I don’t know how to talk about Belfast. In the city I felt so many things – a lot of which were contradictory. So much has happened in the city, and our tour guide had told us stories of being in Belfast during The Troubles, while also trying to explain everything behind The Troubles. It was scary and interesting and sad and hopeful and everything all at once.
[It probably didn’t help that I was also tired and congested.]
After our visit to the Giant’s Causeway we travelled back to Belfast (we’d driven through it earlier). Bud, our guide, told us that if we wanted he could coordinate a Black Taxi Tour through Belfast for us. The price would vary depending on how many people went (it was £70 for the tour and you could fit up to 7 people in the cab).
I’d read about the Black Taxi Tour that the Everywhereist did, so I really wanted to go on this tour. I figured that the price would be worth it, since we’d never be able to walk to everything in 1 hour. I managed to convince Kristen to agree to go with me, which meant that there were exactly 7 of us who wanted to go.
The Troubles is a conflict that lasted for almost 40 years, “ending” in 1998. In the past years the city has calmed down, but it’s hard to visit Belfast and not think about everything that happened here.
I’m not going to get too deep into The Troubles. There’s a lot of information and I doubt that I could do it justice. One of the major issues was whether Northern Ireland should stay within the United Kingdom or join Ireland. The Loyalists and Unionists (Protestants) wanted to stay with the UK, while the Irish Nationalists and Republicans (Catholics) wanted to join Ireland.
Even though there is peace now, the city is still divided. Gates, also known as Peace Walls, run through the city. The walls separate the Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods, and were built to minimize the violence between the two sides. Residents feel safer with the gates and don’t necessarily want them taken down. Some gates are still locked at night.
The city is still very much divided. Driving from one side of Belfast to the other you’ll notice that the flags in the city change: the Irish flag for the Catholic side and the UK flag for the Protestants.
The tour took us to look at some of the murals. A lot of residents live in the buildings where these murals are, and it felt a little odd taking a tour through someone’s neighbourhood. Some murals have been painted over, making them less political, while others remain in their original state.
We also went to a memorial on Bombay Street, where homes next to the Peace Wall have gated backyards for protection.
In 1969 Riots broke out in Belfast. This is seen by some as the event that started The Troubles (others believe that The Troubles started earlier in 1960). During the Riots almost all of the houses on Bombay Street were set on fire by the Loyalists. A 15-year-old boy, who was a youth member of the IRA, was killed by a sniper as he helped people escape the fires.
Honestly, it’s a tough history to read about. I was still in high school when The Troubles “ended”, and I remember hearing about the IRA and seeing news stories about the violence that was happening. Many civilians were killed in the battles, and more than 3,500 lives were lost. If you have the time to devote to it, research it. There’s a lot of history.
One of the last stops we made was up to the Peace Wall, where we could read messages of peace and hope, and even division:
Belfast has changed a lot, but the effect of the Troubles is still felt in the city. If you start to feel down, just take a trip to the Peace Wall and start reading.