We slept terribly on Monday night due to the deafening snoring of one of our dorm mates. He was an absolutely awesome dude, but he took snoring to a whole new level.
I’m talking louder than a drunk Tito and Jaren combined.
Anyway, for this very reason Tuesday got off to a relatively slow start, but we quickly got our day back on track by scheduling a black cab tour of Belfast.
These black cab tours are the most popular way tourists tour the infamous Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods that took center stage during the Troubles.
While we knew the basic history of the Troubles, the cab tour was a fantastic way for us to learn more about Northern Ireland’s dark history.
On our way to the troubled neighborhoods we drove through the “neutral zone” of downtown Belfast.
As we passed through, our driver pointed out some critical conflict-related landmarks including the Europa Hotel, which is the most blown up hotel in the world after having suffered 28 bomb attacks during the Troubles.
In the 1970s and 1980s the IRA (Catholics) targeted the hotel on a frequent basis due to the international attention the bombing drew because of all the media staying there.
While the downtown area is now widely considered a neutral zone where both Protestants and Catholics mingle and work together, the neighborhoods are still an entirely different story.
For example, the every shop or business in a Protestant neighborhood will still ONLY hire and serve Protestants. The same is the case for Catholics in their neighborhoods.
Anyway, our first stop on the tour was a protestant neighborhood. Since Protestants are generally unionists or loyalists, the sidewalks are painted red, white and blue and the houses are covered with Union Jack flags and patterns.
There were also enormous murals depicting the protestant “heroes” of the troubles.
The murals were pretty intimidating to say the least.
After our walking tour of the protestant neighborhood we hopped back in the cab and drove one block to see one of the massive walls that were built to help separate the protestants and catholics.
The first wall was constructed in 1969. They were originally built as temporary structures meant to last six months, but due to their effectiveness they are still standing today.
After writing our own sentiments on the wall, we headed through one of the gates and into the Catholic neighborhood. Most of the gates are only open during the day time and each of them have slightly different closing times throughout the evening. One gate stays open 24/7 to allow fire trucks and other emergency personnel free access.
The Catholic neighborhoods are very different than the Protestant neighborhoods in that they are colorless. For obviously reasons there is no red, white and blue and streets appear bland and grey.
On the Catholic side we visited a road that had a row of houses backed right up against the wall. The backyards of these houses are completely enclosed in metal cages designed to fend off any petrol bombs or other projectiles that could be thrown over the wall from the other side.
We also visited a Catholic memorial garden that honers some of the IRA heroes that were killed during the Troubles.
Our last stop on the tour was to see a mural painted of Bobby Sands, an Irish volunteer of the IRA who led the 1981 hunger strike. The hunger strike was in retaliation to the British government withdrawing Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners.
When the British withdrew Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners it meant they were treated as criminals in prison rather than as political prisoners or prisoners of war.
Overall the tour was extremely informative and we would recommend it to anyone visiting Belfast. Not only did we learn a great deal about the history of the Troubles, but we also learned how prevalent the separation and violence still is today.