Thus far we have seen or travelled through 15 of the Republic of Ireland’s 26 counties (6 more in Northern Ireland) and have met some wonderful people, seen some incredible scenery, enjoyed many many fine meals and had a pint or two of Ireland’s finest.
After a quiet weekend in Skerries however, it was time to take off on our own, leaving Lynne and Martin to get ready for their next guests. Through the pouring rain (Ed. note: Who knows what song that is a line from?) we headed off to Belfast. Now I have certainly driven on “the other side” of the road before, but it has been quite awhile and even then it was an automatic and not a standard. Plus I rented a car (Skoda Superb – think Chex Malibu but 3 inches wider) that in retrospect might have been a little bigger than we needed. Should be interesting.
We arrived in Belfast with no big to do – clearly motorways aren’t going to be an issue as long as I don’t try to keep up with the traffic going past me at 140+ km/hr. It had been suggested to us that a “Black Cab” tour of Belfast would provide a fascinating look at “The Troubles” and we did that the first afternoon.
Now the driver Chris (“Now folks…”) was quite upfront about the fact that he was Catholic but that that would in no way influence what he told us, that he would provide a very balanced perspective of both sides. Well, that sounded only reasonable. Our first stop was just off the rather well know Shankill Road, in the Protestant area of Belfast.
Chris informed us that William III (Ed. note: more on him in a couple of posts from now) was the fellow who started the Troubles when he defeated James II at the Battle of Boyne, ensuring Protestant control in Ireland and the beginning of discrimination of the Catholics. From there he took us to see the mural of Stephen “Top Gun” McKeag. He was given the nickname because he murdered at least 30 people, many of them innocent individuals. His “signature” was to shoot them in the face so to deny them an open-casket. Now I have checked online and this information is indeed accurate. Chris also talked about the fact that generally speaking the outside world only heard from the media about how the IRA were terrorists and that the British army and Belfast police committed no violent acts except in self-defense. He also pointed out that the Protestants seemed to glorify the “killers” while the Catholics remembered the victims.
He continued on with the discrimination theme by pointing out that in order to have a vote in the elections, you had to own a house but if you were Protestant and owned your home, all adults living in the house could vote but if you were Catholic and owned a house, only you could vote. In this way the minority Protestant population ensured they maintained control over the Catholic majority since the judiciary and government controlled everything. It did seem to me that that was a fairly significant level of discrimination.
From there it was off to the Peace Line which divide the two.
The wall is forty-five feet high but doesn’t actually split the entire city but rather just some neighborhoods. At one time there was apparently 45 kms of wall but I think that has changed somewhat.
If you look at the photos above the map you will see the street. These photos were taken on the Protestant side of the wall. All along the street runs a park which further separates the homes from the wall by a further 75 – 100 feet.
There are three gates in the major sections of the wall. Two of them close every night and the third has many security cameras around it. If it looks like some trouble might be brewing, they can be automatically be shut.
This is the opposite side of the wall – in the Catholic neighborhood. They back up right to the fence and have put up these cages to protect themselves from thing, possibly bricks, being thrown over the wall. Compare it to the Protestant side. Perhaps a little more discrimination?
He also took us to a memorial garden which listed all the names of the Republican soldiers
and civilians who died and showed us one of the plastic bullets the police and soldiers used. There are several documented cases of the soldiers shooting the bullets directly at civilian’s heads, resulting in their deaths. It was 5 or so inches long with a diameter of about 1 and a half inches.
Remember how Chris talked about the Protestant murals proudly showing their heroes?
Here are the Catholic heroes.
Following Sands’s election win in 1980, the British government introduced the Representation of the People Act 1981 which prevents prisoners serving jail terms of more than one year in either the UK or the Republic of Ireland from being nominated as candidates in British elections. The enactment of the law, as a direct response to the election of Sands, consequently prevented other hunger strikers from being elected to the House of Commons. The Catholic perspective is that the government did this because Margaret Thatcher refused to sit in Parliament with Sands. When she died, apparently there was dancing in the streets to the tune of The Witch is dead!
Not as to Chris’s balance perspective. I would have to agree that it was very balanced – every time he told us something good about the Catholics, he told us something bad about the Protestant.
And now for something a little less maudlin and, frankly, depressing.
The story about The Crowne is that a married couple – he Irish, she English wanted to open the pub. She wanted to call it The Crowne and his response was that the only way that would happen was if he could put a mosaic of the crown in the floor. She agreed and now everytime an Irishman walks in, he walks all over the crown.
The Shoe Blog
And finally – not from Ireland, but from our good friend Peter. I hope he asked!