Conflicted Belfast & Northern Ireland

April 2010, by Gini

While Iceland's ash cloud spreading volcano was having a breather from covering Europe and causing flight troubles, we flew unaffected to Northern Ireland to see what their past & present political troubles were all about.

We had our rental car all booked and ready for us at Belfast City Airport, which was a quick 15min drive to the city centre. After a smooth drive with our TomTom we arrived early enough to pop into a local French cafe in the University district for a spot of breakfast before our day in Belfast begun. With our taxi tour booked for the afternoon we walked into town to get a feel for the city centre. We were a day too early for the Belfast Marathon (which we think Perry was running in?). The City hall was at the centre with a very grand Victoria era architecture ring about it with lovely stained glass windows and marble at every turn. When we wandered through, it seemed quite the place to get married at, with brides walking all over, or maybe I am just on bride alert at the moment.

After the hall, our wandering came across one of many Peace lines (corrugated steel walls which are over 6 meters in height) which were a 'temporary measure' spanning 40+ years in the troubled areas to keep the Catholics and Protestant communities apart. We were shocked to see they still stand today, and with more than half of the walls in Belfast alone (over 20 walls in Belfast & 40 in the whole of Northern Ireland). I think we found it hard to comprehend in this day and age, and in our western British culture.

The black cab picked us up by the City Hall for our tour around the murals and troubled areas. We headed in the direction of West Belfast. With one of the first stops being the Loyalist Protestant Shankill Road district, which really demonstrates their loyalty to the British crown, from British flags, St George, King William of Orange, even in some cases the Queen herself. The murals are very much a part of Irish culture through the centuries and they have a powerful presence in the communities. They are somewhat toned down compared to the early 90s. Mostly because the walls are now commissioned to local artists with guidelines to adhere to with the hope education is the answer to lasting peace. Just driving around you really get an idea that not a lot of money has been pumped into communities.
 
We had to past through gates which apparently still close after 10pm. We went onto the Republican Catholic Falls Road district and stopped to sign our names on one of the more well known walls, which have quotes from influential people against the conflict and hopes for the future.
 
After an information overload, we were in need of a drink or too, so we got dropped off at the The Crown Saloon pub, which is the most beautiful pub I have ever been too. A work of art one would say. We enjoyed a few pints of Guinness in our wooden Booth (felt like we could have been planning something mischievous with the IRA) for the rest of the evening.

The next day before we left Belfast for the countryside we took a drive down my Grandpa's old street, Upper Charleville Street, which has been completely rebuilt since his time there. I now have a little understanding why he would have wanted to leave for greener pastures. It must have been a saddening sight on the television when conflict flared up again decades later as well.

We made it to the Giants Causeway by about Midday and it started to pour down, so we waited 5 minutes in our little red bullet car and Northern Ireland surprised us again by turning on the sun! So we were able to walk to the causeway on a nice sunny day! The causeway is a wondrous thing to see but the tourist overload does ruin it to some extent. The landscape gives you a taste of what the rest of Ireland has to offer, that ragged and rough untouched cliffs with wild turquoise water below and emerald green rolling hills above, just a taste.

We stopped off in Derry for a night of Jazz, it was their Jazz festival week so we enjoyed an oldies band in a little pub away from the masses of youngsters on the outskirts of the city centre. More Guinness was had and we stayed in a cute Hostel house with a funky kitchen in the basement and home baked bread in the morning! We checked out their Tower museum and a wander around their impressive old city walls. It felt like it had a really young population and could have a happening vibe in a few years.

With one more day up our sleeves, we took a drive to a wild bird park and saw many different duck species - all of which I would like one of each in our home - when we get one! We stayed in a B&B off the beaten track and not far from Belfast so we made our way slowly back to the airport as we heard the looming ash cloud may be back. All the morning flights had been cancelled, but ours was the only one delayed. 9 hours we were expected to hang in the airport with only a Costa coffee shop and WHSmith - 9 hours?! After an hour we hopped on a bus into the city and proceeded to see two movies head to head at only 3 pounds a pop! After stepping back into the bright light from Movie darkness we discovered our plane was boarding! It has to be the fastest we have ever run through security, ticket gates and caught the end of our plane line as they were boarding the Ryanair plane.

We will never fly Ryanair again, ash clouds are one thing we can understand but the service or lack of service, information updates and general discourteous behavior towards their customers is totally another. It was the icing on the ash cloud cake when the plane landed in Luton with the generic Ryanair trumpet jingle singing 'another Ryanair flight lands on time' followed by booing and a roar of laugher, it summed up Ryanair's service as a joke. It was insulting to say the least. On the positive side we made it back to London, which many didn't for days after and learnt flying is not only the way to get around!

All in all Northern Ireland was fairly similar in parts to England for obvious reasons, it had a touch of Irish landscape beauty and a lot of political history to understand. Now for the rest of the island/Ireland!

G
The standard housing in Belfast

The standard housing in Belfast

Tom & Murals

Tom & Murals

Protestant troubled area with murals on every block end

Protestant troubled area with murals on every block end

The street my Grandpa grew up on in the protestant side of Belfast

The street my Grandpa grew up on in the protestant side of Belfast

Smurfy where is Smurfett?

Smurfy where is Smurfett?

The round wallk

The round wallk

Free derry memorial

Free derry memorial