Today we did one of the things I have been truly looking forward to on this trip, we took the Black Cab Taxi tour of Belfast’s peace walls and murals. Our Guides were three amazing individuals, Paddy, Sam, and Peter. Of course I had to share the cab with the one whose name I also shared and I’m glad I did. Peter was an absolutely fantastic and hilarious man with a very deep understanding of the issues of Belfast from both sides of the conflict. In fact the entire tour he always talked in plurals, that is always saying we and us when talking about unionists and loyalists. This way it made it impossible for us, or people of the neighborhood, to discern what side he actually fell on. This led to a great unbiased tour of the war that has raged across the streets of this city. We traveled around the Shankill Road and its conflicting street the Falls Road. Shankill is 100% absolutely protestant, as evident by the abundance of British flags and even the street curbs being painted red white and blue. This is where some of the worst fighting and conflicts have been in the Belfast area. It’s also where you find some of the most infamous murals.
These murals tell the history of the protestant people and reveal part of their underlying personality. To this day the Orange Order still celebrates the Protestant King Billie’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne. For this reason around July 12th, the largest march of the year, tensions are always very high in Belfast. The protestants wish to go on their historic march through the streets. The problem is many of these streets are Catholic neighborhoods who want no part of this parade entering their neighborhood. In fact due to being blocked from traveling down a particular road during last years parades the Orange Order has set up a camp at the corner of the street. Every day they attempt to continue the march and are stopped by the police. This has cost millions of dollars over the past year. Though these murals are quite beautiful and contain a rich history they are not permanent. The more prominent ones stick around but often they are painted over and a new mural is put up.The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has started an initiative, “Re-imaging communities program.” This program seeks to replace the more violent and offensive murals with those that promote peace and unity. At the same time it aims to preserve the history of the murals that it removes. Each time a mural is removed they take and record a picture to be posted next to the new painting with a description of the last mural. Promoting this movement towards peace while preserving the history is what Ireland truly needs to move on and come together as one people.
Though I could talk about the various murals and the conflicts between the residence of Shankill Road and Falls road, there is just one more thing I want to talk about today, the wall that separates them. In 1969 the first peace wall was raised between these two neighborhoods. This was after an attack on the catholic neighborhood in which families were kicked out of their houses before they were burnt to the ground. After this giant walls were constructed all across the city to prevent these neighborhoods from fighting each other constantly. Forty of these walls have been constructed to this day and they are currently putting up a forty-first. This shows just how much conflict still exists to this day. Unlike the Berlin wall that was built to keep people in, these walls are built to keep people out and therefore the communities and neighborhoods have no desire to take the walls down. They have become historic landmarks which are decorated which tons of beautiful street art and thousands upon thousands of signatures and messages of peace. Notable celebrities, tourists, and locals each sign this wall, and our own group had the chance to add our messages as well.