Tour of a Lifetime – Belfast Political Black Cab Tour

I last visited Belfast in 1999.  Things were different then.  I remember pipe bombs going off making a young me a little nervous while I was there for the day.  Since then the Good Friday agreement and several other actions have taken place to ensure peace in Northern Ireland.  Or so I thought.

While in Belfast recently for the day we decided to do something a little different by skipping the standard city tour instead taking a Paddy Campbell’s Black Cab “Political Tour.”  Danny was our guide, a local who grew up in the 70’s right smack dab in the middle of the troubles.

2295

Danny’s Cab in front of the Peace Wall

To be honest I don’t know where to start.  I don’t want to put anyone off of Belfast and certainly not Northern Ireland because I sincerely cannot recommend them highly enough.  But along with the good I believe one must understand the history of the location they are traveling to if they want to better understand it.

D80_9070

King William is alive and well in Northern Ireland

Where the troubles started could be argued.  Did it start in the 60’s when Catholics weren’t allowed the same housing and voting rights as the Protestants?  Did it start with the Protestant William of Orange defeating the Papist James II at the Battle of the Boyne?  Who knows?  And it certainly isn’t for me to say.  But, what I can tell you is that dissension is alive and well.  It isn’t making the national news any more.  Perhaps, because Northern Ireland is censoring the news?  Or, Perhaps because the Irish want to be perceived as successful at their negotiating peace while others in the world are struggling?  Again, I don’t know and I wouldn’t even begin to take a guess since I am only a visitor.

D80_9090

Mural near Shankhill Road Protestant area

D80_9097

Danny took us around in his black cab to the Protestant Shankhill Road and the Catholic Falls Road area which are still divided by a military style locked gate.  It was “marching season” just after July 12th where the Protestants take to the streets marching through the Catholic areas with anti-nationalism and anti-Catholic sentiment.  Violence had ensued just days before we visited so many of the gates were still locked much to the frustration of the pedestrian and motoring public.

D80_9121

One of the Gates that was locked post July 12 Marches…

D80_9118

In the Shankhill area we were driven by and walked through the housing areas to view magnificent murals created to memorialize William of Orange, historical events that had taken place, and in many cases those who terrorized Catholics since the 70s. For example, one mural sensationalized Stevie “Top Gun” McKeag, a violent murderer, for brutally killing a large number of Catholics.  Protestant “Top Gun” was responsible for murdering numerous people including a young Catholic female pharmacy student who walked only feet from her store on the Catholic side to the Protestant side to deliver medicine to an elderly Protestant man.

D80_9075

Mural Memorializing Stevie Top Gun McKeag

2284

D80_9083

D80_9095

Remnants of a bon fire the night before. Bon fires dot the landscape during marching season.

D80_9100

Conversely on the Catholic side an equal number of murals exist rather the subject matter is not of those who were successful in violence against the other side but they highlight those who were killed or martyred during the conflicts.  Bobby Sands is likely the most famous of those Catholics who died as a result of a hunger strike taken, while in prison, which brought a lot of recruitment and notoriety to the efforts.  Instead of bon fires meant to intimidate they choose to erect Peace Gardens in each of the neighborhoods depicting each person killed as part of the conflict.

D80_9125

Bobby Sands/ Poet, Irish Speaker, Revolutionary, and IRA Volunteer

Today, I am told it is less about Catholic and Protestant and more about British rule versus Irish independence.  Since 1949, the majority twenty-six southern counties fall within the independent country of Ireland and six Ulster counties remain in Northern Ireland as part of the Queen’s empire.  Some of the Loyalists view the Republic as traitors while those in the Republic have fought merely for their freedom and Independence.  It was against the law only until recently to fly an Irish flag in Northern Ireland.  And even today I never saw a single Irish flag in Northern Ireland only scores and scores of British Flags.  Where traffic signs are duplicated in both English and Irish in the south many in the north see speaking Irish as treasonous.  Many welcome both Protestants and Catholics in to their homes while those who hold fast to the Orange Order are not allowed to marry or fraternize with Catholics.

D80_9086

Danny drove us to the famous peace wall, a starkly long and artistically graffiti’d wall that’s mere presence is an oxymoron.  The very wall where millions of people have signed their names and sentiments of peace and love, even President Obama on his recent visit, is actually affixed to the very wall that to this day separates Protestants from Catholics.  The wall is higher than twenty feat with razor wire at the top.  It butts up mere feet from the back of Catholic houses.  It is a daily reminder for those who travel back and forth and in between that peace is possible.

2294

Peace Wall that is immediately adjacent to houses behind it

D80_9107

When the tour was over, I felt enlightened and frustrated all at the same time.  I couldn’t believe this was still happening to this level and it wasn’t making the national news.  Mind you these sentiments are particularly high in these areas of Belfast and LondonDerry and not as heightened elsewhere in the North.  But, as we were walking back to the car together I made the statement to my dad that I knew one thing for sure…I knew where our driver was from.  The driver Danny had never told us if he was Catholic or Protestant.  My Dad agreed with me and said he was confident he knew as well.  My mother asked us which side, Protestant or Catholic?  We replied at the same time…one Protestant and one Catholic.  Neither of us agreed!

D80_9127

D80_9149

Clonard Monastary known for its desire for peaceful mediation of the situation that immediately surrounds it.

“There was never a good war or a bad peace.”

“The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.”

I cannot recommend this tour highly enough.  It was not glamorous and at times it was unsettling.  But, I feel enlightened and better for the knowing of it.

