Day 13 - Friday, September 21, 2018 - Explore Belfast in Black Taxi Cabs; Visit Peace Wall; Presentation & Panel Discussion on THE TROUBLES
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember,
The things that made you glad.”
The weather was favorable this morning. It was 44 degrees, with a blustery wind. The report was for showers by 10:00 but when we got up we saw a few clouds but the skies were blue.
When we went down for breakfast, we followed a large group from Gate 1 and an even larger group CIE Tours. The wait staff was frantic and the buffet line was empty.
We managed a little fruit, some yogurt, and a piece of bread however, as we were finishing, the generous buffet had been replenished. Timing is everything.
At 9:00 we met our Black Cab taxi driver for a tour of the dividing lines between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods of Belfast. Vic and Gennie, along with Bev and Ralph from California shared a cab.
Tom, our driver, a mid 60-year-old Catholic man, reminded us this was a tour of his neighborhood and his times in The Troubles. We began with a trip down Falls Road in West Belfast and a stop at The Davis Tower where the violence erupted in 1969.
Making frequent stops for photos, Tom gave us a brief history dating back to William of Orange and James II and then more details of the monthly escalation of the block-by-block events and carnage.
He explained the IRA Blanket Protests and their hunger strikes and the declassification of those arrested from political prisoners to criminals by Margaret Thatcher and the British government.
The difference in the small red brick Catholic sections of the social housing and the more elegant Protestant side of the wall was eye opening. We stopped at several historical points and ended our journey at the original section of the wall.
The wall separating Falls Road and Shankill Roads is over 45ft high. It was the only place where people are invited to sign the wall as a tribute to peace all over the world and especially in Ireland.
Along with the likes of Bill Clinton who worked on the Good Friday Agreement, The Dalai Lama, Bruce Springsteen, and many others, we signed our names for Belfast, for Ireland, and for peace for the children. Vic wrote “With peace we tear down walls” and Gennie wrote “Peace for ALL”.
It was not an easy tour, but rather a learning experience about the real history of the area, not the BBC version. Tom dropped us off at the Felons Club, the Irish Republican Felons Association, also on the west side of the city.
Here we listened to a panel of three men with very divergent views of The Troubles in Belfast. Lee was a British soldier in the army posted to Belfast, Bobby was a Red Hand commando and a prisoner during the violence, and Séamus was a member of the IRA, also imprisoned during the conflict and was now a leader of the Sinn Féin.
The men took turns telling us of their perspectives of the history and hostilities in Northern Ireland and then we were able to ask questions. Although most of the time they did not agree, they were respectful of each other and their pasts.
Getting those three men in the same room was a remarkable accomplishment and now they talk to school children, civic groups, and any one who will listen to their previous history and their pleas for peace.
The discussion was complete at 1:30 and then Richard dropped several of our group off at the Titanic Museum before driving back to the hotel. The Titanic was built in the Harland & Wolff shipyard for the White Star Line in 1912.
We opted to come back to the hotel and catch up on some writing. Lunch was on our own but with another big dinner this evening we chose to just have a light snack.
Gennie wrote a few post cards and we worked on the journal and photos of the day. The city was hosting a cultural festival this evening so Thomas told us the city would be crowded with over 100,000 people later on.
At 6:30 we met in the lobby for dinner and because of the traffic we walked a few blocks to The Morning Star, 19th-century alehouse. The walk among all of the people in the city center was interesting; many had already begun their drinking for the evening.
It was fun to see the young people all dressed up for a Friday night of partying. On the way to the restaurant there were many families but as we walked back to the hotel at 9:00, it was teens and twenty-somethings having a grand time together.
By 9:45 the journal was posted and we were ready to pack and prepare for our departure to Dublin in the morning.
Accommodations: Maldron Hotel - Meals included: B & D
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Just before we were to go on our first journey of 2020, the COVID-19 virus hit and the world shut down for travel and adventure.
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