Belfast – May 15, 2014
We arrived in Belfast today. Richard Meely (?) met us in the airport terminal. Richard was our guide for the day. He is an ex-British soldier, Republican supporter who presented an overview of the conflict in Northern Ireland. During the Troubles (1966 – 1998 ) There was a great deal of violence over the place of Northern Ireland. Richard took us to East Belfast first as we walked down Newtownards street. When we stopped, he described the scene years ago, where a sniper was in the church steeple shooting at those in the street. We stopped at a memorial to those that were killed. Several of them were Richard’s friends and in-laws. Chills. As we walked down the street we passed numerous murals, memorials, and observed recent vandalism (mostly paint bombs – jars filled with pant tossed at local housing).
The most striking thing I noticed was the fences. Each house had a decorative fence, behind that a security fence, and then bars or wire screens on the windows to protect those inside from thrown items. This location was also our introduction to the high walls that separated catholic from protestant neighborhoods.
As we moved back to Belfast, we visited the Falls and Shankill Road areas. These are the “official” locations for murals.
As we drove around Belfast, I noticed that many of the neighborhoods had gates that could close off the roads. These gates were intended to prevent people from moving quickly via vehicle from neighborhood to neighborhood. It was a way to regulate travel through the city. During the troubles, the gates were closed most nights.
Or final stop for the day was known as the peace wall. This wall is (as you can see) very tall and was the major separator between Catholics and Protestants. This wall is an unofficial mural wall. It is full of signatures of local teens and others making statements about the differences.
One of the other items we saw with some regularity was memorials.
Several days later, I was talking with our driver Joe. I mentioned to him that it seemed to me that the tensions seemed to be just under the surface. He mentioned that most visitors he has talked with say the same thing. He, and others, who are from Ireland do not feel those tensions. He just commented that it would take decades to get over the troubles.
I don’t know. What I did observe that as we were walking along the Peace Wall, the driver of one of the vehicles that drove by gave those standing by the wall the finger. Also, the night before we arrived in Belfast, the neighborhood gates had been closed (according to Richard). There is an ongoing point of tension on Twaddell Avenue. Each evening, a group of loyalists (mostly Protestants), form and march a traditional parade route. At the top of the hill, the traditional parade route goes to the right. The courts and police, in response to neighbor protests and complaints, do not allow the parade to proceed through the traditional route as it passes through a catholic community. So each evening, we have a confrontation between paraders, police, and a community. The Loyalists have set up a campsite for civil rights until such time as they are able to march their traditional routes. Parades in Northern Ireland have a strong tradition and are a great source of pride.
Other Items – Belfast was once one of the biggest ship building cities in the World. Ships built include the Titanic.
Hotel Europa – once known as the most bombed hotel in Europe