Susan & Richard's European Adventure 2013 travel blog

1916 Gun runner boat used in Irish rebellion of 1916


We spent three days in Belfast, Northern Ireland. To be honest, I was somewhat hesitant to go there because of the city's reputation for violence. I was wrong. The city still has its problems but is definitely on its way to healing and becoming a more united community. To get a better understanding of the issues we took a city walking tour titled "A History of Terror". Our guide, Paul, is very qualified as he serves as a negotiator between the Loyalists and the Republicans. He grew up in Belfast during the worst of it and his house was even damaged in a bomb attack. The story abbreviated goes like this. The Republicans who are mostly Catholic want the entire island to be reunited and to have no ties with England. The Loyalists, mostly Protestant, want Northern Ireland to remain under British rule. There are other issues too. In the past, the Protestants faired economically better than the Catholics and there were issues of discrimination. The Protestant / Catholic fight goes back several centuries, sometimes the Protestants ruled, sometimes the Catholics ruled. Lots of feuding for a long time. The walking tour took us through areas where the violence was the worse back in the early 1970's. Pubs, cafes and stores were bombed with frequency. In the worse year there were over 2000 bombings and nearly 500 deaths. There was a metal fence built around the city center and before you could enter you were searched by police. All the stores had security guards and searched you again before allowing you to enter. Walls were built to separate the neighborhoods. While I remember hearing mostly about the Irish Republican Army (IRA) performing these acts of terror, both sides were guilty of violence. Thankfully, a peace accord was reached in 1998 and things are looking better. The city center is now busy with shoppers, business people and tourists. New buildings have been built and along the river there is a new park and bike path. However, there are still some signs of the past. There are still walls separating some of the neighborhoods with a goal to have them down by 2023. There is an abdunce of police and security officers. Schools are still segregated as catholic and Protestant. When you apply for a job you must tell your religion and there are now employment quotas. Police stations look like military bases with high fences, bomb proof walls, flood lights and security cameras. You just can't enter a police station without going through security. Occasionally there is still violence. In July of this year, there were some riots downtown but everything was calm when we were there. The walking tour was definitely a learning experience for us.

Belfast is where the Titanic was built and launched. A new Titanic Visitor Center opened in 2012, which was 100 years after it sunk. There are some very interesting exhibitions about how it was built, how it sunk and how it was discovered in 1985. The building, both inside and out, is very stunning. This center is just one more example of how the city is recovering from its darker days. People are know longer afraid to invest in the city.

We are now on our way to Dublin back in the Republic of Ireland. Currency changed from the English Pound back to the euro. Road signs changed from miles to kilometers. Seems like as soon as we get used to one country we enter a new country and everything changes.

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