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Day Two in Belfast: Black taxi tour and dinner with friends by Ann Treacy
August 17, 2019, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Belfast

I was reminded that teenagers like to sleep way more than visit anything. So I walked around Mary’s place in Belfast in the morning. It was great. As fast and as far as I wanted. And no one asked me for anything. I walked through some parks. Saw lovely vistas and pretty good street art.

Then by 2pm I made everyone get up for the Black Taxi tour of political murals. We did it when the girls were very young and it’s so good we did it again. Joe was our driver and gave us the quickest history of the Northern Ireland ever – starting with 1690 and the Battle of the Boyne. The battle was really about who was the rightful king of England (King James or King William). The fight wasn’t really about Ireland or religion; in fact it wasn’t about religion at all but it was the first step in a long step that led to the troubles.

I won’t recount everything – you can find a podcast on it I’m sure but only highlight two things that struck me. (I’ve heard the story many, many times. And for folks who don’t know, I have a MA in Irish Lit. But it seems like everything I hear the story something new bubbles up.)

The start of modern troubles begins in 1912, when the 32 counties of Ireland were divided into 26 (Republic of Ireland) and 6 (Northern Ireland). It was a compromise of sorts but a compromise that favors the Loyalists (folks who liked England and were generally Protestant) over the Nationalists (mostly Catholic) – despite the Nationalists being a strong majority nationwide. In fact, North Ireland was gerrymandered to create a Loyalist majority for the area. Joe pointed out that this is where things should have gone differently. A peaceful protest or other movement should have pushed for the will of the people in 1912. (Inspires me for more Women’s March work!)

From 1912-1916 there were uprising but few and far between – until Easter Rising 1916 when Nationalist volunteers took over the GPO (General Post Office) to defend Ireland. It lasted for 6 days, which is pretty impressive, then the rebels were captured and many sentenced to death. While public interest in the movement had been middling until that point, the executed rebels (the idea, the image, the romance) turned the public. And that spurred a renewed interest in a free and united Ireland.

The troubles continued with lesser and greater fervor until last 1960s, early 1970s. Uprisings happened. Rebels were arrested and treated as political prisons. It wasn’t always front page stuff until Margaret Thatcher decided to not call IRA volunteers political prisoners but treat them as criminals – starting with wearing a regular uniform instead of criminal uniform in prison. But the rebels weren’t having it. Instead of a criminal clothes, the prisoners went naked with blanket protest. (Only had blankets.) That stirred troubles that eventually lead to the Hunger Strikers and that (like the executed rebels) struck a chord. People paid attention again. Bobby Sands (most famous Hunger Striker) was voted into political office (MP) while in prison.

Fast forward to today. A ceasefire was signed with the IRA with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

As Joe pointed out, the crease fire has brought much greater investment and return than the troubles ever did. We did speculate about what will happen in the wake of Brexit. Most people in Northern Ireland would prefer to stay with the EU than the UK. Brings us back to 1912 – will the will  of the people be heeded and what romantic image might it take to spur interest.

SO there’s a long winded recap of our time on the tour. It was interesting to see what the girls remembered. Lily remembered the memorial to a Catholic community that had been burned out of their homes while police stood by (or worse). They all remembered the Peace Wall that separated Catholic from Protestant parts of town. The murals tell the story. And the murals continue to be painted. Our friend Mary had just helped with one and I loved the recent-ish mural on Resiliency. One strange push we saw near Sandy Row (and really in the UK Flag demonstration we saw the next day) was the push by some people to celebrate and remember the oppressors. It very much reminded me of the discussion back home of changing the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.

In short – the back taxi tour gave us so much to think about!

Then we enjoyed a really nice dinner with our hosts Mary and Ricky. Mary generously invited us to stay in her place, drove us around, gave us great ideas for activities. And it was a delight to catch up with Mary again – we worked together 30 years ago at the Half Time Rec!

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