Day 20 – 9/15 – Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland (the part of Ireland that belongs to the U.K.). It was founded in the 17th century and prospered, becoming famous for its linens and shipyards. More recently, Belfast has rebounded from years of political strife known locally as the “troubles”. Though I am sure I am oversimplifying, the “troubles” basically were strife between pro United Kingdom protestants and pro Irish Catholics. They ended with a treaty in 1998, but the signs of strife are everywhere, and one gets the feeling all is not permanently resolved.
Another item that Belfast is famous for is the shipyard that built and launched the Titanic. We are docked directly across from the shipyard from which it was launched.
A part of the old shipyards has been converted to a movie studio and sound stage and is the home of “Game of Thrones”.
We caught the ship’s shuttle in to the city center and it dropped us off at Belfast City Hall.
We bought tickets from one of the hop a bus companies, and then learned it would be 45 minutes before the first bus left, so we had time to do some shopping.
Once we boarded the bus, it didn’t take our guide long to begin discussing the “Troubles”. Every time she mentioned it, she followed up with a statement that “everything is better now and it is all behind us” but you got the feeling that there is a sense of wishful thinking, and the underlying problems are not resolved. There are definite protestant areas of town, flying Union Jack flags from houses, pubs and light poles – marking the territory as being pro British.
Other areas are marked with the Irish tri-color – showing showing support for having the 6 counties of Northern Ireland joining The Republic of Ireland.
In each respective area there are dozens of murals on walls and businesses commemorating the fallen heroes of their side and making political statements that were hard for me to understand – too much insider information.
These are all quite colorful, and some quite poetic – but one should remember the thousands of people who died in this conflict – almost all civilians.
These walls were put up to separate catholic and protestant neighborhoods, when the residents had begun firebombing houses of the “other” side. Though the peace was signed in 1998, the residents have consistently voted in recent referendums that they want the walls to stay.
Even in the city center, walls had to be put up surrounding the city offices to prevent the constant bombings, which at their height numbered 2 or 3 a week!
Our guide said that one very optimistic sign was that since the peace, they have started to build glass buildings, which would never have been attempted during the bombings.
This hospital was dedicated by Prince Charles, who commented that it was an “ugly” building. In typical Irish fashion , it is now known to the locals as Camilla.
As we drove out toward the suburb of Holywood (Rory Mcilroy’s home) we passed the airport, named after soccer star George Best.
This is Stormont, designed to hold Northern Ireland’s Parliament. It was closed during the troubles, as all parliamentary functions were performed in London.
The area around the former Harland and Wolff Shipyard (builders of Titanic) is now called Titanic Quarter and is being developed as a tourist area, anchored by the Titanic Exhibit. As much as it was touted, we just couldn’t get any enthusiasm for a visit, right before we do an Atlantic crossing.
A fascinating city, and if they truly have put their troubles behind them, they will have a bright future.
Now, on to Cobh, Ireland.
Belfast was very interesting. The tour guide was very thorough in describing both the burgeoning city growth and the “troubles” as they were called. We got to see how close the neighborhoods were that were at each other’s throat and how much of the dialog between the two is still an ongoing process. This dialog is through the murals that run up and down the peace wall and in the neighborhoods. We also saw the new glass buildings right up against the thick blast walls of two decades ago. It was surreal and very interesting. Dad is right about the Titantic – there were tours everywhere. I can think of nothing I want to do RIGHT before taking the Atlantic crossing ourselves. *heebie jeebies* In other news we did find a Dr. Marten store and am coming home with several pairs of souvenirs. S C O R E!