The biggest shocks came from taking a Black Taxi Tour. A Black Taxi Tour goes to west Belfast and explains historic sites of the Troubles and all the murals that have been painted. The “Peace Line” is actually a twenty-five foot wall that stretches over three miles and has remained longer than the Berlin Wall.
It is common to see barbed wire or broken glass attached to garden walls. The last of the British military left only a year ago, and there are still road checkpoints to enter the Shankill areas. I was surprised to see this as present, not relics. The first stop on the tour was to see the murals on the Catholic side. The images inflected the tone of martyrdom including Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers.
On Falls Road stories of occupation around the globe serve as a human- rights-current events-newspaper…in art. The famous George W. Bush mural was painted over when Obama got elected, and a mural on Gaza went up before January. Next I saw the Peace Line up close. On the protestant side was a graffiti wall with messages of peace. Further from the wall are murals on the sides of houses commemorating William of Orange a militant protestant monarch whose participation in The Battle of the Boyne solidified the persecution of native Irish Catholics, paramilitary men with snipers, and British flags everywhere.
The connotations reeked and my stomach turned a little bit. To be fair, it is the same as the celebration Columbus Day in America.
I don’t want to choose sides or commend violence of any kind, but in the states it is taught as unification with Ireland vs. with Britain. This is true, but it was also an issue of civil rights. Catholics couldn’t get jobs, were often denied voting rights, and even forced into internment camps.
Northern Irish people keep asking me, “Why did you come here?” Witnessing and getting to know the people of Belfast is exactly why I came here. One Northern Irish man made the joke to me, “History is current events.” And where has it ended up? Peace? Apathy? Fear? Separation? Unification? Are they into it? Are they over it? The magic eight ball swirls and shakes. The answer is not yet clear.