The wife and I were in Belfast recently – for some reason, we had decided to do the city’s marathon. I’m still paying for that decision.
While we were there, we had a mooch round the city and – as you do – partook in a few touristy things.
The most interesting was something called the Black Cab Taxi Tour, which is essentially a history of the political troubles which haunted the city from the 1960s to the late 90s – when the IRA were most active – and being driven to key areas in the conflict like Shankhill Road.
It was fascinating stuff, though quite startling to learn that, despite the fact there has been peace since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, there are still gates dividing Catholic and Protestant areas that are shut each evening.
A so-called Peace Wall, 45ft high in parts, runs for three miles through the city. I asked our driver if he thought it would ever be taken down. He grimaced: “Doubt it – it’s too risky,” he said. “These people, the Catholics who want an independent Ireland, and the Protestants who want to remain part of Britain, work together in the same places but they live in their own communities, and it’s still tense.”
A scarcely believable 3,500 people, mostly civilians, died throughout 30 years of the troubles in Northern Ireland, both in the region and across Europe.
It might be a peaceful place now, and the people of Belfast are incredibly friendly and warm, but it seems it’s going to be a long while yet, if ever, before all problems are resolved.
Barry Freeman is away