Search the Bulletin

Great Craic in a Divided Irish City

By Carol Brévart-Demm


Fourteen years after the last shots were fired, dramatic murals bear witness to the decades of unrest and a fragile peace in Northern Ireland. Two students pioneered a new Swarthmore Peace and Conflict Studies study-abroad program there this spring, working with community groups and studying at the university.

“We’re not sure it’s possible to convey how rich and incredible this semester was,” wrote Reina Chano and Maurice Weeks—the first two students to sign on for Swarthmore’s new Northern Ireland Semester.

In a joint Web story (, the two juniors wrote of “rolling hills and baby sheep, and more shades of green than you could possibly imagine”; of meeting 1998 Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume and leader of the Free Derry Movement Paddy “Bogside” Doherty; of taking the course The Politics of Divided Societies; and of interning in community organizations that are active in peace-building through various means.

The program, years in the making, was planned to provide participants with both academic and community-based experiential learning in a setting where they can actually participate in peace-building activities. Dr. Denise Crossan, a Derry resident with extensive experience placing and supervising American students in Northern Ireland, was hired as on-site director to teach, advise, and guide incoming students in their academic and service-based requirements.

Coordinator of Swarthmore’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program Lee Smithey, who is also an assistant professor of sociology, focuses his research on conflict in Northern Ireland. He says: “The Northern Ireland Semester provides an opportunity for students to explore a region that’s in transition. The cease-fires have held for 14 years now, so violent political conflict is fairly well behind them, but Northern Ireland is still very segregated—for example, in terms of primary and secondary education.”

The location of the program, in Derry/Londonderry, enables the students to experience the environment of segregation first-hand. No strict convention exists, but Protestants with loyalist/unionist backgrounds often refer to the city as Londonderry, conjuring up British connections; Republicans and Catholic nationalists, by contrast, tend to call it Derry. For the sake of political correctness, it is often called Derry/Londonderry.


Maurice Weeks (left) and Reina Chano (right) met 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.

Although Chano and Weeks each took two courses at the University of Ulster and attended additional lectures organized by Crossan, their placements in community organizations were the focus of their activities in Northern Ireland.

Chano worked with the Verbal Arts Centre, an educational charity group that sponsors a variety of programs, all centered on providing Northern Ireland communities with a safe place and space to “tell your story.” She assisted with the Centre’s community relations programs for young children from segregated schools, aimed at confronting the differences among and between Catholics/Nationalist/Republicans and Protestant/Unionists/Loyalists and encouraging children to interact, work together, and learn from each other. She has been designing a new community relations curriculum whose pilot program has been very successful, she says. “As someone with a growing interest in education, it has been an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. Absolutely great craic!” She explains that craic means “good-natured Irish fun.”

Weeks worked with the Holywell Trust, an organization seeking to foster peace-building through healing, understanding, and cooperation. He undertook, among other activities, a project on immigrants in Derry: “The immigration population, especially from Eastern Europe, has greatly increased with the introduction of expanded European Union working provisions. Some groups of immigrants have expressed difficulties living in Northern Irish society.” Weeks was delighted when a local community worker offered to help him organize focus groups and interviews. “It’s amazing how open he was to my research plan,” Weeks says.

“From a Peace and Conflict Studies perspective, it’s interesting to be participating in the transition process, where a lot of the legacies of the Troubles have to be dealt with and yet, it’s a kind of model of conflict transformation,” Smithey says.

Comments are closed.