Saturday, December 11, 2010
Belfast Black Taxi Tour
I think one of the reasons I liked Belfast so much is because of the interesting history that has made the city what it is today. Because of the "troubles" in Belfast, it has been mostly avoided by tourists and travelers and only in the recent years has really opened up and become a city people will visit. By recent years I mean the last ten to fifteen, but in terms of a city developing a new identity that is still quite young. For this reason Belfast is quite an interesting place. It is a city that is changing in trying to move forward yet it will never forget its past and some things will always remain the same.
During my time in Belfast I did what is called a Black taxi tour. This where a taxi drives you around what the locals call the "troubled" areas to explain some of the history dating as far back as the 1600s but mostly focuses on the more modern history focusing on some of the events from the late 1960s all the way up to the peace process of the mid 90s. I found this tour extremely informative and and very interesting. What is really great about the tour is that it is done by a local guy who has lived through the entire conflict and has been directly affected by it. It is a very first hand point of view that makes authentic, it is one thing to hear about these things in the media, but to hear it from a person who has lived through it their whole life really gives you some perspective.
The tour itself is mostly in west Belfast where there is a large Catholic and Protestant populations separated by a huge wall. The driver takes you around to various political murals and to other significant landmarks in the area. I will not get into too much of the history itself because I still do not know it very well and I would not want to give information that is not accurate.
We started the tour in the Catholic, or Irish neighborhood, along a wall where the murals are changed every few years. Here are a few of the murals that are currently on the wall.
This is an IRA member, who was involved in the blanket protest, and the dirty protest trying to get political prisoner status for IRA members who were imprisoned.
This mural depicts the curfew of July 1970 when anyone who left their homes in the Irish neighborhood were to be shot on sight. It lasted a few days before women from all over Ireland walked into the neighborhood to bring bread and milk to all the people who were trapped in their homes. The curfew was lifted shortly after.
This mural depicts the eleven men who died during the hunger strike of 1981, to again try and gain political prisoner status. There is a poem written by Bobby Sands on the mural that reads, All things must come to pass as one, So hope should never die, There is no height or bloody might, That a freeman can't defy, There is no source or foreign force, Can break one man who knows, That his free will no thing can kill, And from that freedom grows.
This mural is of Bobby Sands, a very influential Irish political figure who died during the hunger strike. He was elected to British parliament while incarcerated.
This mural depicts the 1969 Bombay street fires and riots. These were the riots that some say were the begin of the "troubles" in Belfast.
This is a picture of the wall, called the peace line, that separates the Protestant, Falls Road, and the catholic, Shankill Road, in west Belfast. There are similar walls all over Northern Ireland, but this particular wall is the most famous. It has grown in height over the years and is now more then twenty five feet tall in some areas.
This a mural depicting Steve McKeag, a loyalist who is responsible for more then thirty murders. He died of a drug overdose in 2000.
This is a mural that depicts a UFF member pointing a gun, this mural is quite famous because like the Mona Lisa's eyes, no matter where you are standing it appears as though the gun is pointed at you and following you. It is quite and unsettling feeling.
These were just a few of the murals that stuck out to me, there are hundreds of murals all around Belfast and across Northern Ireland that depict similar images. The murals have become a huge part of the culture and history in Belfast and are one of the main tourist attractions in the city. There are a few different ways of going about seeing them all. You can of course get a map that shows you the locations and walk to them yourself, but you miss out on some of the back story then. If you do want to walk it rather then take a black taxi tour, there is a walking tour put on by an ex IRA member, that takes about three hours. After the tour he even takes you to an IRA pub for a pint and is said to be quite good. The other alternative is to do the black taxi tour, I very much enjoyed it but you do have to be careful when picking your tour guide because some of them are just trying to make a quite buck and do not really have any idea what they are talking about.
Belfast is quit an interesting place, and is said to be one of the safest places to visit in Europe now. No matter what side you fall on, the two sides do agree that peace is far better then civil war and over the past ten years both sides of the conflict have been disarming and trying to resolve issues in a democratic way. There are still acts of political violence in Belfast but the difference now is these small groups of individuals do not have the support of the people.