This morning, myself and the rest of the group took off on Northern Ireland’s infamous Black Cab Tours. After we all piled into different cabs, we were driven through different parts of Belfast and were told the history behind the standing division of religion that exists in the city.
There has been and still is a prominent divide between the Catholic and Protestant communities. A wall, or “peace gate”, has been constructed in order to provide a barrier from either side and acts as a visual representation of the separation itself.
After learning about the history behind the separation and visiting different memorial sites, murals, homes, etc., for those who have served in the fight for either side, the thing that stood out to me was the wall itself and the stories that accompanied it. The wall is completely covered in graffiti, both that of talented artists and people who sign their name or leave a message for others. In many places, it was visible that the wall was distressed as paint and concrete had been chipped off.
Things such as rocks and golf balls are commonly thrown in attempts to make it over and reach somebodies home. Currently, those who attempt to harm or send a message to the other community are a majority of children whose intent isn’t to start a full-blown war, but to blow off some steam and have a little fun.
The tour guide mentioned that though kids are really the only ones that currently act upon hostility toward the opposing religion, the hostility is still something that people can “feel” in the air. When he said that, I was a bit taken back. For the most part, I was under the impression that since the wall had been built, all of their problems were solved. When he mentioned the “hostility in the air”, it allowed me to realize that the conflict between communities is something deeper than it really seems.
Our tour guide explained that when the people came to the agreement to physically divide the two communities, it wasn’t a situation that caused a wave of peace and love to sweep over the city and magically bind everyone together in friendship. It was more of a “phew, I’m glad this is over with, lets move on” type of deal. He then went on to explain that all it takes is for someone to shout something or throw something (adults) for a real conflict to spark. Its scary to think that something violent/hostile can breakout simply on the basis of religious disagreement and that itself put a lot of things into perspective for me. It shows that regardless of what people outside of Belfast see or think about their divide, we’ll never really know the extent of it because we haven’t experienced that kind of lifestyle.
Through all of this, I was allowed to really analyze what the wall stood for. To me, the wall stands as a clear barrier, exhibiting isolation. On the other hand, it acts as a beautiful piece of art filled with messages about peace and love. I thought that was an interesting concept. People from both sides come together everyday in the city center for work and leisure, acting as one civil community, but when they return to their homes, they’re completely divided, not entering into each other’s territory. I feel as if my ideology behind the wall plays largely into this for it shows that there are two sides to every story.
It’s just interesting to think that the same people that come together everyday in city center and partake in annual peace celebrations, are the same communities that also live a majority of their lives apart from one another. The concept itself is intriguingly complex and I loved being able to learn so much about that.
Without the tour, I would have never known that any of this was going on in Northern Ireland. It was incredibly insightful to learn so many things about the wall and the people involved. I’m glad I left today with a mind full of new information and perspective of what’s really happening in Northern Ireland.