Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 21, 2014

The North (cuid a haon)

From one end of the country to the other we go. First stop today, Belfast City for our choice of The Titanic Museum or a tour of the city in a black taxi. Originally, I had planned on taking the Titanic option, yet the morning of I switched to the black taxi tour.  Why the change? To be honest, I’ve always been a bit nervous about visiting Belfast. Decades of unrest and violence I cannot begin to fathom have made many, such as myself, wary of The North, so I decided this was my chance to see the City and get a first hand glimpse of its history.

The black taxis began as a means of transportation during the turmoil’s when other transport was unreliable and roads sometimes inaccessible. Now they still provide normal taxi service as well as history tours.

Our driver started the tour in Milltown Cemetery where many of the hunger strikers from the early 1980’s are buried including the first and probably most famous, Bobby Sands. No ostentatious memorials for these victims; just very simple graves. We were also shown the graves of Maíre Drumm, a Sinn Féin commander who was murdered in her hospital bed by Ulster loyalists dressed as doctors. The driver also mentioned the cemetery was the site of a massacre in 1988; just one in a long string of attacks on both sides.

The bulk of the tour is spent visiting many of the famous murals that are spread throughout the city and represent both sides of the conflict. A wall, longer than the Berlin Wall, divides the Protestant and Catholic areas and has now been dubbed the Peace Wall. It is covered in murals representing local struggles as well as calls for peace in places like Palestine and other conflicted areas. Despite the relative calm of recent years the wall gates are still locked at 6:00 pm each night.

As a Protestant who married a Catholic, the driver was quite neutral about the troubles – neither side entirely right nor entirely wrong. To paraphrase his sound philosophy – history cannot be re-written, but should be told honestly. A growing majority of Belfast residents are tired of the violence and strife and welcome the tentative peace of recent times.

Many people view the conflict as religious in nature, but at the core it seems to be a struggle for identity. While the gap between Protestants and Catholics has narrowed from something in the neighborhood of 3-to-1 down to 48%/45%, a census poll in 2011 showed about 40% of the population considered themselves British only, 25% Irish only, and a new category of Northern Irish only coming in at 21%.

Like any large city, especially one with such a history, Belfast is not without its share of problems, but it is a far safer and more welcoming place than it was a mere 5 or 10 years ago. Oddly enough, my internal intuition which at times has been so strong that I have had to leave a historic site due to the ‘bad vibes’ it gave off, I never felt that urge to flee in Belfast.

(Apologies for some of the photos – a few were taken through the windows of the cab as it was moving. I hope I was able to get a representation from both sides and they are in no particular order other than what Word Press placed them. I also wish Word Press would bring back the slide show option.)

Belfast35_sm Belfast34_sm Belfast32_sm Belfast31_sm Belfast28_sm Belfast26_sm Belfast25_sm Belfast24_sm Belfast23_sm Belfast22_sm

Top 2-3 floors was a military base during the troubles

Top 2-3 floors was a military base during the troubles

Belfast16b_sm

King Billy, as he’s known

Belfast17_sm Belfast14c_sm Belfast13_sm Belfast12_sm Belfast10_sm Belfast9_sm Belfast5_sm

Peace wall

Peace wall

Peace wall

Peace wall

Europa Hotel in Belfast - bombed 28 times and yet rooms heavily booked

Europa Hotel in Belfast – bombed 28 times and yet rooms heavily booked

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