When you hear certain cities or countries mentioned, there are words immediately used to describe them which are conjured up by negative images of recent history. Columbia begets “drugs,” Nicaragua reminds people of the Sandinistas, North Korea possibly never recovering from Dennis Rodman.
Belfast’s recent history of unrest is known as “The Troubles.” To me, when innocent people are shot dead or blown up from bombings, using “The Troubles” seems a bit like calling the swine flu a “chest cold.” No matter which side of the conflict you are on.
But despite remaining undercurrents of conflict, Belfast is at peace now. And it is slowly becoming a hot tourist destination, at least in the UK. It’s one of the cheapest destinations, with the pound going a heck of a lot further than London.
I took a walking tour of West Belfast that focuses on the Catholic and Republican side in the Falls Road area. This area is now famous for its many political murals and memorials. The tour was conducted by a former IRA member who was in prison for over 13 years. It was fascinating to get the perspective from a side I hadn’t really gotten from what I recall reading and hearing in the news.
A short distance away is Shankill Road, where the Unionists and Loyalists are concentrated. Walking around the Shankill area, you see many Union Jacks as well as memorials and murals focused on their cause.
From listening to the guide to walking the streets, one gets the sense that despite the peace, there is still a strong undercurrent of conflict. Hopefully one that will remain peaceful.