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Derry, Northern Ireland

Program Description

“Building Bridges in Ireland” is an intensive interdisciplinary examination of Irish culture. For four weeks you will live in Derry studying Irish history, literature and music, as well as the environment. Through your exploration of the city, where pivotal confrontations known as The Troubles took place, you will learn about the divisions between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, and how understanding the background of these divisions has served to break down the wall of ignorance and prejudice, in turn leading to the building of bridges of understanding and fostering a new era of concord and optimism. Lectures by historians, literary experts, writers, and musicians as well as visits to historic sites, museums, and local happenings are an integral part of the program. Through the “Walking and Talking” component of the course, you will also take six day-long hikes through the coastal peninsulas of Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, the Glenveagh National Park, and the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland.

In addition to the lectures and readings, the city of Derry provides ample opportunity to learn about the history. With its intact walls going back to the seventeenth century, it’s called the “Maiden City” since its walls were never breached. Here in October 1968 a civil rights march took place and was brutally suppressed thus leading to 30 years of The Troubles, or what some simply called war.  With the help of President Clinton, the peace process has taken hold and now a Peace Bridge has just been opened linking two formerly warring communities across the River Foyle that flows through the city.  Some of the main players in The Troubles now use their experience of building peace to help out in other conflict zones.

Through the six day-long hikes, you will explore the highlands and headlands of Donegal and Antrim—from Slieve League, the highest sea-cliffs in Europe, to the Giant’s Causeway, one of the world’s most intriguing natural wonders. You will discover that the Appalachian Trail actually crosses the Atlantic and continues through Donegal to Scotland. A geologist will explain why this is happening. This component of the course is a natural way of learning not only about nature and flora and fauna—it also provides time to consider the lectures you’ve listened to, the literature you’ve read and the songs you’ve heard—and perhaps sung. Music is everywhere in Ireland—it is said that one can study history through Irish songs. The hikes are between five and ten miles in length and take about five to six hours. You will also be exposed to Gaelic culture and language — you will spend a day in a Gaelic cultural center, where language, music and dancing are taught.