Our last day is spent in Belfast. The complete antithesis of Dublin. A large industrial unattractive gritty city with ugly highrises and dangerous areas.
We have been told by several people that the best way to see Belfast is on the Hop On Hop Off Bus – not our favourite way to sight see, but we take the advice and are glad that we did. The city is definitely best seen from the upper deck of a bus where you are slightly removed from the streets. Everything you see and hear in Belfast is coloured by “the troubles”, a term that suggests a family argument instead of a bloody civil confrontation that lasted for thirty years and was responsible for the demolition of hundreds of buildings and the deaths of 3,500 people
The first thing you notice is that every street has a parking lot. This is where a building was blown up by a bomb in “the troubles” and no one wants to rebuild in case it happens again.
The second thing you notice is Belfast’s version of the Berlin wall, but in this case it hasn’t been pulled down. It is ironically called the Peace Wall which suggests something beautiful and meaningful, but it is neither. Temporary walls were started in the 60’s and some morphed in to huge permanent structures which still stand today. The one we see stretches for miles and separates the Catholics (most of whom are nationalists and think of themselves as Irish) and Protestants (most of whom are unionists and see themselves as British).
It is a tourist attraction that does nothing for the City
It is covered in graffiti from one end to the other, which is what attracts the tourists, but adds to their discomfort
The third thing you notice is more graffiti. It is everywhere, and it is impressive in both scale and quality. The artists have to obtain permission to do their work, and one of the rules is that it must be political and must be relevant. You can admire their work but it does little to make you feel welcome or comfortable in this politically fractured city:
Belfast may not be Dublin, but like the rest of the country, it has one thing going for it. It is full of Irish. The people of Ireland have been a complete delight and have made our trip memorable. From Dublin and the south where the lilting accent is like music to the ear, to the north where the accent is harsher, it is the people that we will remember. They are charming, welcoming and very funny, and they drink a lot! We have laughed more in the last nine days than we have in years – and we like to laugh.
As we are English we were concerned as to what our welcome would be like. I even asked someone in Southern Ireland what they thought of the English. They replied that they loved the English as long as they weren’t playing rugby against them. Then they hated them.
Fortunately they only play against each other a few times each year.