The Walls of Belfast – By Maeve O’Dowd

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When talking with the locals of Belfast I noticed that there were multiple times I would pick up on some hesitation to say whether they Belfast is part of Northern Ireland or just Ireland. It was confusing as to why some said they were Irish and some who said they were Brits. Turns out that this is actually an ongoing conflict and not just a difference in semantics. During a Black Cab Tour this afternoon, we were shown just how deep this tension lives in the people and even zoning of Belfast.

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Catholic memorial of their fallen soldiers over the years. Other side of the graffiti and signed wall.

For decades the people of Belfast have been divided by being either Catholic and believing they are Irish or being Protestants who are loyal to the Queen and believe to be British. Our tour guides who consisted of one catholic, one protestant and a neutral leader even shared about their respective sides. Staying in the city centre you wouldn’t think that a couple kilometers out of the city is a system of such separation between these groups. There are gates and a main wall that prevent the two sides from getting into fights, throwing stones and harming each other.

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Metal fence to keep the Protestant area protected.

It feels barbaric when you see the systems that have been put in place to keep these groups so separate, and the violence that has ensued between these two groups for years. In reality, this tension between the people and their loyalty to the government is really no different than what we see in the Middle East and even in the United States between races, political parties and religions.

It is interesting to note that Bill Clinton was an active member in trying to make peace between the two sides, allowing both perspectives to be heard in order for there to be any progress. This was never something I felt the media reported back to the U.S. about. Considering our current government and the plans of building a wall on the Mexican border, you would think that this story of a former president would surface to serve as an example.

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The wall that separates the protestant and catholic living areas of Belfast. It is signed by many visitors to share quotes of peace and understanding.

I want to believe that people don’t still throw stones, or believe they need to use violence and fear tactics to show their power and pride in their side. As a nation, we love to use our media to point a finger at the Middle East and more radical, underdeveloped nations in order to prove the violence that exists in other countries. Yet these violent acts between beliefs happen all over, even in Northern Ireland and, frankly, even in the U.S.

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