The Berlin Wall fell over 20-years ago yet it still remains one of the most popular attractions for the city, but there are more than one set of walls in Europe and this one is still standing strong. Covering over a 20km stretch, many people of my generation probably don’t even know where Belfast is let alone the long standing wall which continues to divide loyalist Protestants and unionist Catholics.
After the eventful night of my arrival in Belfast coupled with a bad cold which had kept me in bed for most of my stay, I extended the date of my departure so I could fit in two tasks – finding a Halloween costume for my trip to Derry/Londonderry and to take a Black Taxi Tour of Belfasts political murals.
The tour guides, able to pick you up from your accommodation or main buses or trains stations, can tailor your Black Cab experience and show you many different facets of Belfast. From the Titanic quater to the pubs and bars; perhaps churches and cemeteries are more your style or to see just the highlights of the city. Being a bit of a square and with my fascination for history and politics I chose the political districts and murals tour.
Political Murals of Belfast
The thing I liked most about the Black Taxi Tours is that they were so flexible. You can see all of one thing or mix it up. My day begun with a drive through West Belfast to see the Unionist’s political murals.
Many of the Murals across Belfast support one side of the debate or feature violent images of war, guns or masked men attacking others but the government is setting out to reclaim some of these murals to turn them into a positive images. One which the Government have already reclaimed is the mural of children spelling out ‘Play’ which suggests that all children have the right to play regardless of circumstance.
On either side of the mural are two quotes, my favourite being below.
Made up of thousands of photos of the locals living in the area, this mural in Hopewell Crescent had a powerful message and gave me a sentence which I’ve mused over a number of times since first seeing it. The mural is in fact talking about the equal rights of people and how “Nothing about us, without us, is for us…” if we, the people, aren’t represented correctly our rights are not fully granted or guaranteed.
Referred to as the Mona Lisa of Belfasts Murals this Protestant mural depicting the UDA, Ulster Defence Association, progress scared the bejeebers out of me no matter what angle I looked at it.
Blame my fear of balaclavas or perhaps it is that wherever you move with the gunman in sight the barrel of his gun follows you, but this is also the creepiest mural I saw during the tour, and one of the most famous.
The Peace Wall
Having stood for more than 40-years in some places, the Peace Walls of Belfast have separated the protestant and catholic community from war. The area still has a series of gates which are opened each morning and closed each night to “prevent trouble” between the two sides. Locals believe the inconvenience these gates create are a small price to pay for the relevent peace which is now experienced in the capital of Northern Ireland.
Reading further into it I found that there are very few areas in Belfast where Catholics and Protestants live together, and many children still attend schools on “their side” of the wall. This means some Protestant children would have never met a Catholic child and vice versa.
Today tourists flock to leave their mark on the walls. It’s a simple message – peace.
When talking about the Troubles or visiting museums in Northern Ireland the name Bobby Sands will crop up in a lot of places. Sands was a IRA, Irish Republican Army, member who was elected to Parliament whilst in prison He died during the Maze hunger strike campaigning to be given POW status, aged 27. There is more about Maze and the hunger strikes below.
Today, Sands name and face are still synonymous with the Troubles and the role he played. There are memorials with his name and other prominent campaigners on them in Belfast and Derry.
Along Shankill Road is a series of murals about causes with both Protestants and Loyalists share similar feelings for and local artists paint. Ranging from current issues, international relations or history the murals are ever changing.
Che Guevara is featured in several murals around Northern Ireland because of his Irish lineage.
Known today as the Falls Curfew or Battle of the Falls, after a British organised weapons search turned into rioting and gun fights, the British army imposed a 36-hour curfew around the area.
The curfew was broken on the Sunday morning, when 3,000 nationalist women marched through the area with food and groceries for the people residing there. Despite the soldiers trying to hold the crowd back the women were eventually allowed to pass and the curfew was broken.
Maze Prison, also known as The H-Blocks after the terrorism wing built there, was the prison in Northern Ireland which housed all of the paramilitary prisoners throughout the Troubles.
Margaret Thatcher refused to give the prisoners housed their Prisoner of War status (POW status) and so an array of protests took place, including Kieran Nugents ‘blanket protest’ where the inmates refused to wear prison clothes and instead donned blankets as only criminals wore prison clothes and lasted over three-years; and the Hunger Strikes in 1981 (after a failed one in 1980) which lead to Bobby Sands death after 66-days and 9 other prisoners deaths in the coming months before it was called off.
Soon after I left Belfast these words were painted onto the mural: “Forced to endure years of brutality, humiliation, degradation and torture, the prisoners embarked on hunger-strike 27th October 1980.”
Was it worth it?
The price for the tours were reasonable. I went with the Belfast Tours and they charged £25 for the first two people and then £10 extra person for up to 5 people.
It was worth the price to have someone with knowledge to take me to the areas of town without having to navigate myself as I would have found myself hopelessly lost or on the wrong side of town. It also provided a good shelter for the rain which was beginning to settle in during my visit in late October.
My driver asked my plenty of questions about what I hoped to see and learn and then customised the tour around what I had told him.
The only downside was, aside from the hole which had formed in my pocket, was that the band ‘Take That!’ had announced a tour and my driver was desperately trying to get hold of tickets for him and his wife so when I wasn’t in the cab he was always on the phone to someone. Again, this didn’t bother me, and he did seek my permission before doing this, because I spent so much time wandering around the murals really trying to take them in.
I recommend booking at least 48-hours in advance but a week is preferable, especially during the summer season.
Let me know in the comments
Have you visited Belfast’s peace wall?
(P.S: Short on time? Why not combine a Black Taxi Tour with a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, one of Northern Ireland’s best drives!)
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Featured Image: laurelxo