Friday, June 11, 2010

Northern Ireland - Part 3

Context: This was in May of 2002.

We wake up on our final day and sign up for a local tour that takes us through some of the grittier parts of Belfast. I wasn’t too frightened, after all, I’ve lived near major cities most of my life and I firmly believe that if you mind your own business, you are usually safe.

The main division in Northern Ireland is along a combination of political and religious lines. On one side you have the British/Protestants and the other the Irish/Catholics. Our first destination is a neighborhood where everything is painted the colors of the Irish flag (sidewalks, fire hydrants, lamp posts, houses, fences, everything.) Shortly after, we pass through one for the opposite side where the theme is the Union Jack.

The driver has a running discourse on the various acts of violence that have happened and I wonder just how much is fabricated just to make things sound more dangerous. We pass by a pub that has a gigantic metal barrier covering the entrance and he explains that, when it became difficult to throw pipe bombs inside, they started to drive cars through the front of the pub to blow it up. The barrier looks new and this is where I begin to get nervous.

Our next stop is a neighborhood where the sides of two-story houses had huge murals – each one describing someone brave soldier fighting for their side of the cause. The driver motions to one in particular which is of a man called “Mad Dog Adair”, whose nickname pretty much describes his behavior and propensity for violence.

He story ends with, “Oh! And there’s your man right there!” and standing on the other side of the street, smoking a cigarette, is Mad Dog himself glaring at our bus. This is where I start to get really nervous.

Leaving the neighborhood, I note a group of about fifty armored police gathering up the street. The driver explains that every year they have a march which proceeds right in front of the other faction’s church – so rather than have the factions kill each other (sparking yet another blood feud), the police step in between and fight them directly. I let Wife know I am ready to go back to Dublin now.

Arriving home, I read the news and there were over thirty injuries but only a few deaths, so it is reported as “relatively calm”. Belfast is definitely one of the most sobering places I have ever seen, but I am pretty sure I would go back to learn more about the city itself. They say that children going to school together is slowly breaking down the division, but only time will tell.

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