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November 27, 2018

Belfast

by Rosemary West

The sinking of the Titanic in in 1912 still resonates in Belfast, the city where the ship was built. One of the the city's most popular museums is "Titanic Belfast," a huge complex with exhibits documenting life in Belfast at the turn of the 20th century, the shipbuilding industry, and everything about the Titanic, including design and construction, passenger accommodations, the launch and brief voyage, the people aboard, the sinking, and finally discovery and salvage at the bottom of the ocean.


On the grounds of Belfast City Hall is a memorial garden with five plaques listing all 1,512 victims of the disaster alphabetically.


City Hall.


Steve reads the names.

Bigger than the Titanic is the specter of "The Troubles," three decades of conflict and violence between Unionists/loyalists (who were mostly Protestant) and Irish nationalists/republicans (who were mostly Catholic), involving political activists, paramilitary groups, government security forces, and many others. At least 3,500 people were killed. In 1998, a peace treaty known as the Good Friday Agreement officially ended the conflict, although there have been some incidents of violence since then. Belfast is now considered safe for tourists (as much as any other city), and we felt comfortable walking around there.

The so-called "peace walls" were built to separate Unionist/Protestant and Nationalist/Catholic neighborhoods. Originally intended to be temporary, they were effective in reducing violence and making people feel protected, so they became permanent, and more were added. Over time the walls become longer, stronger, and higher. There is a plan to gradually remove the walls. Some have been taken down, but residents in many areas think they are still needed. The walls, which are often decorated with murals or graffiti, have become tourist attractions.

The peace wall along Cupar Way is one of the tallest, around 25 feet high. I look tiny standing in front of it.



These gates are closed and locked at night.


Another section of wall, sometimes called the Freedom Wall, is covered with murals, mostly conveying political messages. On one side of the gate, the murals support the Nationalist point of view, and on the other side, they are pro-Unionist. Beyond the peace walls, there are also murals throughout the nearby neighborhoods. The murals often commemorate historical events and people who died for the cause. People considered heroes and martyrs in one neighborhood are seen as villains and murderers in the other. The government and various community organizations have tried to encourage non-partisan murals that celebrate shared values and culture; these are still in the minority.





If people's faces are shown in murals depicting paramilitary groups, it means they are dead. Those who are still living are portrayed with masks.


Memory and pride go back a long way.


A few years ago, one of the political murals was replaced by "Conor's Corner," a tribute to local artist William Conor.


Back in the city center is the Europa Hotel, known as the most bombed hotel in Europe (possibly in the world). During the Troubles, it was bombed 36 times. The hotel was targeted mainly because it was the place where journalists from all over the world stayed. No, the bombers weren't trying to kill journalists! (At least, not usually.) They wanted to get the reporters' attention in order to keep the conflict in the news.


The building at this intersection looks like a lot of nothing. That's the idea. It is actually a heavily-fortified police station.


This government building was given a 15-foot-thick wall to make it bomb-proof.


Clearly, people are now optimistic that peace will hold. Across the street from the fortification is a new glass-walled commercial building, and other glass structures have gone up nearby and throughout the city.


"Beacon of Hope" by sculptor Andy Scott was constructed in Thanksgiving Square in 2007.


It's 64 feet high.

Of course, it's not all about politics. Sometimes it's just about art, or fun. The "Salmon of Knowledge" (aka the "Big Fish") is a 33-foot-long ceramic sculpture by John Kindness, constructed in 1999 to celebrate the cleanup of the River Lagan. Its scales are decorated with texts and images about the history of Belfast. Supposedly, it's a tradition that anyone kissing this wise salmon will get an infusion of knowledge, but as our tour guide said, an infusion of bacteria seems more likely.




[Note: We were here in mid-October. The weather was pleasantly cool, and it rained only a little bit.]

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2 comments >>

  1. I cοuldn't refrɑin from commenting. Exceptiߋnally well written!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I hope they are able to keep the peace despite Brexit.

    ReplyDelete

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