Belfast a city so rich in history that I’d have to write a novel to share it. I’ll try to touch on at least a few primary areas of interest.
As we drove into Belfast, the first thing our Tour quide pointed out were the dividing lines to neighborhoods that we were not to venture into for safety’s sake. These aren’t crime ridden, lower income inner cities like home but rather politically charged areas. Dispite the civil rights movement of the 1960s, tensions remain and I’ll touch on this further on.
The first notable sight greeting us was the “Beacon Of Hope” statue which stands in Thanksgiving Square.
Cave Hill stands in the distance. It was Johnathon Swift’s inspiration for the sleeping giant in Gulliver’s Travels. Swift fancied that Cave Hill resembled a sleeping giant watching over the city. Can you see the face of the giant laying at the top?
One of Belfasts most known landmarks is the Albert Memorial Clock which stands in Queens Square.
While we were staying at The Fitzwilliam Hotel, a must see, is the Europa Hotel. The Europa Hotel is nothing short of a miracle in that it’s still standing. Between 1970 and 1994, it was damaged by explosions 33 times, gaining it’s title of “the most bombed hotel in the world”.
In case you are wondering about taking a vacation of this magnitude, it’s affordability and accommodations, I’ll give you the rundown. We used a company called SmarTours. We chose this destination several months in advance, 2 week tour though they have shorter ones. The price was $2,500 per person. We put in a down payment then simply made payments as we wished. It doesn’t have to be paid off until 2 weeks prior to leaving. Our hotel accommodations…
This price includes airfare from Newark NJ to Ireland, the tour, transportation, tour guide, and attractions all through the 2000 miles around the country, all 4 – 5 star hotels and almost all the meals! So, if you are thinking of taking this trip….DO IT! Book it today!
An uneasy peace…The peace walls are a series of separation barriers in Northern Ireland that separate predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighbourhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighbourhoods. They have been built at urban interface areas. The majority are located in Belfast. The stated purpose of the peace lines is to minimise inter-communal violence between Catholics (most of whom are nationalists who self-identify as Irish) and Protestants most of whom are unionists who self-identify as British.
We signed a peace wall with a message of peace and hope.
Sights still seen in Belfast…
The 1968 Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights marches began in 1968 when Catholics, who for years had been trying to get some sort of equality under the law.. “We are British subjects and we demand British rights.” Such things as employment for Catholics, good housing for Catholics, fairness, under the law, for Catholics.
The most important demand was–“One man, one vote”–because the system worked. In Northern Ireland, that at the lowest level, the only people who had the vote were those who paid local taxes or rates, as they were called. And because Catholics tended to be more poor in the Protestant community, to be less likely to have a job, they were less likely to be rate payers. As a result of that, fewer Catholics had a vote for local elections. In effect, only wealthier home owners could vote AND if you owned 6 homes, you had 6 votes etc!
Persecution based on ones religious preference has a long standing history that effected more than the right to vote but extended to losing and being refused jobs and even the ability to educate your children. The people appeared to suffer under the will and whims of whichever, catholic or protestant affiliation the current ruler held.
Hedge schools were small informal, illegal schools, particularly in 18th- and 19th-century Ireland designed to secretly provide the rudiment of primary education to Catholic children. Under the penal codes imposed by the British, the Irish Catholics were not allowed to have schools. These were often hidden behind or within hedge rows.
Travelling around Ireland, one sight will become familiar, Penny Walls. These are much more than stone fences but rather hold a long and sad history.
During the Plantation of the 1600s, the British took land owned and farmed by the Irish for generations. Suddenly, the families became tenants. They were forced to pay rent to British landlords for land they’d owned and tended for years. Some landlords evicted the families outright, forcing whole communities off their lands. One (John Adair) was the infamous landlord who noted for evicting 66 families in the dead of winter. Many of the women, children, and elderly died by the sides of the roads.
But there were others who were more compassionate. They created work for tenant farmers (former landowners who, with a single pen stroke, lost everything). When the blight destroyed the potato crops, there was no food to sell to earn rent money. No potatoes meant no food for human or animal. One landlord devised a plan to provide income for his tenants. He put them to work building walls….walls that served no purpose except to provide a penny a day to those who worked.
Queens College, founded in 1845
Another site you’ll want to visit is St. Marks Church. This is C. S Lewis’ home church where he was baptised.
I loved walking through the city and finding City Hall to be filled with people sitting on the lawn, reading, talking, or eating a picnic lunch.
The next day, we would be heading over to The Titanic Museum that stands at the very place that the Titanic was built in Belfast Ireland!
Interesting note…the beef in Ireland has a completely different taste than beef back in the states. Clay and I, owning a horse ranch, noticed how hardy the livestock in Ireland appeared. It’s really quite striking! The Island is abundant in limestone. It fequently rains and lime leaches into the soil thus it’s lush nutrient rich foliage that’s rightly dubbed Ireland The Emerald Isle.
The livestock being purely grass fed has a distinct flavor that we’ve never experienced before. Cabbage is a conpletely different item than our common variety. It’s a stringier more grassy consistancy. Corned beef…nope. That isn’t actually irish. You’ll not be having sheppard’s pie either. Although it’s basically the same, in Ireland you’ll order a cottage pie.