The political conflict and armed struggle in Northern Ireland from the early 1970's to mid 1990's pre-occupied politics and personal life and seemed to allow little space for cultural-political alternatives. The society, especially the 'working' class, was and still is to a lesser degree- divided along religious beliefs (protestant/catholic) and national orientation (loyalist/republican). This sectarianism created segregated communities; a duplicity of infrastructures and public services; and a dual education system.As the South of Ireland gained economic power in the late 1990's (Celtic Tiger Economy), a cease fire by the IRA in 1994 marked the beginning of peace negotiations in the North.
Northern Ireland's political transition was and is aided by international investment and private consumerism. After decades of 'direct rule' from London, political decision making was handed over to a regional government. Power sharing, the dismantling of watchtowers and army bases are part of a peace dividend, which largely brought a form of 'normalization' both to the political and private sphere. In this post-conflict situation, social- religious divisions however still persist.
The political conflict and its social effects had an impact not only on the two larger cities -Belfast/Londonderry- but also on towns (Portadown/Armagh) and small villages. 'Direct rule' immobilized regional independence and sectarianism has instrumentalized 'culture' to forge a loyalist/republican identity. Parts of the rural- especially in the South- appear to be an extended sub-urban, without any civic centre, community cohesion or social infrastructure. Many cultural activities and outreach projects now re-address the theme of identity, reconciliation and a 're-imaging' of personal, social, national belonging.
Since the peace process, border regions- like Co. Leitrim and Co. Armagh- receive EU Peace funding for improvements of the (rural) infrastructure and cross border cultural projects and community outreach programmes. All of the institutions the fieldtrip will visit do or did receive EU Peace funding.