Belfast Taxi Tour
Visiting Belfast is an unusual experience, While the republic of Ireland had its war of independence 1919 – 1921 and a civil war 1922 – 1923 the 6 counties that remained in the UK after the treaty have had two divided communities one unionist mostly protestant and one republican mostly Catholic. There was widespread discrimination against the Catholic communities with less job opportunities, housing allocations to skew the electoral bias towards the Unionist parties and education investment. This lead to a civil rights movement with civil rights marches from 1968. Marchers came under attack from loyalists which led to rioting in Derry which quickly spread to Belfast. Loyalists marched on Bombay street and burned out a Catholic community and claimed the lives of 8 people. Rival paramilitary groups were formed and large number of British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland. This was the beginning of the armed civil conflict known as “the troubles” in Northern Ireland. The conflict continued until a permanent cease fire in 1997.
The political taxi tour of Belfast ( some Taxis are Black others aren’t ) is an experience that gives you a glimpse into the dark history of Belfast with a local guide who has lived through the troubles and knows the history of the feuding areas both from an historical point of view and personal knowledge of the republican and unionist areas and the paramilitary groups that controlled areas of the Shankhill (unionist) and the Falls area (republican). The Shankhill and the Falls are two neighbouring communities with a history of violence between them that has led to a number of atrocities and an underlying feeling of resentment.
One of the first locations visited on the Belfast Taxi tour is the peace wall which divides the Falls and the Shankhill. This wall was built in 1969 in the early days of rioting between the loyalist and Republican communities. The wall still exists to keep the communities apart with movement between the communities only possible through a number of gates which are open between the hours of 6.30am and 6.30pm. Many sections of the wall are covered with graffiti and political murals. Fell free to write a message and sign your name on a section of the wall while on tour.
Pass through the gates into the loyalist Shankhill area through the Northumberland gate and drive up the infamous Shankhill road. Go into the heart of the loyalist area which during the troubles was controlled by Johnny Adaire who was the former leader of C company a feared a brutal service unit of the Ulster Freedom Fighters. Most of the Murals in both the Falls and The Shankhill are on the Gable end of houses, In this area you will see a King Billy mural and a UFF memorial garden and hear about the Unionist politics and the history of the area.
Continue through the Shankhill following the peace wall and stop at the location that was visited by the Dali Lama, this location is the best opportunity to sign the wall with your wishes for peace.
Cross back into the Falls area close to Cashmir road and Bombay street. This is the location the troubles began in 1968 a large contingent of Loyalist targeted the Clonard Monastery moving through the Catholic areas of Kashmir road and Bombay street burning out all the houses along the way. There is another memorial garden here for local Ira members and locals who died in the troubles.They use the symbol of the phoenix rising from the ashes.
You will discover a few areas which were iconic flashpoints of the troubles such as the area that David Howes and Derek wood left from before dring into a republican funeral a mistake that they paid for with their lives as they were dragged from the car before being executed in nearby waste ground. This incident was caught on live tv.
One of the Final stops is at the Sinn fein office which has the iconic mural of Bobby Sands on the wall. Bobby Sands was the first of ten prisoners to starve themselves to death on hunger strike in the Maze prison in 1981. The prisoners were looking special category status as political prisoners rather than common prisoners.
Your guide who lived through the Troubles and understands the feelings of local communities during the period of the Troubles gives you an in debt description of the mood of the people during certain historic events. I was left with a better understanding of what it must have been like to grow up in such a troubled time. I was also left with the feeling that although there is peace and the shooting and bombings have ceased and the army has disappeared from the streets there is still a strong underlying tension between both communities.
I can not recommend this tour highly enough, The guides are engaging and knowledgeable and will answer any questions you might have