Trip Start Jul 13, 2008
9Trip End Jul 28, 2008
The one thing I wanted to do in Belfast is learn about the whole IRA/ English conflict that took place in the early 70's and lasted until 4 years ago. The best way to do this is find a local who will show you around, so we hired a "neutral" cabbie to take us around the city and tell the stories. The cabs all have license plates. The green ones mean they are Catholics, the white were Protestant and the yellow plates were neutral. We took the advice of the hotel worker and got a neutral cabbie so we can get both sides of the story.
We met up with our cab driver "Paddy" who first sat with us and gave a background of the situation
We stared off in the Catholic neighborhood and Paddy discussed how the Catholics heroes and the how the Sin Fein came into power. The wall murals by the both sides have become famous in Belfast. The murals in the catholic neighborhood tend to be about international politics such as the US war in Iraq. For example, George Bush visited a couple of weeks ago and the street is lined with murals calling him a war criminal and other nasty things. We were told that there is no way that he would have missed these on his visit.
The cab driver points to a rather tall housing tower not far from where we were. Up until recently the British Army occupied the top three floors of this building and used it "keep order" over the Protestants. We were told that at least a dozen people were shot by soldiers from this tower over the last 30 years.
In the 70's the British built a large wall to divide the catholic and protestant neighborhoods that they call the Peace walls..
Onward from the catholic side, we head through the gate to the protestant side. The gates are only open between 6am and 6pm except for one that is open 24 hours. The protestant side immediately looks like Britain exploded on the landscape with thousands of union jacks flying everywhere. We learn about the Orange Men who parade once a month to remind them of their past victories.
Also, the wall murals are quite different on this side. We were told that there is an effort to clean up murals and remove the violent images, but some still exist. Walking through much broken glass, we get out of the cab (and were warned to keep valuables close) and set out on foot to look at the murals. Many of the murals now portray English historical moments or recent heroes in the battle with the IRA. There was one mural with a hooded fellow holding a gun that the gun seemed to follow you as you walked in front of it
Our tour kept going where he point out such areas where catholic children were shot because the Protestants were not allowed to have the orange parade. Also we saw the catholic hospital were apparently you can get the best knee replacement in Europe... apparently they have lots of experience because of kneecaps being shot off. We went by a church that is now a shopping mall (maybe a sign of the "new Belfast"?) Also, he pointed out the Hotel Eurpopa that is known as the most bombed hotel in the world (something like 20 times!)... Good thing we are not staying there.
Our tour ends with our driver dropping us off in the safe city centre. The tour took two hours, and it was a lot to digest. I am glad to have taken the "neutral" tour so that I can learn both sides of the issue. It makes me wonder about the other side of the issues currently facing us in the world today...
After that, we needed a beer. We headed to the Crown bar that is a national historical site that is a pub. Nice change from castles! A protestant woman and her catholic husband once owned the pub. She wanted to call the pub "The Crown" in honor of the queen and the husband reluctantly agreed
The inside of the pub was very cool. They still had the gas lamps and the "snugs" where you can get a little room to enjoy a pint privately with your friends. We sat and enjoyed a pint and recalled the adventures of the day in the 1800 style pub. The pub was taken over by the government a number of years ago and they now operate it as a historical site. It is worth mentioning that the pints are the same price at this pub as any other... I like that they are not gouging the tourists.
For dinner the cab driver recommended a place near our hotel that you get a steak, veggies, and a pint for under 10 pounds... What a bargain! The steak was served on a sizzling cast iron plate with pepper sauce. I of course went for this bargain meal and opted again for the mash potatoes with the cabbage and green onion. I am going to make this for my next dinner party!