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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

HSSLA OELP: Reflections upon the British Isles

By Yee Ting Wei (23J08)

Entering Belfast with its myriad murals adorning the walls, I was already surprised and realised that it was completely different from the Singapore that I was used to. Singapore has often been praised for its religious harmony and diversity. However, it was only through this visit that I truly appreciated the importance and value of religious harmony. 

HSSLA leaves its mark on the Belfast murals (We’re pointing to a HSSLA sticker!)

Unbeknownst to me, Northern Ireland would soon capture not only my gaze but my soul!

On a bus ride in Northern Ireland

The most striking observation was the clear segregation between Loyalists and Republicans. Travelling throughout Northern Ireland, the walls of cities and towns bore witness to a myriad of political murals, stark reminders of the deep scars that sectarianism can leave. 

Murals along Divis Street on the “International Wall” (or the “Solidarity Wall”) which marks the entry into republican West Belfast

British and Irish flags hung by road posts highlighting different loyalties, while political murals scorn the opposing bloc.

Shops along Shankill Road, a loyalist area, flying the Union Jack

Research has revealed pervasive segregation — over 90 percent of children are educated in schools that are largely segregated along religious lines (either Catholic or Protestant), and 94 percent of Belfast’s public housing is segregated, with certain areas being Republican and others Loyalist. 

Why was there such entrenched resentment and division? The answer emerged after we visited the Museum of Free Derry, where we learned about Northern Ireland’s tumultuous history. 

Posters at the Museum of Free Derry

The Troubles, a violent sectarian conflict from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, pitted Catholic Republicans who identify as Irish, desiring union with the independent Republic of Ireland against Protestant Loyalists staunchly advocating allegiance to the UK. 

The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 marked the official end of the Troubles, yet sectarian conflicts persist. Sectarianism has been so deeply embedded in Northern Ireland’s society that division has become part of how people describe themselves in identity. 

While in Northern Ireland, it felt as though the Northern Irish were not driven by a genuine desire for reconciliation, but were instead treading a fine line of tolerance to avoid revisiting their traumatic past.

However, despite the tensions and divide, Northern Ireland is still remarkably beautiful. Its breathtaking landscape has inspired countless artists and acted as cinematic backdrops for series such as Game of Thrones. 

During our visit, we explored iconic sites such as the Giant's Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Dark Hedges. 

At Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

The Dark Hedges, one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones

Sunset at the airport

Moreover, land in Ireland transcends mere scenery. It becomes an expression of self, ownership, past and future. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Seamus Heaney, often delved into the significance of land in his poems, such as Digging and Bogland.

Enjoying life and writing poems in Dublin, Ireland

The Les Misérables performance at the Sondheim Theatre was an amazing experience and introduction to theatre for me! Set against the backdrop of the June Rebellion in 1832, the production surpassed my expectations, immersing me in its story of redemption, injustice, compassion and hope.

Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre in London (Fun fact: We saw Singaporean theatre actress, Nathania Ong, perform as Éponine!)

In the play, Valjean who was initially a known criminal undergoes a remarkable redemption, eventually representing the best aspects of humanity. Although only a few characters found happiness, Les Misérables is ultimately hopeful. Amidst injustice and adversity, the characters cling to hope, compelling them to fight for a better future. The iconic 'Do You Hear the People Sing' sent chills down my spine. Les Misérables was a fantastic play that I would recommend to anyone!

Overall, the UK trip was an unforgettable learning experience that broadened my perspective and allowed me to have a deeper understanding of diverse cultures and histories.

Natural History Museum, London

Dublinia Viking Museum in Dublin, Ireland

Furthermore, the UK and Ireland trip has given me a newfound appreciation for the religious harmony in Singapore, and the arduous efforts required to achieve this harmony. 

There were plenty of memorable experiences not mentioned, such as picking my way through Giant's Causeway and marvelling at the rugged coastline of Northern Ireland, but the ones described here will always be treasured by me. 

The rugged coastline of Northern Ireland

Group photo at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

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