Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Monday, August 6, 2007

Belfast is without question the place that we are most pleased we visited. We may not choose to ever come back, but to get a glimpse of all it is and was, has been extremely enlightening.
Where Derry had a more historical focus on its struggles, Belfast's strife seems much more contemporary as it still remains a very divided city.
Although there have been many recent positive political announcements and agreements, while walking the streets and listening to some of the locals, it feels much more uneasy.
The peace wall still separates the catholic and protestant neighbourhoods in west Belfast and most roads between the two are closed every night at dusk. The wall stands almost 50 feet high and received its last addition to its height only a couple years ago (see pictures). We walked along it for some time and all that we could see was graffiti and a few bomb explosion marks on the wall. We did not see one other person walking.
Both neighbourhoods are covered in barbed or razor wire and plenty of spiked fencing. We came across a community centre (pictured) with not only all of the above barriers, but also a bin out front that says "knife removal scheme".
The old courthouse where many of the accused were tried is not a welcoming site (pictured).
Many of the murals in both neighbourhoods depict proud slogans and pay homage to the fallen.
We took a cab tour with a driver that has lived through it all and he shared many stories that have made us feel so sheltered in Canada (gratefully).
The town has been decimated in the past. The Catholics have had their streets burned to the ground and the protestants have had their social mechanisms attacked as well. The Europa hotel has been bombed 31 times (the most bombed hotel in Europe ever), the opera house was bombed as were countless pubs on both sides. Anything to disrupt the British social structures and way of life.
This has been, and the mindset still continues to be, just the way it is. According to our driver (remembering this may be somewhat biased from his experiences), you are brought up in it and it is imbued in your psyche at a young age. For instance, if you don't want to join or support the Ulster Freedom Fighters as a youth, you may run the risk of being bullied, or beaten by your peers until you give in. He told stories of the vice president of Sinn Fein going in for minor eye surgery and loyalist hitmen dressed as doctors going into the hospital and shooting her dead.
Another story he told was about a certain neighbourhood that is controlled by a loyalist force. Although much of it is government housing, getting a spot in the complex is up to the powers that be in the neighbourhood. Almost mob like with your reward (a home) based on your dedication and support for the cause.
He also mentioned that at the height of the tensions, the British secret service started a laundry business that catered to the Catholics. They took the laundry and tested it for explosives residue so they could identify who was in contact with bombs and later raid and arrest them. The IRA caught on and killed the driver at a routine laundry pick up.
Both sides are extremely proud and neighbourhoods are covered with murals and flags. We are told that they march in parades over 700 times a year. We actually came across one with youngsters playing "God save the Queen" as they marched down the main street in one of the protestant neighbourhoods.
Our driver says that it is getting better. Although the tension is still there in some respect, Belfast is regenerating into a newer city with new project developments, new growth, and plenty of tourists over the last ten years. At one point nobody visited Belfast for obvious reasons, but now the tourist office is full (apparently there was not one hotel room to be found in the city when we were there... Even at the Europa). We had a fabulous time listening to traditional music in a pub that was once bombed with people from all over the city and the world.
We can't even pretend to understand what either side has gone through or relate to the reasoning behind it all, but we feel a little shocked, troubled, and even enlightened with the brief glimpse that we experienced here.
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dory60 on

after reading your blog i was saddened to see that you made so much of the past here in Northern Ireland, unfortunatley to many people come here to see what the place were it all happened, were people died lost their homes and famliy members,the pictures on the walls etc, I wish when visitors came here they would leave all that behind as we are trying to do and hightlight the good points, the scenic areas, who cares what religion anyone is, when I visit towns and citys i never tag my pictures as per race colour or creed, sadly protestant and catholic peaclines, and parades, we do have much more to offer.

I hope you do not find me offensive but I am so fed up with reading about the past, if the troubles had never happened I wonder what the pictures would be then

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