I knew a little bit about the tension between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, but today my eyes were opened to what really went on here. Our day began with a historic cab ride through Belfast. Our cab drivers drove us around the city and taught us about the clashes between Protestant and Catholic in Belfast. The Troubles started in 1969 and ended in 1998 when both sides passed the Good Friday Agreement. Between then, 4000 people died in Belfast, in bombings, shootings, and other violent attacks. Even today most people live in mainly Protestant or Catholic neighborhoods with a large wall, called the Peace Wall, dividing the two areas. The largest section of the wall has been turned into a place where visitors can sign the wall and leave messages for the people of Belfast. Some notable visitors include Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Bill Clition, and the Dalai Lama, who all signed or left messages on the wall.
Our tour guide said that when the peace agreement was signed, it was like a switch was flipped and the fighting stopped, but the impact of the conflict can still be seen all throughout the city. The gates between the Protestant and Catholic neighbors still close every night. This creates a problem for people living on the Protestant side, as the only major hospital is on the other side of the wall. Instead of having to drive meters, emergency vehicles have to drive over three miles to reach them. Kids also still try to throw rocks at each other over the wall. Things are peaceful here, but divisions still exist.
A group of us also visited Belfast City Hall. The building was beautiful, photos can’t do it justice. It something you need to visit in person if you ever get the chance. It was obvious how full of history the building was. One thing that stood out to me was the Reflection Space. It was a room to remember The Troubles and the people who died during the conflict. There were real quotes from people from Northern Ireland on the walls. I felt that the way the room was designed was perfect for what it is meant to be, a space to reflect on the past. The white walls and black text gave focus to the powerful and thought-provoking quotes. I made me understand what the people of Belfast must have felt and still feel about the conflict. This is not an experience every traveler gets, and one I am grateful for. To be so immersed in a city’s history and learn from the locals the truth about what happened was educational, humbling, and something I will remember for a long time.