Northern Ireland Student Blogger Study Abroad

My Look Inside the Northern Irish Peace Process Through the Lens of an Internship

Image shows Josey with the Northern Ireland hills in the background.

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Josey McClain is HECUA’s student blogger for Northern Ireland Fall 2021. Josey is a student at Lawrence University, majoring in government. Read on to learn about Josey’s internship.

This semester, I have been given the opportunity to intern at New Gate Arts & Cultural Centre. New Gate Arts & Cultural Center is a centralized place for the North West Cultural Partnership (NWCP) that acts as a co-ordinating body for six autonomous organizations: Londonderry Bands Forum, Bready and District Ulster Scots Association, Sollus Cultural Productions, Sollus School of Highland Dance, Bob Harte Memorial Trust, and Blue Eagle Productions. Since all these organizations have a track record of promoting art, culture, and heritage activities, they came together under one umbrella organization to create NWCP. Their mission is ‘to use Community Cultural Development to engage, develop, and transform the lives of individuals and communities.’ 

A goal of NWCP is to promote cross-community peace through the expression of art and the promotion of cultural understanding. Some of the methods NWCP uses to promote peace include creating community participation in art and cultural activities, advancing understanding of art and culture, and promoting citizenship and social inclusion by including those in disadvantaged areas. NWCP also advances community development by providing facilities and support to the community and other organizations that are involved in community arts activities. 

New Gate is located in the Fountain Estate on the West Bank of Londonderry/ Derry- a minority Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist (PUL) community. The building is positioned across from the city walls and close to the peace wall that divides the PUL community from the Bogside- a Catholic, Nationalist, Republican (CNR) community. This location is significant because it is near areas of debated (and to some, controversial) PUL culture and history. 

Image shows the buildings in Derry/Londonderry.The view from the New Gate city wall arch of the New Gate Arts & Cultural Centre. The fire pit is the most forefront plot of land. Photo taken by Josey McClain.

 

The topic of and discussion around bonfires is one of those debated cultural events because of what the bonfire symbolizes to the PUL and CNR communities. In PUL communities, bonfires are lit on July 11th to symbolize the victory of William of Orange (a Protestant) over King James II (a Catholic) at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. This battle is connected to what I mentioned in my last blog about the Siege of Derry. In CNR communities, bonfires, traditionally, are lit on August 15th to mark the Catholic feast of the Assumption, commemorating Mary’s death and assumption into heaven. As of recently, some bonfires have been lit on August 8th to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment that occurred during the beginning of the Troubles. New Gate happens to be located right behind one bonfire location. 

Before knowing where I was going to intern or what projects my supervisor had in store for me, I assumed I would be an intern much like the ones depicted on TV or in movies. I thought I would be just ‘the intern’ who would be in a rush all the time delivering coffee and tea to everyone in the office or being used as a pack mule. Surprisingly (and thankfully), I am neither of those! Everyone here at New Gate is so kind and treats me like any other employee or researcher. Here, I am not ‘the intern,’ I’m Josey (and sometimes Jody depending on the pronunciation). 

Instead of running to deliver tea, I am working on projects that will aid the organization and Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist (PUL) communities. Some of the projects I am working on with New Gate involve attending a conference in Ballymena, which will involve interviewing attendees of the Conference for their impressions and feedback on the panelists, the content discussed, and what they would hope to see in future conferences. Another project I’m tackling is editing and proofreading documents to analyze cultural and political change from 2005 to 2021. In addition to my analysis, I am also observing how culture is taught to children through school visits and by sitting in on dance practices. Observing how culture is taught to children in PUL communities is significant to me because of how some adults and scholars have spoken about PUL. I think it’s important for me to formulate my own understanding of the PUL community by debunking the many assumptions I have heard from others in and outside the community. 

When it comes to my internship and activities I have not come across anything too challenging yet other than coming up with correct and appropriate questions to ask. The challenge I find with asking questions is that I do not want to ask something that may be inappropriate or something that I could easily look up on my own. Asking questions will always be hard for me, but I know that by practicing at New Gate I will gradually become better at asking because of the many opportunities I have to make mistakes and learn. I am also nervous about the level of feedback I provide to NWCP because I do not intend to cause offense to anyone. My purpose here isn’t to degrade their approach to the peace process but to help in any way I can. 

Overall, I am grateful to be interning at New Gate Arts & Culture Centre because of how this organization has and will continue to shape my perceptions and understanding of the importance of culture to individuals and communities. Already, my assumptions of the organization have been debunked because of the staff and reports I have read on the NWCP and the PUL community. I have now found myself questioning why I had these assumptions and how others had influenced me so significantly. I am grateful for the opportunity this organization has given me to further my understanding of minority inter-community needs and fears and the many assumptions that have shaped the way people look at other communities. I look forward to the many projects I will be lucky enough to work on! 

 

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