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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Lost on Falls Road.

There are two roads in Belfast that you need to know about before you go. Falls and Shenkill roads are the main drags in the Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast, respectively. Just in case you missed it, the Catholics and the Protestants have been going at it for ages in Northern Ireland. The Protestants are Royalists who want to stay in the United Kingdom and the Catholics are the Republicans who want a unified island with the Republic of Ireland.

That is very, very basic. It goes so far as the Catholics blaming the English for the potato famine and representing the potato famine as the genocide of the Irish by the English. Also, although there have been bombings and murders for years–it has never been declared a war. It has simply been called “The Troubles.”

The Troubles officially ended with the Good Friday Accord in 1998 (1997?) while my friend Hayden was at Millikin. In the last few years, Belfast has become much safer and you can see hope in all the new construction. Hayden pointed out the Europa Hotel and told me it was the most-bombed hotel in all of Belfast. The main problem was that anytime there was a major bomb, it shattered the glass in the Europa. Now, if you take a close look around Belfast, you’ll notice that all of the new buildings are primarily glass. So the major money people in Belfast are confident that The Troubles must really be behind them. Unfortunately the parlaiment isn’t running anymore and more hardline groups were elected on both the Catholic and the Protestant sides.

In the 1960’s, during the height of The Troubles, a “peace wall” was built between the Catholic side of town and the Protestant side of town. It runs parallel to Shenkill Road (Protestant) and Falls Road (Catholic) veers to the west side of the Peace Wall. So, Hayden (Protestant, but not militant or too political) agreed that I had to see the murals and that we would take a bus tour or a black taxi tour. Sunday morning came and we couldn’t find a tour to take and the Black Taxi tours are nearly 30 quid, so Hayden sucked it up and agreed with our barista the only thing to do was to drive it ourselves.

First he showed me one that was the end of a HUGE building (see above). It said clearly said that we were entering Ulster territory and that it was gaurded. Then we headed up to Shenkill Road and into the Council housing. The Troubles are part of a greater class struggle and the main areas are poor neighborhoods, with high density populations. The end of the each of the building had a mural to a different martyr or volunteer fighting brigade. The Kentucky Fried Chicken in the neighborhood had to pay 20,000 quid to paint over the mural on it’s wall. From there we cut through the open Iron Gates of the Peace Wall into Catholic territory. Where the Protestant side is all red, white, and blue; the Catholic side is Green, White, and Orange. Suddenly the pubs have Irish names and are painted for the Celtics (not the Rangers.) Celtics are the Catholic football team, Rangers are the Protestant.

We got a little lost, which seemed to make Hayden very nervous. His plates are from Portadown, a town with the Orangemen Parade every year. So for us to be making u-turns in Catholic residential neighborhoods, in his car from a Protestant town–it could be suspicious. He dropped me off at a war memorial for the IRA. He had me leave my camera in the car and waited across the street with the engine running. I don’t think he was too, too nervous–but he’d never (in eight years) been on the catholic side of Beflast. Granted, he lives on the non-sectarian, mixed, affluent southside. But, even though I ride the division bus, I’ve never driven a car all around Cabrini Green in Chicago. So, kudos to Hayden for being willing to explore Falls Road with me.

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