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Belfast, the Capital of Northern Ireland, is a city with a distinctly checkered past, a past that belies the laid back, welcoming nature of the people who live there. One of the most poignant, fascinating and eye-opening things to do in Belfast is to take a political tour around the city, where you get to hear the all about a conflict which many people today still know nothing about. A few of my friends flew over from London to check out what was to be a truly fascinating day…

Belfast Terrorist Wall Mural
A militant Protestant mural

For readers who are unaware of Northern Ireland’s recent past I’ll try to give a brief(ish) recap on what’s gone on, without getting too, too deep into the political issues affecting Northern Ireland.

Basically the country is split into 2 groups, Protestants and Catholics (which are both movements within Christianity). Crudely speaking, Protestants want to remain part of the United Kingdom (alongside Wales, Scotland and England) whereas Catholics would like Northern Ireland to cut ties with the UK, remove the border separating Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland (which is currently a completely different country from NI) and uniting the island of Ireland as one country.

Red Hand of Ulster Mural
A mural for Ulster (the country making up most of Northern Ireland)

These differing ‘religions’ have caused problems throughout Ireland for centuries, but the political problems came to a head in the earl 20th Century when eventually, in 1921, the Island of Ireland was effectively split into the two countries we know today – Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Since then Northern Ireland has witnessed endless skirmishes with both sides (Protestants and Catholics) stating their claims. In 1969 ‘the Troubles’ began, a bloody 30 year conflict which cost over 3500 lives across the country.  You may have heard of the IRA, or Irish Republican Army, who managed to garner a lot of support in the USA and have featured in various Hollywood movies. Officially, ‘The Troubles’ ended with a cross-party agreement in 1998 but of course a few signatures from the powers-that-be can’t dictate the actions of an entire population. Right, that’s enough of the history lesson!!

oppression breeds resistance
A Republican mural against an imposed British curfew

OK, so on your visit to Belfast it’s possible to take a black taxi tour of the city where the driver will act as your tour guide, showing you all the political hotspots across the city. Areas which, in recent years, you wouldn’t have been advised to walk around taking photos for your backpacking album.

Bobby Sands Wall Mural
Bobby Sands, the convicted IRA member who died on hunger strike in Prison while insisting on political-prisoner status

For around $15 per person you’ll get around a 2 hour tour, the driver himself will be from one of the staunch areas that have been scene to various murders, bombs, beatings etc and he’ll probably be quite happy to explain his personal beliefs to you.

Steven topgun McKeag mural
Steven McKeag, who killed at least 12 Catholics, is ‘honoured’ with this mural

You’ll be taken to the Shankill road (100% Protestant) and the Falls road (100% Catholic) which amazingly run parallel with each other but are divided by a 25 foot ‘peace wall’ erected to keep the two sides apart and avoid further violence.

The Belfast Peace Line Your tour guide will take you around the infamous wall murals which represent various martyrs from both sides of the conflict, depending what area you are in, and in 2011 I’m happy to say you can walk around freely and snap away all day without any fear of being reprimanded.

This was one of the most interesting tours I have EVER taken in any country I have been in and I couldn’t recommend highly enough. With the Government talking about painting over the murals, you may not have the chance for ever so get yourself to Northern Ireland, learn about their past and experience their warmth first-hand. You’ll leave asking yourself how a country full of so many friendly people could be involved with such a violent history.

After all the morbid tourism, the tour with my friends continued on a somewhat lighter note!

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21 thoughts on “Taking a political tour in Belfast, Northern Ireland

  1. Johnny – is this what they call “the troubles tour”? Can you send me the info on how/who you took it with? Would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

    1. yeah this is it 🙂 i went with one of the companies in the lonely planet – it gave the guys mobile number and he picked us up, it was so interesting. You should def do it if u get half a chance!

  2. I’m glad you gave a mini history lesson before talking about the tour. I had never heard of Ireland being two countries until I met some Irish friends a few years ago. It gets confusing since it’s always referred to as just “Ireland”. Belfast sounds like a really interesting city to visit!

    1. it wasn’t supposed to be that long but i was on a roll lol. Yeah i know, it’s confusing – and combine that with United Kindom/UK, Britaind, Great Britain, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Ireland – its not easy to work out :S

    1. Nice one, I have been asked to volunteer at a ‘race for life’ event in may, bank holiday Monday. I’ll more than likely take this tour, very interesting.

    1. you’re right mate, it’s very sad – regardless of their religion, there should be no place for bigotry in 2011 and beyond 🙁

  3. Forgive my ignorance, but is it honestly safe to go to Belfast as an Englishman, if half the country wants so fiercely to not be part of the UK?

    I hope that doesn’t sound too stupid, I mean it in a curious way as I’d be quite interested to see the upper side of Ireland!

    1. Hey Anthony, no probs mate – yeah 99.9% safe. Obviously don’t run around in your rooney england shirt in the falls road area (the staunchly catholic area)! But yeah, you’d be fine – the strange things about the narrow-minded hatred in NI is that it’s almost exclusively reserved for their Northern Irish brothers, not tourists/foreigners 🙂

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