Today we took a Black Cab Tour, a private, guided tour focusing on the complicated history of the Troubles. The Troubles refers to a period of conflict ( basically between Catholics and Protestants) in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Stevie, our guide, presented an unbiased view of the conflict, its history and current situation. Knowing political and religious differences are sensitive topics, I appreciated his factual approach.
Like many conflicts, the roots of the Troubles go back hundreds of years. Stevie began the history of the troubles with the story of King William III, a Protestant. He defeated King James II, a Catholic, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and ultimately aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland.
He first took us to a number of spots on Shankill Road, the Protestant area. We noticed many Northern Ireland and British flags on homes and shops.
Then he took us to the peace wall that separates Shankill Road from Falls Road, the Catholic area.
The peace walls separate predominantly Catholic areas and predominantly Protestant areas. First built in 1969 as temporary barriers to protect people from violence, they remain standing today.
There are believed to be more than 60 peace walls in Northern Ireland, with most of them in Belfast. Probably the most well-known, the peace wall we visited today, is 800 yards long.
Stevie gave us markers and we were able to join the thousands of people who have written messages on the walls.
We then drove to Falls Road, the predominantly Catholic area, on the other side of the peace wall. On the Falls Road side, the walls were made of metal and not conducive to murals and messages. The houses we saw on this side of the walls had metal cages to protect them from items that might be thrown over the walls. Stevie told us there were similar cages on houses on the Protestant side of the peace walls when the houses were close to the walls.
We visited murals at other places on the Falls Road side of the peace walls.
One of the murals showed people who had inspired the civil rights efforts in Belfast. Recognizable faces on the mural included Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Barack Obama, and Nelson Mandela.
Stevie’s tour was so unbiased that we ended the tour not knowing if he was Protestant or Catholic. Thanks to this wonderful tour, we will leave Belfast knowing a little more about the Troubles.
Duke of York
Before dinner, we went to the Duke of York pub for a drink. No one knows for sure how old it is, but it has been a pub for at least 200 years. It was blown up in 1972 when a bomb went off prematurely and had to be completely rebuilt. It is a charming place, filled with memorabilia from Belfast’s distilling past.
Good bar karma permeated the place. It may be a result of their motto: “Come in Soberly, Drink Moderately, Depart Quietly and Call Again”.
A friendly woman came to our table and offered to take our picture.
I have walked under the lighted umbrellas outside the Duke of York pub many times since we arrived in Belfast. But it wasn’t until we walked there tonight, huddled under our umbrellas, that I noticed their most appropriate sign.
It’s a Small World
The pub was pretty full when a couple asked if they could join us at our table. In the process of the usual introductions, we discovered that we lived about five miles apart. The husband had walked Shankill and Falls roads on his own to learn more about the Troubles at the same time we were taking our Black Cab Tour of the area.
We finished our evening with a wonderful dinner at 7 Spices, a Bangladeshi restaurant on the same square as our apartment. The food was wonderful and the service was exceptionally gracious.
The owner brought us adorable little after-dinner drinks. We thought he said, “Would you like a baby Guiness on the house.” But when the drinks came, they weren’t Guiness. We aren’t sure what they were, but they were very good.
It was a lovely ending to a lovely day.