There’s much more to Belfast than the ‘troubles” of yesteryear.
I had bumped into a Loyalist parade yesterday.
In contrast, I signed up for a walking tour in the Republican side. You might think of the conflict as Catholics (Republicans who align themselves with the Republic of Ireland) and Protestants (Loyalists who want to stay part of The United Kingdom) but Republicans and Loyalists are the terms used here.
There is a group of former political prisoners who now give tours of Falls Road, a Republican neighborhood of mostly small, modest houses. See www.visitwestbelfast.com for the Coiste Irish Political Tours.
Only one other woman, Mary from Chicago, had signed up. Joe, a very fit man of about 60, introduced himself and quickly told us that he had been in prison for 17 years as a former? IRA member. We walked past murals depicting heroes of the latest conflict, the most famous being Bobby Sands, MP. Sands was the leader of a group of prisoners who went on a protest hunger strike and died in 1981.
The strangest murals were of the revolutionary groups supported by the IRA, including the Palestinians, The Basque separatists and the ANC. It’s almost as if they supported these groups because they were revolutionary, independent of their affinity to the Republicans.
This is not the only way to see the murals.
Nothing stops you from just walking around yourself on the major and minor streets. But I know that I would have missed a lot, not knowing all the ins and outs. You can also take a black cab, which are advertised in the tourist brochures. The cabs drive to certain sites and tell you about the events but the quality is mixed. Besides, getting in and out of a taxi every few blocks would drive me batty.
The walking tours are not as popular , probably because you walk for three hours without a chance to sit. Our last stop was in a large cemetery to see famous graves. Then we ended at the Felons Pub, opposite the cemetery, started by guys who were constantly going to funerals. We each got a glass of beer but I traded mine in for a cup of tea.
But enough about the ‘troubles’. Belfast is coming back as a thriving small city. It seems to have more massive Victorian buildings than London, mostly because the city is small and all these ornate structures are close to each other. During Victorian times, it was the linen and shipbuilding capital of the British Empire.
The Titanic was built here, though it sailed from Southhampton. As a sign says:
Built by Irishmen
Sunk by English men