Stories Here and There
In the center of Belfast there is a huge shopping area where people come together to buy from all sects of sectarianism. This has been a successful way of keeping downtown thriving, and shopping is something everyone does. Suburbs and the malls that accompany them have done irreparable harm to tons of U.S. cities, and in Belfast malls of this nature would further segregation.
Note on Irish Cinema: There is a whole subset devoted to “Peace-Process” films. This isn’t what you’d think. It delineates a time, rather than films about peace. I read a small portion of “Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland,” by Martin McLoone that referred to the gentrification of downtown, and he explained:
“The continuing violence of working class Belfast and the sectarian nature of this conflict cannot be ignored politically and no amount of trendy urban regeneration will disguise the fact.”
I asked a friend I met, who is from Belfast, if he likes living here. He told me he had left a few years ago to travel and write, and that Belfast was all he thought about it. “We are the generation our parents and grandparents always hoped for!” he said excitedly, pointing to the pub-goers around us. “We are not defined by that anymore!” I asked him about intolerance being handed down to new generations. He agreed that it existed, but shook it off, “Everyone knows those guys are assholes.”
Another friend told me about the work he does with protestant youth groups, taking them down to Dublin to hang out with people their age. I heard about this theater group who takes kids from east and west Belfast and puts on plays with them. I read an article about a former IRA man turned yoga instructor, who helps former paramilitaries manage their anger. I watched a few minutes of a documentary about how the punk movement brought people together. A few months ago, I searched the internet for groups like these to get involved in, but couldn’t find any. They exist, if you’re coming to Northern Ireland I suggest you try to find one.
Everyone you meet has a story about the Troubles or the legacy of the Troubles. A man was beat up by soldiers on his way home from school. Rocks were thrown at a little girl’s school bus, she learned to duck because the windows broke all the time. My friends from “the south” (Republic of Ireland) feel unsafe going into certain pubs because of their accents. A police officer of 30 years never once hit anyone with his baton. Queen’s students for the first time are playing sports with people from the other side, and making friends. A classmate told our tutorial without apprehension, “I’m an Irishman, I’m an Ulsterman, I’m a citizen of the United Kingdom…I’m Northern Irish. It’s a thing all in itself.”