For our last day in Belfast, we took a black cab tour of the city. I had expected this tour to be about the city’s history and to take us around to some famous monuments and such, but was pleasantly surprised with a rich history lesson on the ongoing tension between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland.
The first neighborhood we stopped in was the Protestant neighborhood. This area is known as Shankhill. The Protestants believe in staying a part of Britain and staying under the crown, whereas the Catholics believe in a united Ireland. The feud between the two religions is so serious that a wall was built separating the two neighborhoods from each other. The gates in the wall are open during the day while people are joined in the city center for work, dining, etc., but then at night, the gates close and you will have to drive around the entire neighborhood to get to the other side of town.
Our guide showed us several murals in the Protestant neighborhood including one about the volunteers who fight for their cause in the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Defense Association (UDA). We learned that they communicate to their children from a very young age to hate the opposing side. They grow up never stepping foot in the opposing neighborhood and they go to school only with kids of their same religion and beliefs. Other propaganda used to bolster pride and nationalism amongst their youth are the murals and celebrations such as the parades and bonfires in the Protestant neighborhood, and St. Patrick’s Day in the Catholic neighborhood.
After visiting the Protestant neighborhood we visited the peace wall that separates the two different neighborhoods. But how can a wall be peaceful if it further divides two groups of people? Our guide explained to us the people used to through small bombs over the wall to attack the opposing neighborhoods houses. This practice has since stopped, but people do still throw rocks and and stones over the wall at the houses on the other side. This has forced the houses nearest to the wall to take precautions and build portentous coverings and walls over their windows and such to keep them from being broken and vandalized. Another important feature of the wall is that it is heavily graffitied and signed with names and quotes from people who have visited from all over the world including celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Rihanna.
The final segment of the tour takes you to the memorial in the Catholic neighborhood for those who were killed while a part of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and those whose innocent lives were taken by things such as plastic and rubber bullets shot inappropriately to the head and not the lower body. The last part of the tour also featured a mural of one of the most important revolutionaries for the Catholics–Bobby Sands.
I was shocked at just how horrible things are still between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. I had no idea that they thought a wall was necessary to protect themselves from their differences. It made me sad to think that people get along at work or in college or at the pub, but as soon as they leave the city center and go home for the night, they become judgmental and incepting of another group of people’s opinions and ideals. The symbols and murals are a huge part of indoctrinating children with this hatred from a young age. This goes to show that propaganda can brainwash you if done correctly. Like a lot of the people on the wall, I believe that this solution can be worked out in the end or at least resolved to the point where we no longer need a wall separating the neighborhoods. I hope to see progress on this front in the future because the violence and hatred between the two groups has to end. Overall, I had a great time learning a little more about Irish politics and how much it affects the daily lives of the people here in Belfast.