About the Authors


  1. Jade Chang: Hi! I’m second year Social Studies Adolescent Education Major at SUNY Geneseo. I’ve been interested in Irish history since I took an Immigration history class with Professor Mapes. While I originally came for the historical aspect of INTD 245, I found myself enjoying the literature, particularly the Yeats poems and his unrequited love for Maud Gonne. My paper focuses on how the Troubles are still occurring through problematic outlets such as the Orange Parades and murals.
  2. Carina Chanthabandith: I am a Psychology major and this is my second year here at Geneseo. I transferred in the fall of 2017 from Monroe Community College. I took this class because I was interested in learning something new and wanted to try something outside my comfort zone. Learning about the Belfast Agreement was interesting and I enjoyed the readings we did in class.  
  3. Eamon Danieu: I’m a senior history major.  I’ve had a strong interest in Irish history ever since my early childhood. While here I’ve tried to focus as many research papers as I could on some aspect of Irish history, and despite the morbid nature of the topic was glad to finally be able to delve further into the events of Bloody Sunday.  As an individual aspiring to make a career through law, it was particularly interesting to look at such a gross miscarriage of justice in the context of such a divisive historical background.
  4. Natalie Orman:Hey there! I am a first year History major at SUNY Geneseo. I took this class on Irish landscape and memory because I have always been intrigued by Ireland and its history. This interest rose when my sister went to Dublin and told me stories about the scenery, the people, and the food there. I had been eager to take a class on its rich history and culture, so I enrolled in this one and have been thoroughly enjoying it throughout the semester.

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Borders, Boundaries, and their Function in Northern Irish History

Timeline of the Protestant and Catholic tension in Northern Ireland 

First, there is the cultural boundary created by English colonists within Ireland. On one side is the Catholic Irish who resented the English for taking their land from them and their ancestors and forcing a fundamentally and categorically different legal system upon them with a clear intent of perpetual repression. The other side is the Protestant Northern Irish who had strong cultural and historical connections and felt superior to the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. This was a boundary that characterized Northern Ireland’s dynamic for a long time and presented itself through skirmishes like Bloody Sunday in Derry all while creating physical borders such as the Derry Walls and Peace Lines in Belfast.

Second, these borders perpetuated boundaries by physically showing the Catholic inferiority and the Protestant superiority. These borders then construct more boundaries in the form of aggressive murals and violent Orange Parades that cemented and exemplified cultural rifts throughout cities like Belfast. Beyond reasserting the boundaries within the society they further engender the same resentments within the younger generation influencing them to participate in these struggles.

Peace Wall in Belfast

Thirdly, the decision to work together on the Belfast Agreement which addressed the issues of borders by lessening the overpowering presence of the military enforcement in Northern Ireland. Deciding that violence was not good for those on both side of the walls, it was decided that a compromise would be struck between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland where Northern Ireland could stay under Britain’s rule, if all the citizens agreed to it, and the Republic of Ireland could convince them to join the Republic through peaceful means. It also encouraged cross-border relations by highlighting common ground where the two countries could work together to build a better sense of community.

The border crossing between Counties Down and County Louth. This international boundary between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was once controlled by guard posts, yet the hard border no longer exists.

Finally, after the agreement the general physical borders were not taken down out of fear of tampering with history and also that subtle awareness that the boundaries still exist in many Irish hearts. This helps create historical memory, almost always tinged with bias, and that memory gets perpetuated by the preservation of physical representations of boundaries like murals. The amount of sheer ignorance of each other’s side is astounding. Even to this day, some people have no idea what is on the other side of the peace line barrier in their community. As recently as 2013 these barriers reinforced in social and physical form, it is common to hear taxi drivers whose route goes right next to peace lines have no clue what’s on the other side. (If you want to read a separate article of a man’s experience with modern Belfast and its divisions click here)

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Borders, Boundaries, and Segregation

The Troubles in Northern Ireland were a fiercely sectarian event.  Few periods in modern history have seen such clear demarcation between Protestant and Catholic.  This partition was expressed both in terms of the formation of political borders, as well as social and cultural boundaries.  Such forceful and violent rivalry allowed old fissures to be opened anew. At times these cultural boundaries were enforced with physical force violence such as at Bloody Sunday in Derry.  In other instances, these borders were created peacefully as seen with the Belfast Agreement. Throughout the Troubles symbols such as peace lines, murals, and the Orange Order all served to mark identity and create lenses for which to view the events in retrospect.  

What’s the Difference Between Borders and Boundaries? 

The terms borders and boundaries are often used in everyday life, sometimes used interchangeably. However, despite their synonymous sound the two are not necessarily one and the same. Borders and boundaries are similar to each other in the way that they are both manifestations of divisions in society. Borders are physical divides and usually involve politics, whereas boundaries are social and cultural separations. These concepts are intertwined and play off of each other continually and cyclically. Social boundaries tend to create borders and in return borders perpetuate boundaries and the cycle continues. One can see this dynamic everywhere from a bathroom to the Berlin Wall showing that the idea of “you are not allowed in this area because you aren’t a certain way” is everywhere, operating at different levels of conscious realization. We found the Troubles in Northern Ireland to be a particularly good time period to analyze the complexities of borders and boundaries.

Free Derry Corner, an example of the crystallization of a cultural boundary between Catholic and Protestants in the city of Derry.

