Guess where the seals are from? I’ll tell you later! 🙂
City Hall, a grand building and convenient landmark. It stopped us getting lost many a time!
Here’s a confession. I never wanted to visit Belfast in Northern Ireland. I had the chance in 2009 when my family and I went to Ballycastle for a week’s break (County Antrim is absolutely stunning). We could have gone to Belfast but we opted for Derry, Londonderry, Lovely-Derry (delete as appropriate to you). True, there were the Loyalist and Nationalist flags and murals but it seemed more in-the-past, more historical, less intimidating, and besides, Belfast is a much bigger city, so I was bound to be more apprehensive anyway.
I was mostly prejudiced by the news footage from the 20th century with the differing communities fighting amongst each other. All very scary and bloody.
To find out the reasons why, it’s necessary to look into the history of it all and then the reasons behind the violence and segregated communities starts to become clearer. But I don’t have the room to outline it all here and I’m no expert so this tale isn’t about The Troubles.
This is a story about Belfast Post-Troubles.
Twenty years since the peace process (the treaty was signed in 1998, yes, it is the 20th anniversary this year), it is possible to go on a hop-on hop-off bus into the staunch Loyalist and Republican areas – Falls Road and Shankill Road. The murals are now curious, interesting and, actually, some are rather artistic.
Of course, they are still a stark reminder of the violence of that time. Some are still threatening to look at, portraying gunmen, but they’re not as intimidating as back before the peace process. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to live here at that time. Amid the old-style ‘war murals’ (our tour guide said it was indeed like living in a civil war zone), more optimistic artwork is blossoming, such as this peace mural.
Now, instead of shrill bangs and bombs going off, you get loud squeals of laughter from hen and stag parties. The array of olde worlde pubs in Belfast appear to be very popular too. Is Belfast now becoming the party capital of Northern Ireland (maybe even of Ireland, Britain and the whole of Europe)?! 🎉🎈🎉
The shipbuilding industry is gone (although the Titanic remnants are still there, witness the ‘Samson and Goliath’ cranes with H and W proudly etched on. That’s Harland and Wolff, the makers of Titanic). You can learn more on the Titanic boat tour or the museum.
Becoming a post-industrial city, like many others, especially in an internet age of shopping, has hit Belfast hard. There is graffiti and neglect, yet there are signs of hope.
For instance, the redevelopment of the docks, new non-sectarian artwork and modern shiny buildings, including the SSE Arena.
I don’t doubt, looking at the peace wall still separating the two communities, there is still tension and mistrust.
The last 20 years won’t wipe it out immediately. It will take time and patience. And when I was there, there appeared to be a political stalemate at Stormont, pictured below. Brexit – the UK voting to leave the EU, while Ireland remains in it – is an added complication.
It would be much more than a shame if all the hard work over the years was thrown away. It’s my personal view that prosperity and peace go together, and that compromise, giving people a voice and listening to each point of view can go a long way towards making a happier place.
So now maybe you are thinking I had placed a picture of seals by mistake. What has a piece about a post-industrial city, still with scars from The Troubles, have to do with a colony of seals?
But it was no mistake. They are real Belfast seals, having returned to the river after many years of shipbuilding had left it dirty, poisoned and polluted. The water was cleaned of the contamination and now fish and seals have come back.
To me, they are a sign of hope. If the seals can come back and thrive then, well, so can peace. 🙂
As an added P. S – Despite my initial prejudices, I enjoyed Belfast, it’s an interesting, vibrant and fun city. And even if you’re not a city-person, the countryside in Northern Ireland is absolutely beautiful.