[pics: rooftops in belfast, Craig Mitchell; Catholic murals, backyards and the wall in belfast & black cab tour group, Michelle Coram]
We met some people from Ikon for brunch at
the St George's Markets, then four of us went on a Black Cab tour of Belfast. There are three groups who run these tours, which tell the story of the Troubles. A Catholic, a Protestant and an impartial group. Without knowing it, we had booked a Catholic cabbie. His was a raw and personal telling of the story, as we saw the graves of people he knew, including a teenager who was his neighbour. This struck me as the story of an oppressed people, who still feel oppressed, marginalised, dispossessed and mistreated, and I wonder if Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast, will ever live in harmony?
There are still gates between working class Protestant and Catholic areas, some of which are closed every day, some of which still stand because of the imminent threat of riots during which they would close.
We saw murals from both sides, telling very different stories. We heard of cover ups, and unnecessary deaths at the hands of British soldiers. Catholic families are still waiting for apologies.
With the memorials in each neighbourhood, the murals and black cab tours themselves, I wonder if the working classes actually have little opportunity to put the past behind them and move on. Of course the grief is still raw for many, but if segregation continues, they will never achieve peace.
Interestingly, the upper classes appear to live without this segregation which means that some Catholic people can grow up never encountering anyone from the Protestant parts of Belfast.
I appreciated the tour, but was growing more depressed as it went on, and I felt for the cabbie. I commented to him that it must be very difficult to keep telling this story every day - 'bloody awful' he said. When we were returning to the car from an international memorial mural wall, he said 'I don't know why anyone would come here.' 'To this wall?' I asked. 'To Belfast,' he replied, 'there's nothing to see here.'