Today our group participated in a cab tour of Belfast, Ireland. After spending time walking around the city visiting pubs, shops, and museums, I felt as if I knew everything there was to know about the city. Boy was I wrong!
The tour began at our hotel. The twenty-one of us loaded up into three cabs and headed out to explore the city. We only made one turn before I saw some art that amazed me. It was a gigantic mural of a baby listening to music. The piece of art was created by the street artist KVLR.
We continued to explore Belfast in the cab and the driver emphasized the peace walls that we would later visit. The peace walls are giant walls that separate the two Ireland’s Protestant and Catholic communities. They were erected by Britian to separate the two communities following the outbreak of the 1969 Northern Ireland riots. The walls divide the city into two and have gates that open and close at different times of the day. As we continued our drive, the guide took us into one of the Protestant neighborhoods called Shankill and we learned about the paramilitary groups of Belfast. On almost every house were large murals that depicted paramilitary heroes of the neighborhood. These heroes defended their home neighborhoods as well as attacked people who weren’t one of their own.
The neighborhood had a lot of propaganda that promotes pride in one’s own faction – either Protestant or Catholic. They also had art that conveyed messages of protection of the neighborhood. One piece that caught my eye was a mural that depicted a soldier holding a rifle. No matter where you stand, you’re looking right down the barrel of the gun.
After we looked around Shankhill, we headed towards the peace walls. The walls are huge, stretching over 21 miles. Children like to throw rocks over the wall at night in hopes of hitting someone on the other side. There were also scorch marks on the wall that came from Molotov cocktails. Most of the wall is covered in graffiti and signatures to liven up the bland wall that citizens are forced to stare at. There are signatures by many famous people on the wall such as the Dali Lama, Justin Bieber, Bill Clinton, and Rihanna. Almost all of the signatures on the wall are pleading for peace between the two sides of Belfast, but as our driver explained, walls don’t make peace they divide people.
We continued our journey to the other side of the wall and entered the neighborhood of The Falls, which is inhabited by Catholics. This side also had murals that commemorate paramilitary heroes, as well as plaques that showed people who died due to the war between the two factions. I was shocked to learn that one of the deaths was gruesomely executed by the same soldier who had an entire mural painted about him just a few miles away. He killed a Catholic woman by shooting her once in the stomach and five times in the face, just because Catholics have open casket weddings.
During the majority of my stay in Belfast, I had no idea that there was any division between the citizens. The city thrives with the shopping and pubs that are open daily, but a quick tour changed how I feel about the city. Hopefully one day they will be able to break down their barriers and take the step to end segregation.