For more on my Ireland trips please click here!

55 thoughts on “Tour of a Lifetime – Belfast Political Black Cab Tour

  1. I also enjoyed that tour and it looks likely that we went to the same places. We were there before the bonfires and saw them being costructed – they were huge.
    Some say the troubles began with Oliver Cromwell and I was intrigued when our driver showed us a site where there was once a Cromwell mural but which had been removed by the Loyalists because it especially upset the Nationalists. How odd.
    Bobby Sands of course killed himself.
    Just like you our driver did not reveal his own religion or political views and he kept everything very impartial. We couldn’t be sure but we guessed Protestant Loyalist.
    For anyone visiting Belfast this is a ‘must do’ tour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comments. Now that you say it your are right about Bobby Sands. Thanks for the correction. I will need to go in there and correct that.

      I hadn’t heard about the Cromwell painting. He is certainly an important figure in Irish history one not well liked by many.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is REALLY fascinating, thanks so much for sharing. This may be small-sighted of me, but it’s always particularly interesting to me that this problem is still occurring in a modern (and nearby) society. I think I always imagine religious feuds and independence feuds taking place “elsewhere” in less developed countries, and it’s a reality-check to see them so up close.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These tours are definitely interesting and intriguing – I’ve done them twice now, each time very different. I grew up in the ’70’s as well in the middle of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, not a nice time at all. I have to say I felt equally uncomfortable in both the Loyalist and Republican areas, the murals on both sides make me feel rather unsettled not least those of masked IRA gunmen holding weapons in the Nationalist areas. I grew up in a village on the border where people of both religions got on well and mixed freely, I would also disagree with the statement that members of the Orange Order are not permitted to fraternize with Catholics – that has definitely not been my experience.
    Although the drivers on these tours do not reveal their political leanings, as a “local” I do think it colours their spin on the history and situation – that in itself is really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them. I very much wanted to get this right and it’s hard for me not being from the area. As far as the orange order I completely agree with you as far as the rest of Northern Ireland and the republic goes. That statement was made by my driver and boy he seemed pretty serious about it particularly for people who lived directly in the areas we toured. If it isn’t true that’s a good thing! 🙂 Thanks again for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing work of art! I can stare at them for hours. Call me shallow but for that alone I will make the trip. The truth is the emerald island is on my bucket list for the longest time along with Wales/Powys/Cambria and everything that have shire attach to the name, and of course my dream destination NZ.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad you experienced and shared this other side of the on-going Irish conflict. A large number of political issues don’t make headline news because we get tired of hearing about them, but that does not make them disappear. Your tour guide must have done a very good job at being impartial since you and your dad couldn’t agree on which side he was.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting way to personalize the story; I felt like you took us along on the ride with you. We are so used to seeing this as a historical issue with facts and numbers. The murals are an eye opener.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A great yet sad post my friend.
    I thought all this was over.
    Looks like it’s not.
    When will we ever learn?
    Or when will stop opportunist politicians to blow on the fire?
    Take care
    Brian
    (Are you a Catholic or a Protestant yourself?)
    😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think in this case it doesn’t really matter. I just wish they could get along and no one else ever gets hurt or marginalized no matter what they are. Perhaps that is a naive thought these days… Thanks for the comment as always.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Looks like we’re on line. 🙂 1, 2, 3…
        The question was, of course rethorical. Religions should only be one’s private affair and nobody else’s. I remember in the Deep Old South, local Baptists would call us “Them waild’n loose catherlics”. Which was fun really. I was just sorry to hear from your post that Ulster is still an unsettled issue. Sad. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

          • You figured right. I do see but rarely mentions in French media of Protestant “unrest” or insatisfaction, but not very frequently. I guess it goes to the background with all the horrors in Syria and the migrants… 😦

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, I’m so glad I finally got some time to read this post! Your experiences quite neatly echo my own, when I moved back to the North for a while a couple of years back… That year, protesters besieged Belfast’s City Hall because the council had been debating whether to reduce the number of days per year that the Union flag is flown from their buildings, and all of a sudden, bottles were being thrown, stuff was on fire and it felt like we were back in the 80s again. It shocked and disappointed me, because I was so sure that we’d moved on. But on reflection, we actually have come a long way… The Troubles don’t make the news any more because the days of almost daily murders, “punishment beatings” and bombings are, mercifully, behind us. The parts of Belfast you visited are notable because they are the exception, rather than the rule. And the kind of people who build bonfires and throw rocks at the police on the 12th of July… Well, they’re just the kind of people who like to build bonfires and throw rocks at the police, and the 12th gives them an excuse. The same thing happens in certain parts of Dublin every Hallowe’en, and there’s no political motivation there! It’s true that we still have a way to go, but as long as people (like you!) keep visiting and encouraging others to do the same, I think we stand a good chance of being able to leave our past behind us. So thank you, and I look forward to reading more about your travels 😃

    Like

  9. On Saint Patrick’s Days when I was a kid, I would always try to add orange to my outfits to better represent the Irish flag. My 80 year old grandmother would always say “No orange! You should just wear green!” Never quite understood why she felt that way until I went to Belfast and took this tour. Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderful tour and your photos of the murals are stunning! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. And I agree with Manja that it is particularly interesting that you both were sure of yourselves about the driver, and you came up with opposite conclusions. Did you end up asking? Or did you simply enjoy the mystery?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Postcards from London(Derry), Northern Ireland | Bulldog Travels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s