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From the time that I was in high school in New Orleans, I knew I wanted to travel. Particularly, I wanted to go to Ireland, the country my family was so connected to, with its Catholic roots, ability to drink, and lust for good company. After graduating, I was given an opportunity to travel this magical little island, and I fell in love. A few years later, I decided that I was going to move to the Emerald Isle, and I began making plans. I happened to show up at a party, which my future love had planned with his American family. He was in the States with a program entitled The Ulster Project, aiming to end the prejudices caused by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. They find American families to house teenagers coming from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, still very much segregated within the towns in Northern Ireland.
A year later, I quit my job as an Event Planner, and set across the world to spend time with my boyfriend and his family. After having settled in, I noticed significant tell-tale signs of the hatred between the Protestant and Catholic communities; this was embedded in the families and friends personally touched by paramilitary and provisional groups from either side. Admittedly, I was intrigued by the murals on the walls of Belfast and the secrecy of these organizations, and I was taken to the places you wouldn't see from a normal tour. After all, I was staying in the most bombed town in Northern Ireland. As I listened and interacted with friends on both sides, I was told horror stories of people jumping out of moving cars to escape the Irish Republican Army(IRA) as they had sprayed down the car with AK-47's. I was told of Protestant paramilitaries shooting people in the knees for petty crimes, and I realized the anguish the small area of Northern Ireland had truly endured. The worst part, I think, is that there has never been closure for the country, with people still terrorized by organizations claiming to want the best for people. Last year, as a Protestant group was preparing for their annual parade, the city planners had set up the route to extend through a Catholic section of Belfast, spiking rage throughout the community. This unleashed children and teens to throw Molotov's and rocks at the police and Protestant groups marching past. As someone who grew up on the Bible Belt, it was extremely hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that two extremely similar religious groups had harbored so much hatred for each other. They are both Christian, both believing in loving thy neighbor, and yet, so many lives of innocent people had been taken at the hand of their literal neighbors. These people were absolutely terrified of striking business with the wrong side or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One thing that I was taught, however, is that although these groups stem from their religious differences, it goes way beyond that. It stems back to when the English had taken over Ireland and the disagreement on whether or not Ireland should be united once again or continue under British rule. This has trickled down through generations, and most young people now have no idea why they even hate the other side.
However, like many unsettling issues that the Millennial generation finds at our feet, the tides are changing with us. Exposing teenagers to the opposing perspective and a better understanding of the consequences of not integrating is integral to change. There are still very violent areas in Northern Ireland, however, the upcoming generation has already made such advancements in the community. Many young people are forgetting the religious boundaries laid before them by their parents and grandparents and simply enjoying the breathtaking beauty of their country and it's fantastic people.