First they built a 15 foot concrete wall. Then they added another 10 feet on top of it. It seemed this was not quite enough and added another 15 feet of fence on top of that. And this is what “protects” the citizens of Belfast from groups of Protestants and Catholics killing each other. All 21km of these walls.
I remember when I was young the great celebrations that happened when the Berlin wall came down and East Germans and West Germans exchanged handshakes for the first time. Democracy versus Communism had finished in Germany. I read about protests of the Israeli West Bank barrier all the time. But I had thought that The Troubles in Northern Ireland were finished years ago
We had read about Black Cab Taxi Tours, which is a tour of Belfast with a guide who will give you a tour of the Protestant and Catholic conflicts with a good amount of history and a bit of opinion. Figuring this was the best chance to get a good breakdown of what really went on we signed up just before we were to leave to the airport.
I’m glad that we did! For full information, click here as it will do more justice than what I can relay and possibly more accurate. But the gyst of what I got was it was more a class war versus a religious war. It seems that the Protestants were unionists with England and in power in the country – a much smaller population group – running the police force, government and owning most of the property and higher positions. The Catholics were people who were run off their land hundreds of years ago and had slowly been regaining their rights. When South Ireland with the IRA claimed independence in 1920 Ireland was split to Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Speed forward to the late 60’s and the IRA was trying to have a National Ireland, not split Northern and South. The Protestants didn’t really like this as they would lose their “power” and local Protestant groups started forming militia’s and terrorizing the Catholic sections of Belfast (and other parts of N. Ireland). As the Police and Government were under control of the Protestants, very little was done to actually stop this. People were being beaten on the street and killed in their places of work. The IRA was then again reformed and started attacking the Protestants back. The British brought in the Army to be peacekeepers, but their heavy hands with the Catholics started to turn opinion against them. It then gets pretty murky on who did what and as we really only got one side of the story, I can’t say anything with actual fact.
What I do know is the driver told us about his childhood friend who was shot in the head with a rubber bullet from 3 feet away and died 3 years later. That the Protestants seemed to know where the members of the IRA were and small amounts of Protestants would break into their home in the night and kill them. Or take them back over the wall and do worse. The interesting thing is the Protestants were allowed back and forth but not the Catholics (by the Army).
Enough to say it was a bad time to be in Belfast, and worse to be a Catholic. These walls were created to separate the neighborhoods from each other to stop these attacks as just under 1000 people on both sides died. And they still remain, but we never really hear anything about it.
When we were on our honeymoon in Jamaica in 2006, we met a couple who were from Ireland. They had told us about car bombings and shootings back home and I didn’t really comprehend it. To me it’s exceptionally unusual for a hotel to blow up in Canada. I’m glad that we went on this tour as now I feel I understand just a bit more of what happened, certainly a personal side compared to what can be found on wikipedia. And it’s still hapening, there’s still a lot of hatred between the two sides, and very large walls.
Checkout our gallery below for pictures from Beflast and the peace wall.