This post is going to be different from my previous posts because instead of talking about a library or archive I visited, I’m going discuss my experience in Northern Ireland over two days. Before I begin, I would also like to explain that my experiences are MINE. I in no way an trying to make political statements about the city of Belfast.
I arrived in Northern Ireland by bus – coming through the Republic of Ireland. Other than the change of the landscape as I rode north, I began noticing other peculiar things throughout Northern Ireland’s farm land – flags. Lots of them. Some flags were the Republic of Ireland Flags, some the British flag, and others the Flag of Ulster. Almost every property we passed had one of these flags on it. This was the beginning of my understanding of the divide that Northern Ireland has dealt with. The purpose of these flags were to show a family’s allegiance. Either to Britain, or to Ireland. As we drove further north, closer to our destination of Belfast, we saw monuments and murals dedicated to those who fought for Northern Ireland to remain separated from the rest of Ireland.
Upon entering Belfast’s city center, it appears as any thriving city – tons of shops, restaurants, a new mall and people walking around (not to mention the mass amounts of gift shops). I only stayed in the city center briefly before moving towards the Peace Wall. Now, when I first was told about the Peace Wall, I’m not sure what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t what I encountered – a wall so massive it blocked the sun and physically divided Belfast in half. Covered with barbed wire, gates and police towers, the irony of its name was seeping from its cracks. Along the wall were, however, beautiful murals. These murals asked for peace. People signed them and wrote their thoughts on them. The idea seems wonderful, but the stark reality of the wall’s purpose is hard to over look. Not only was the wall intimidating, but the way it broke up Belfast was even more eye opening. We came from the city center – a populated, friendly city, but once we crossed the Peace Wall, we entered a desolate, remote, concrete part of town. New buildings, shops, people, music, and parks all
disappeared. Instead stood rows on rows of town houses and apartment buildings literally covered in British and Ulster flags.
There were more murals painted on the side of some of these apartments. The only people I saw in my short time there were a few kids that walked by. I imagined myself growing up like this. What would I think of the world? How would I view peace? As I left Belfast to explore the beautiful Northern Ireland country side, these questions festered and I’m still trying to figure out an answer.