On our way south from Bushmills, we stopped in Belfast for a quick look around. I hate feeling like a nosey, gawking tourist using other peoples’ misfortunes as fodder for entertainment and I was worried that’s what we’d look like. That was not the case at all. The people seem to welcome tourists very much and couldn’t have been nicer. I didn’t really feel like much of a gawking fool. They seemed perfectly willing to talk about the situation and political tourism is thriving. The days of feeling unsafe in Belfast are probably long gone (for those of us who haven’t lived through it, anyway) and if this is any indication of the number of people touring, visits to the tourism center have increased 96% in the last year.
Our driver, being from the south and very involved in politics, was not at all happy about visiting, but he begrudgingly showed us around and made no secret of the fact that he hated spending time in the north. These are some of the murals near Falls Road, a Republican area:
This is the famous mural on the outside of the Sinn Fein office of Bobby Sands, an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and member of the British Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze in 1981.
Office and bookstore next door:
In the nearby memorial garden:
There are memorial placards all over the city at various bombing sites where people died.
Of course we wanted to see things on the other side of the fence – literally, the other side of the fence – so our driver took us to some Unionist areas and I don’t think even the car catching on fire would have been enough motivation for him to get out. There’s no mistaking who’s in charge in this area and no matter where you go in the north, either Republican or Unionist, they don’t let you forget it, even in the small towns:
Then shit starts getting sinister:
The murals in the Republican areas were about freedom, memorials, informational or highlighted other unfortunate political situations globally, but this stuff on the Unionist side was not what you’d call friendly. There was no way in hell our driver was going to get closer to this one so I couldn’t get a better shot, but there’s a closer view below (not my photo).
I picked up this book in a used bookstore and read it while hanging out in front of a peat fire at the Bushmills Inn. The author does an excellent job explaining how the whole Northern Ireland situation came about. It deals mostly with the famine and why it happened, but does talk about some other, bigger-picture history issues that left me with a much greater understanding of the country.