
I bury my face within her hair.

O buried faces and blushing cheeks,
I am young as Celtic gold,
If only this night were days and weeks,
Our breath, two mists, mixing in the cold.

Research Abroad: Interviews with Homelessness and Mental Health Professionals in Ireland

By: Mercedes Becker

Hello Everyone!

It feels as if it was just yesterday that I was cruising the Irish countryside, exploring castle ruins and monasteries, eating pub “toasties” (toasted sandwiches), and listening to my fabulous tour guide Tom Quinn explain the ins and outs of Irish history. I’ve been back in the states for a few weeks now, but Ireland is still very much on my mind. In fact, just this morning I had to listen to some Johnny Cash because I missed the emerald isle so much (I heard Johnny Cash covers in three different pubs while on my trip. He seems to be very popular over there). My out-of-the-classroom experience was the trip of a lifetime; I feel so lucky to have been able to go.

I realize it may not be obvious how my trip to Ireland fits into my global theme and question, but I hope to explain here how the two tied together. I hope to discover the impact of the global phenomenon of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill on homelessness throughout the world. Beginning in the 1950’s mental patients in the US and many parts of Europe were released from hospitals to be cared for in the community, but as previous research in the US suggests, many of these patients were returned to lives on the streets instead. My questions are: did this effect occur in other places? How did different countries approach this policy change? What were the effects? How do countries address mental illness and homelessness now?

Ireland turns out to be a perfect place to start answering some of these questions. Throughout Ireland, deinstitutionalization is still occurring, as patients are being moved out of many of the outdated mental hospitals. In conjunction with this, the country is seeing an overall cut to mental health care funding for fiscal year 2014. I can foresee these two events being harmful to the community mental health care system, and potentially influencing homelessness in Ireland, but I thought conducting some interviews with professionals might give me more insight. While abroad I interviewed Louise Lennon, director of the Dublin branch of the  Simon Community which runs the homeless shelters in Ireland, and Orla Barry, CEO of Mental Health Ireland. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to talk with them, and surprised by some of the things they had to say.

I won’t copy my whole interviews here (I’ll be using the information for my GLI capstone senior year) but I will share some of the highlights.

1. According to Louise, 45% of people at the Simon Community shelter have a diagnosable mental illness.

2. Deinstitutionalization does not tend to contribute significantly to homelessness in Ireland, because mental hospitals may not release patients without a permanent address, although some people do fall through the cracks.

3. Only certain homeless shelters in Ireland collaborate with the mental hospitals.

4. Orla pointed out people with dual diagnoses (suffering from substance abuse and mental illness) are some of the most difficult people to provide services for and also are at greater risk for being homeless.

I talked about these things with Louise and Orla, and so much more. I’m really excited about where this information is going to take my research, and for my capstone project in general. The Irish perspective on this topic is so different from that of the US, which means I have a lot to contrast and compare, which can only mean good things for my project senior year.