Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Belfast

Well, Bill and I went to Belfast for the weekend. It was pretty wild. As you are probably aware, Belfast is/was the centre of the IRA vs. British Nationalist-related violence for the past 40 years, although it officially ended in 1998.
In any case, Belfast felt largely like any other city of its size in the British Isles (which I am saying to include Ireland although I don't know if that's proper). Except for when Bill and I went off to see the murals, in the areas where the violence primarily took (and still takes) place-- two lower income neighborhoods on either side of the 'peace wall'. And this was far and away the most memorable part of the trip. The murals on the Protestant side of town featured quotes from such glorious Protestants as Oliver Cromwell saying things like "kill all the Catholics" and had pictures of their militia, men in black hoods holding gigantic guns. The Catholic side of town's murals were a bit less aggressive, with mostly painting of their martyrs, like those that died in a hunger strike during the 80s and children that have been killed by rubber bullets, which the police shoot at them sometimes.
Also, the Catholics had some murals of other oppressed people that they identify with, like the Kurds and the Palestinians and some others, I can't remember which. And of course the obligatory anti-Bush mural.
In any case, the Shankill Road (Protestant side) area looked like a war zone. First of all, there are these rows of 'terrace houses' (what we call townhouses, at least, what I do) and they all have murals on the ends, leading to a big grassy field. You would think, as it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, that people would be outside playing or something. But no, completely empty.
The Catholic side of town was a bit more lively, but I just couldn't believe it. We saw two prisons that had 5 foot thick walls, with more barbed wire than I had ever seen in my life. And the peace wall is just this monstrously tall concrete and barbed wire structure. It was truly frightening. I took pictures of course, so eventually I will post these.
And certainly, the conflict is far from over. Right by our hotel, there is this new office building going up, and already, the scaffolding features UFF murals, and the curbs were painted red white and blue. In a lot of ways, the UFF and IRA seemed like slightly politicized versions of the Crips and Bloods.
Sunday, Bill and I wandered around the city centre, when all of a sudden, a parade! Loads of old men wearing derby hats with orange fringey scarves around their necks. Now, orange is the color of the Protestants, so we figured this was them. But I was thinking this is probably some sort of Kiwanis thing for the Protestants. But alas, I was wrong, as sure enough there was a drum that said "Shankill Road Defense League." It would be so much cooler if American gangs marched around in bowling hats.
So this is a very disjointed update about Belfast. I was just surprised to see how present the violence was. The UK elections are, as you may know, in about a week, and the whole city had loads of signs up about various candidates, and literally, every single candidate (except for a few stray socialist flyers) featured the UK or the Irish flag. Apparently, everyone votes along these lines. Labour and Conservative have virtually no presence in Northern Ireland.
I suppose I could babble on about my reactions to the city for days, and indeed, have been. I will go ahead and leave it with this this though.

2 comments:

Doug (the Hippy) said...

I read this post weeks ago, and meant to leave a comment like: "woah" or "far out", but now my comment is "where are you, groovy lady?"

MrSKINNY said...

God, you and Bill seem to go to Belfast every freakin' weekend! It's like Groundhog day over here, why don't u tell us something new? Like, how hard it is to get a job in Dublin!