By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Learning from history
Six GSU students spend Spring Break repairing murals with the Bogside Artists in Northern Ireland
Tom Kelly of the Bogside Artists, along with Georgia Southern students (from left to right) Kelsey Ryan, Rachel Rozier, Beth Cooper, Rachel Anderson, Ava Conger and Ashlin Reid in front of a Bogside Artists' mural in Derry, Northern Ireland. - photo by Special
    (Note: This is the first in a two-part Spring Break special. See next Sunday’s Lifestyles for a story about GSU students who spent their break working in an orphanage in Honduras.)

      The words “spring break” usually bring to mind beaches and parties, but to a group of Georgia Southern University honors program students, it meant volunteering, learning and visiting a small village in Ireland.
    Dr. Steve Engel, director of  the  University Honors Program, and assistant director Bob Frigo took a group of students to Northern Ireland March 14-21 to work with the Bogside Artists, “a group dedicated to using their murals to advance the peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland,” Frigo said.
    Students helped paint panels used to beautify the area and call attention to issues the region has had in the past, as well as help unite Catholic and Protestant children in the community.
    The trip was “an alternative spring break where students could perform meaningful service, and experience cultural differences,” Engel said. “It fits in with what we’re doing in the honors program.”
    Such a trip is much more “enriching and meaningful” and helps students develop leadership and service skills, he said.
    Frigo likened the strife between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland to racial issues in the United States, and said the Bogside Artists have been using arts to help bridge the divide. Art ideas from local children to the area were incorporated into the project.
    Rachel Anderson, a 21-year-old GSU junior majoring in anthropology, was impressed with the mural’s meanings and how they portrayed life in the town of Limavady, where they stayed.
    “I didn’t realize how personal their murals were,” she said. One of the artists showed her the People’s Gallery, where some of the artwork on display depicted village life, and said “he pointed out people in the mural” he knew.
    The People’s Gallery is a series of murals in Bogside located near where the Bloody Sunday massacre occurred, she said.
    Ashlin Reid, 18, a GSU freshman from Statesboro, also enjoyed the trip.
    “I always wanted to go to that part of the world,” she said. But, “Despite the progress of the peace process, I was disturbed to see that there are still walls, called peace lines, separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.  There seems to be much work to be done before  the issues in Northern Ireland are completely resolved.”  
    Aside from working with the Bogside Artists, the students enjoyed touring the countryside, visiting historic places and meeting Northern Irish residents.
     “Chatting with locals about politics revolved around the economic crisis and the role of the United States in the current situation,” said Ava Conger, a GSU student from Bainbridge. “Discussions such as these are giving me a better perspective on the ways  in which America affects attitudes around the world.”
    Reid was impressed with the beauty of Northern Ireland.
    “It had green rolling hills, and the sheep — it was like a post card. When we got out into the country, it was so nice.”
    “You learn a lot about a region,” Anderson said. “It was very rewarding, and you get to do something to give back. It’s a unique opportunity.”
    Seeing how the murals were incorporated into the town’s landscape, on the sides of several buildings, drove home how important murals and art are “part of  a long-standing tradition” in Northern Ireland, she said.
    Frigo said students were able to enjoy “ ... a lunch of traditional Irish dishes at a historic  Victorian-era pub owned by the National Trust ... toured the Falls and Shankill Roads”  and visited the Bobby Sands mural.
    “This famous work is painted on the side of the Sinn Fein office,” he said.”  Sands was a Republican hunger striker who died in 1981 and whose  death played a major role in launching the Catholic mural tradition in Ulster.”
    Students also visited a “peace line consisting of concrete, steel and barbed wire  (that) divides the  Falls from the Protestant Shankill Road” and  were able to “ ...  leave their own messages of peace on the dividing wall, adding to the thousands of notes left by local residents  and international visitors. 
    The group also toured Ireland’s north coast and visited the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which connects the mainland to a small island just off the shore, built over 250 years ago by ambitious fishermen seeking to gain an edge on the salmon run, Frigo said.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter