Overcoming the Dreadful Past
Arriving in the Republic of Ireland on Friday, 17th June, our talkative taxi-driver told us on our way from the airport to the centre of Dublin that we should rather stay here (in the Republic) than go to the north, because of the more pleasant atmosphere, cities and people. Particularly, he warned us about visiting Belfast: “You know, people shoot each other there and they don’t ask if you are German.” His opinion was probably influenced by the more or less recent incidents in Belfast.
Nevertheless, we kept going northwards and wanted to collect impressions of our own of the actual situation there. While we were driving to Belfast by coach the following day, our driver announced that he would eventually take a longer way towards our accommodations because of some “troubles” last night in the town. He feared that nationalists might attack the coach that was obviously coming from the Republic. A short time later he changed his mind and took the usual way through Belfast City – fortunately nothing happened at all.
We spent about three days in Belfast and noticed neither any sign of actual trouble nor aggression amongst the people we met. Belfast was as safe as any other European capital, maybe even safer. We got a good impression of this as one evening we missed the last bus at 11 p.m. and had to walk home from the city centre to our accommodations.
The city reminds its visitor in many ways of its bloody past, if the visitor is willing to see the signs. There are for example many “murals” (paintings on houses or walls) that reflect the incidents that took place in Belfast (Who was killed by whom? Or: Who was thought to be responsible for the situation?). Furthermore, memorials are spread all over the town – erected for those who died in the “Troubles”. There is a kind of wall built up in one part of Belfast in order to separate Catholics and Protestants from eachother. Whenever police-men or security-staff fear “troubles”, they close the gates in the wall to protect the population.
As visitors of Belfast we did not recognize any sign of emergency action, but standing there, where all this had happened a few years before, made us feel much more how lucky we are to live in a peaceful country. We joined a guided coach trip and a black-cab tour to gain impressions of the dark past of Belfast. If we had stayed in the city centre, we wouldn’t have obtained this view so easily – except maybe after visiting a museum (f.e. the Ulster Museum).
Our impressions of Derry/ Londonderry were positive, too. The town was calm and peaceful. We spent a great time there. The “murals” were on the one hand a memorial of Derry’s “bloody” days, but on the other certainly interesting sights for tourists. After walking around Derry for three days, we felt completely comfortable with the town and the people there.
As a kind of result with regard to the “Troubles”, I come to the conclusion that Northern Ireland – as far as we saw it – is a calm and peaceful region and that there is no need to worry about spending holidays, studying or living there. The people mostly behaved in an open-hearted, helpful way and seemed to be willing to overcome the dreadful past as fast as possible. There are still traces of the “Troubles” visible that should remind everybody to stop injustice and violence whenever possible.