One of the most recommended things for Belfast was a black taxi tour of the murals with the history of The Troubles.
We didn’t have a lot of knowledge about Northern Ireland and The Troubles in Belfast prior to arriving. The quick Google search we did was nothing compared to what we would learn from our taxi driver.
We booked with Cab Tours Belfast. Their tours include two drivers, one Catholic, one Protestant, or one without an allegiance to either. We didn’t know when we booked just how important that was.
Our driver picked us up in a typical British black cab at City Hall, a common pick-up spot for tours and very close to our Airbnb. He was a 60-something-year-old native to Belfast, which meant he lived through The Troubles and his stories were startling and heartbreaking.
When I told him I was a writer, he made me promise I wouldn’t write about The Troubles. While he meant a fiction novel, I promised that I wouldn’t for one second think I had the knowledge to write about what happened. Instead, I’ll parrot what he told me.
The Troubles began over 50 years ago, at the end of the 1960’s. The Catholics wanted to be Irish, the Protestants wanted to be British. Obviously very understated, but that was the general outsiders view of the conflict. But within Belfast, it was much more than that. It was political, but it was deeper than that. It was about identity, pride, and family.
The emotions and loyalties were so deep that it resulted in riots, fighting, bombing, and murder. For the safety of both sides, a Peace Wall was erected, and still separates the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods today. Despite a peace treaty in the late 90’s, the gates still close at 6:30 pm every night. Houses along the wall still have cages around the back of their houses, preventing things from being thrown inside their house from the other side of the wall.
It’s also still unsafe for a Catholic to live in the Protestant area, and vice versa. The neighborhoods are obvious, even for an outsider. The Protestant neighborhood is full of Union flags and other British décor announcing their allegiance. On the Catholic side, it’s all orange and green Irish.
Today, most of the conflict is the result of hyped-up young people, or drugs (according to the driver). The Peace Wall is to keep people out, not keep people in, and you can easily drive around it and into the neighborhoods.
It sounds like the majority of people in Belfast want a peaceful city, where people can live in harmony next to each other, where the Peace Wall isn’t looming over them, separating children from their neighbors, and sometimes their nearest playground. But as the gates and wall start to crumble, the city is replacing them instead of taking them down. As the driver said, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, and they can’t be sure what will happen without the Peace Wall.
This tour opened our eyes to The Troubles in Belfast and served as a reminder of the tragedy and difficulties the citizens of Belfast have endured for over five decades. It also helped us understand a lot about the city. I recommend taking this tour as soon as you get to Belfast.
At £50 plus tip for both of us, it was a great value for a great tour. I honestly don’t think we could understand The Troubles nearly as well as we do now if we didn’t hear about it directly from someone who lived through it.
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