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Students study conflict resolution in Northern Ireland

Nearly 20 years ago the Provisional Irish Republican Army signed a ceasefire agreement, turning the tide in a history marked with conflict and violence. Since then, Northern Ireland has made great strides in establishing peace and bringing reconciliation in the divided island of Ireland. This summer, 11 University of St. Thomas students crossed the Atlantic to study firsthand how Northern Ireland is working to implement change.

Led by Lori Gallagher, J.D., director of the William J. Flynn Center for Irish Studies at UST, students spent three weeks traveling across Ireland and Northern Ireland to conduct personal interviews with over 44 governmental officials, religious leaders, community leaders, journalists and historians who are key figures involved in implementing and maintaining the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, the cornerstone in Northern Ireland’s transition from conflict to peace.

Through doors opened by Bill Flynn, the Center’s namesake, along with Rev. Harold Good, peacemaker, former President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and this year’s Annual Irish Gala honoree, UST students were granted access to several special events and key figures. The students observed a question and answer session in the Irish Parliament with Enda Kenny, the Prime Minister of Ireland, and personally met with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. They also watched a presentation on enterprise, trade and investment in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Marissa Valle, a 2013 UST graduate with a major in international studies and a minor in social justice, chose the Northern Ireland study abroad program because it furthered her preparation for her master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, which she will pursue at American University in Washington D.C. this fall.

“The study abroad program is a unique opportunity, not only to be immersed in another culture, but also to interact with people who have important experiences with the conflict and peace process in Northern Ireland,” Valle said. “They provided us with invaluable insight into the past, present and future of Northern Ireland.”

In addition to studying the peace process, the students toured several archaeological and historical sites with Irish scholars. Among the highlights was a tour of several monasteries and abbeys led by Dr. Catherine Swift, an historian from UST’s exchange partner, Mary Immaculate College, in Limerick, and who will be lecturing at UST in October.

The students toured Clonmacnoise, a monastic settlement founded by St. Ciaran in the sixth century, the Rock of Cashel, a medieval royal and religious site, Holy Cross Abbey, a restored Cistercian monastery, Glenstal Abbey, an active Benedictine monastery that features a forest full of exotic trees from around the world, and many other sites.

“My goal in leading study abroad is to expose students to Irish and Northern Irish leaders who excel in their fields, whether they be politicians, religious leaders, business executives or scholars,” Gallagher said. “I also want them to experience the beauty and mystery of all parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

The students, whose disciplines ranged from Irish Studies to international studies, communications, history, political science, social justice, biology and business, completed their coursework by writing journals on Making Sense of the Troubles as well as their experiences in Ireland and Northern Ireland and completing a research paper on a topic relating to the course.

“The beauty of this program is that one does not have to be Irish or of Irish heritage to learn the value of building a society based upon mutual respect and trust among people of diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds,” Gallagher said. “Lessons learned from the Northern Ireland peace process resonate with conflicts around the world and at home.”

Explore the world through our summer study abraod programs.

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