Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions about my visit to Belfast. If you’re looking for an in-depth history of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, this is not it.
Most of my reluctance to visit Belfast was the recent renewed tensions (violence) ~ it’s covered extensively on British TV. In the end, I’m so glad I went to see the city for myself rather than rely on the media. It’s obvious there has been a lot of progress made in the last 15 years since the Good Friday Peace Accord was brokered (in 1998). We didn’t plan it, but we were in Belfast on Good Friday so there were a few events happening for the anniversary. Unfortunately, the famous pub “Crown Liquor Saloon” (circa 1826), which is located in a beautiful Victorian building and still has gas lights overhead, was closed due to Good Friday. The Irish take the Good Friday holiday VERY seriously ~ even the pubs in Dublin were closed or so we were told from our Dublin cab driver.
We visited City Hall which was dealing with the “British Flag” flying controversy. From my understanding, the British Flag used to fly 365 days a year but recently, Sinn Féin formed a coalition, gained a majority in the government and voted to fly the Union Jack a limited number of days. The decision is not sitting well with the Loyalists and so it is ratcheting up the tension once again in Belfast. As we were leaving town, we saw Loyalist demonstrators in front of City Hall waving the British flag. Our taxi driver said he was making about £5,000 a month prior to the latest controversy but since news about the renewed tensions (and bombs being found), his income from tourists has dropped to £1500.
We opted for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour with a live tour guide. As a lifelong Belfast resident, she was a fantastic guide and gave us the dramatic, tragic history of the area while infusing just the right amount of dark humor to keep the story from depressing us too much.
The Peace Wall, also known as “peace lines,” have been built all over West Belfast to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. It’s the hardest part of the Peace Agreement for me to understand. Everyday, people in West Belfast wake up to these peace walls which are build with corrugated metal and barbed wire. Graffiti created by locals express everything from “Peace” to “Break the Wall Down.” The walls are a constant reminder to residents (and visitors) that this kind of peace is fragile. I feel in order to move forward, integration is essential. Once you get to know your neighbor, you then start to respect your neighbor. Easier said than done, but I’m a hopeful person!
On a happier note, the restaurants we ate at in Belfast did not disappoint! Muriel’s in the City Center was a favorite of mine ~ delicious food and a quirky interior complete with “knickers” hanging throughout the restaurant. It used to be a hat shop at the turn of the century (I think) and the restaurant is filled with art deco. Made in Belfast had a very fun atmosphere. Both restaurants had comfy couches and a relaxed ambiance.