 Protestant and Catholic tension in Northern Ireland

About the Authors 



Belfast Agreement (The Good Friday Agreement)

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On April 10, 1998, the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, was signed.

This three-way agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and the Government of Ireland promoted cross-border relations between the North and South. In the Declaration of Support, it states “it is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements – an Assembly in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and any amendments to British Acts of Parliament and the Constitution of Ireland – are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the Assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other” (1).

This idea that both sides had to work together in order for this agreement to really have an impact was monumental. By splitting the power up and also making it so that the North and South were interdependent it allowed the two countries to resolve disagreements in a peaceful and non-violent manner. In a civil way, it gave a voice to both sides. One way that the Agreement encouraged the power sharing between the two groups was to find common ground where they can work together to better the land as a whole.  This included areas such as agriculture, transportation, education, waterways, and things of that nature. Overall, there were twelve areas total where the North and South had to work together. This helps with the flow of cross-border connections. Instead of focusing on the differences between Irish Catholics and English Protestants, they can focus on the common interests that can better the nation and hopefully help the people feel more connected to one another. It builds a sense of community and attempts to break the imagined border between the Irish Catholics and English Protestants.

The agreement also allowed the people of Northern Ireland to remain with Great Britain if the majority of the population agreed to it on their own terms.  This statement was a compromise between the Irish Catholics and English Protestants wishes; it did not set anything in stone and respected the wishes of both sides. This was to encouraged Irish Catholics to use more peaceful means to achieve their dreams of a united Ireland. “It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island” (1).

What Were the Initial  Reactions to the Belfast Agreement? 

The reactions to the Agreement were mixed at first. Both sides were critical and complained that the Agreement gave too much to the other side. For the English Protestants, they worried that if the population of Northern Ireland were somehow persuaded into joining the Republic, they would lose their connection with Britain. They also feared about becoming the minority in a vastly Irish Catholic nation. The Irish Catholics felt that they would never achieve a united Ireland if they had to somehow convince the mostly English Protestant nation to join the Republic through peaceful means alone.

A loyalist Mural Expressing Disdain Against the Agreement , 2014.

Thanks to the Agreement, however, citizens are free to reside where they choose, so segregation with Northern Ireland was working towards more integration between communities and embracing the diversity. While the Agreement appeared to be successful with addressing the issue of the border, it needed more time and the efforts of the citizens in order for the boundaries to be settled.

It’s hard to ask citizens to leave the past behind them and settle their differences when it is so deeply embedded in their historical memory. Events like, Bloody Sunday,  established borders through violence and led to mistrust between Irish Catholics and English Protestants.  This mistrust and hatred between the two groups led to boundaries between them where certain areas, such as Shankill Road, within Northern Ireland were clearly defined as Catholic or Protestant with the use of graffiti, murals, and movements like Orange Parades.  It was evident that Irish Catholics and English Protestants still had trouble trusting one another. On top of that, there was also some controversy with the releasing of prisoners who were involved in the violence during The Troubles and during the arrangement of The Agreement the IRA was refusing to give up their weapons. Because of these reasons and past events, both Catholics and Protestants were extremely doubtful of The Agreement’s success.

Handing over of Dominic McGlinchey, INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) leader, by RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary, Police Force in Northern Ireland) at Killeen, border near Newry, 1980s. Taken by Bobbie Hanvey, photographer.
The Border on Killeen School Road, 2017. There is no indication that one is going into the Republic of Ireland, besides the speed sign which is in Kilometres per hour. Northern Ireland uses Miles per hour.

While cultural boundaries were more difficult to overcome because of historical memory, physical borders themselves were easier to control.

As seen in the first image above, the border was policed through the use of the military and police. People could not freely cross the orders without being subjected to searches and checkpoints due to mistrust between Irish Catholics and English Protestants.

However, as the years went on, it became easier to cross borders more freely because of the demilitarization of borders. As seen in the second image, there is no checkpoint or military personnel indicating that one is entering or exiting Northern Ireland. The only indication is a speed sign. “Crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic used to involve delays, checkpoints, bureaucratic harassment and the lurking threat of violence. That it’s now virtually seamless — that you can drive across without even knowing it — feels close to miraculous” (2). While this process did take a while, it does show that the Belfast Agreement was successful in achieving peaceful borders that did not require armed guards or checkpoints.

The IRA also eventually gave up their arms in 2005 and disposed of them. They declared they will use peaceful tactics to achieve their goals.

By opening borders and disarming potentially threatening groups, this helped the North and South become more connected and feel less threaten by each other. “This city, this country, is like a woman who has given birth,” Mr. Lynn said. “All the trauma, the pain and the fighting are over. We’ve come out of the Troubles — out of black and white and into color” (2).

Although the Belfast Agreement was not a perfect peace treaty, it did its best to acknowledge major issues and dealt with it as best as it could. It tries it’s best to give both sides a voice and stressed the importance of cross-border relations. However, it was a difficult situation where there was no clear answer.

In order to keep the peace, the North and South must recognize and respect their differences and also find common ground where they can work together towards a brighter future for the entire land as a whole.

1. Northern Ireland Office. “The Belfast Agreement.” GOV.UK, 10 April 1998, www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-belfast-agreement.

2. Lyall, Sarah. “On Irish Border, Worries That ‘Brexit’ Will Undo a Hard-Won Peace.” The New York Times, 5 August 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/05/world/europe/brexit-northern-ireland-ireland.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer.

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