The Troubles in Northern Ireland, which lasted from the mid to late 1900s, left a lasting mark on Belfast. Today on our black cab tour, we were taken to both the Protestant area, Shankill, and the Catholic area, the Falls. Between the two is a massive wall that runs through the city in order to keep the areas separated. Metal extensions were added to the top of the wall in order to prevent people from throwing rocks or golf balls from their side of the wall to the other, which is still done today.
The Peace Wall was originally plain, but has since been covered in graffiti, peaceful messages, and signatures from people around the world. Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, and Justin Bieber are among the most well-known people who have signed the wall (in addition to me, of course).
The wall’s gates that allow for transportation between the two areas are closed at nine o’clock each night and make communication between the areas difficult. Our tour guides explained that Belfast’s major hospital is located in the Falls area, and when an ambulance or emergency vehicle needs to get from Shankill to the Falls while the gates are closed, they will not reopen them, so the vehicles have to drive around through the city.
Since the areas are so greatly divided in politics and religion, they each spread different propaganda through the media. Both locations painted murals on the sides of buildings to honor fallen heroes that died during The Troubles, though heroes in one area were considered evil and despicable in the other. With different political parties, religions, and nationalisms, their communication styles and topics of conversation differ from each other, as well.
Today’s tour taught me an incredible amount about Northern Ireland’s past and current conflicts. It was devastating to hear about the approximately 4,000 people who were killed, how children are raised and taught to hate the other group, and how, if I had been in Belfast 10 years earlier, I would not have been safe standing where I stood. How can religion, which is supposed to bring people together, have the power to tear people apart as much as it did, and does, in Belfast? That said, standing at the Peace Wall did give me hope since I was able to read messages of peace and support from people all over the world. Hearing the stories and opinions of both Protestants an Catholics from the Shankill and Falls regions allowed me to understand the situation much more than I used to.
Though there is a dividing wall, progress has certainly been made since the end of The Troubles. I can only hope that peace continues to spread through Belfast as they follow the instructions of a sculpture in Shankill that tells you to remember your history and remember your dead, respect their history and respect their dead, and to come not only to a resolution, but to a peaceful one.