Dublin and Belfast: Same Island, Different Outlooks

Tales of giants, tall stouts, a good bit of rain, and conflicts of old…

For my second and final study tour, I headed to Dublin, Ireland and Belfast, Northern Ireland with my Public Health Policy in Practice class!

We first discovered Dublin’s medical history with a tour of the Royal College of Physicians, which was actually chartered by the same royals as those who began my university, William and Mary. It was touching to realize just how far their reach extended, how many aspects of life they impacted.

My class in the library at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin.

It’s also interesting to note that public health and medicine, for most of history, were not separate disciplines. Physicians were public health personnel. It was therefore enlightening the fellowship process that Irish doctors underwent to become part of the Royal College of Physicians.

In our free time, we explored the greater Dublin area, mostly by foot. As you can see, there is definitely a lively pub culture.

We then drove up to Belfast for the remainder of our tour. As you may or may not know, Northern Ireland is a place of concern when it comes to finally nailing down Brexit policy, as it is part of the UK, unlike the Republic of Ireland. Our class drove through the porous border between the two countries without so much as a passport check. But, if a specific version of Brexit is passed, this border will tighten immensely, affecting not only travel but the local economies.

Choosing whether or not the border will remain open is essential to the health of both countries. Northern Ireland, I’m told, has a classically weak economy and, should it be further cut off, would experience even more hardship than it does now. In fact, part of our study tour was to take a walking tour of West Belfast with two political prisoners from the Troubles or Conflict.

The Troubles spanned from the early 1970s and could be seen to still continue today, though in a less violent form. It entailed the clash of two major groups in Irish society over the status of Northern Ireland: the British-supporting loyalists, and the Republican nationalists: who pushed for NI to exit the UK.

These two ex-convicts (one from the IRA, the other from the loyalist/unionist party) illuminated the realities of living in a violent, fearful community.

If you look carefully, you can see the bullet grazes across the iron gates outside this school in Belfast. 

While gripping from an interpersonal standpoint, the Troubles and the traumas that it inflicted also matter from the view of public health. In our visit to the Northern Ireland National Health Service branch, we discussed how these impact both physical and mental health and how to provide care to a traumatized community.  Northern Irish people experience higher levels of mental illness than the rest of the UK (20-25% more). 

But, there’s still a lot of hope in the community about living in peace in the future. Along one of the partitions that line West Belfast, I saw countless graffiti that supported longer opening times of gates:


For a lighter day, we also visited Bushmill’s, a local whiskey producer, and Giant’s Causeway, a truly unique geological phenomenon.

All in all, it was a fabulous trip that I probably would never have taken by myself. Part of the reason I chose to study abroad with DIS was its unique concept of the Study Tour, and it has not disappointed. I feel like I have had ample opportunities to apply my classroom learning to the real problems that exist in Europe today.

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