On Belfast

I describe Belfast, Northern Ireland as beautiful, interesting, and gut-wrenching – and we were only there for a part of one day. On one end is the natural beauty, architecture, vibrancy, and history – and the other end The Troubles – the Northern Ireland Conflict (1968-1998).

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Belfast’s history is long and complicated. With its Bronze Age beginnings on the hills above, Belfast formed as a small settlement along the River Farset near where the river joins the River Lagan very close to its mouth at the Irish Sea.

A castle stood along the river during the Middle Ages. After a fire (1708), the owners rebuilt on a slope above the city where it still stands today.

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Today, Castle Street serves as a reminder of the original while the River Farset is enclosed below High Street.

Belfast’s population boomed during the mid-to-late 1800s as industry flourished: leading the way were processing tobacco from the New World, shipbuilding, rope making, and producing linen. Those industries are gone today, but toasts of its past remain – including the Titanic Museum located on the shipyard that built the Titanic.

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We took the Belfast Free Walking Tour – a 3-hour walk with a guide who encourage at the end. (We’ve done these in a few other European cities). Our guide was a local, and old enough to know The Troubles. He holds hope in today’s young generation because they are the first generation in 150 years that have not been involved in conflict.

Issues around The Troubles still simmer.  Physical scars still exist. Over 90% of children still attend segregated schools. Inhabitants are still divided by physical walls. The Peace Wall- which is anything but peaceful looking – still has gates that open and close daily. Politically-motivated murals decorate the wall. Memorials dot the neighborhood serving as a constant reminder of the past and the divisions.

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Since the Good Friday Agreement (1998), Belfast has undergone a social, economic, and cultural transformation.

Belfast is known for its many murals that tell its story – many (possibly most) are politically based. For mural enthusiasts, Belfast is a wonderland.

The Cathedral Quarter contains a courtyard (Commercial Court) that is a wall-to-wall-to-wall collage of images. Simply awesome! Although I hope to feature this area in its own post, here’s an interactive video allowing viewers to click-and-drag the image for a 360 degree view. The beginning includes some instructions, but not how to rotate the image.

FYI: Games of Thrones fans know Belfast as an important location for the show .. and yes, special tours exist.

Thanks to the Free Walking Tour and one of the hop-on hop-off bus lines, we saw and learned a lot in our short time in Belfast – a fascinating but gut-wrenching place. From the range of emotions of Titanic and The Troubles to the pride of its own as flutist James Galway, philosopher/author CS Lewis, and musician Van Morrison.

Here’s a promo video from one of the tour lines that will take you throughout the city.

I end with this song and video by Simple Minds (from Scotland) – Belfast Child – as it haunts me in a way Belfast did.

Next stop: The Scottish Highlands

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

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29 thoughts on “On Belfast

  1. Such a wonderful way to see a city with their local guides. When I was in Dublin, I thoroughly enjoyed the hop on, hop off bus ride around the town. When there, I forget who I had asked about visiting Belfast, but it was frowned upon. There is still quite a bit of tension between the two. Next time, I will visit Belfast, it looks beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Your Belfast post causes me to reflect on my ancestry, at least half of which is Irish. I referred to Wikipedia which is comprehensive on Ireland:

    The Great Famine of 1845–1851 devastated Ireland, as in those years Ireland’s population fell by one-third. More than one million people died from starvation and disease, while an additional two million people emigrated, mostly to the United States and Canada.

    The root cause of strife appears to be climate and famine but it is a case study in how bad management and exploitation can make matters much worse. No wonder there were “troubles.” History has its lessons if only we heed it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Your posts make me want to book a cruise myself! I never knew about the history of Belfast prior to reading this – how painful. It is wonderful to learn so much from so many places, about different worlds, seemingly, and different people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lenora,
      We love cruising – but like anything, there are positive and negative aspects. Cruisers see a lot of different places, but (in general) time in port is short (the day, 8-5).

      Cruising your own land would be an interesting start. First of all, you travel cost to the port (mine was Southampton) would be a lot less than mine flying across the Atlantic. Secondly, I imagine you will learn more about your own land … and visit places you haven’t visited.

      Otherwise, I invite you to look at the Categories section in the sidebar … Listed under Travel are some other cruises we’ve taken.

      About Belfast – beauty and pain are two good adjectives describing the feeling I felt there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Belfast sounds very fascinating. I thought things had come along a bit better since 1998, however, the thought that there is now a generation growing up and some almost grown up without civil war, is promising. It looks beautiful, and the 360 degree tour of the Street Art was fun. 😀 Thank you, Frank!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Resa,
      While tugging on numerous emotions, Belfast is fascinating. Having the local guide was great, and he did very well at keeping politics out of it. By the end, I still could not tell where he stood (which is a good thing).

      He also mentioned the Conflict Tour – a tour along the wall with a participant in The Troubles. When the group gets to the end, the return trip is by a different guide from the other side. Sounded fascinating, yet emotional.

      I was hoping you would see this post and the 360 Tour of the courtyard. Belfast is loaded with murals – many with a political message. I saw many while riding around the city – but this courtyard was awesome … and I may do a dedicated post of this place in the future.

      Like

  5. I am half-descended from Northern Irish folk who fled the famine, initially to Australia. My grandfather then went on to flee his wife and several children with another woman to New Zealand…….. Such infamy in the blood line 🙂 The other half of me sports Free Irish lineage.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pauline,
      Oh my … such split blood lines. It’s so interesting that Europeans emigrated not just to the US, but across the globe! Fascinating … simply fascinating. Thanks for sharing a bit of your family history.

      PS: As an art lover, I hope you played with the 360 degree video.

      Like

    • Sylvia,
      I didn’t know if my words in this post could express the range of emotions we felt in Belfast. Meanwhile, we too love hop-on hop-off tours – which we took in London, Dublin, and Belfast.

      PS: I hope you saw the prior post.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am, that the scars are still so evident. It seems that so often even with tremendous conflict and the resulting damage to a city it’s so quickly “cover up” as though it never happened. Northern Ireland dominated international news for so long! I like walking tours and I am sure this was simply amazing. Your photos are really interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Debra,
      Remembering back in time, yes, it seemed that The Troubles was in the news for so long — and it was! Mentally, I don’t think many of us imagine that much conflict for so long in the western world. Its also hard to imagine what goes on in the mind of the locals on a daily basis. Thanks for the kind words about the pics. I tired to pass along a wide range of emotions that I felt.

      PS: Make sure you see my previous post.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I would definitely need to study up on the history of Belfast before going there. Your commentary along with the videos show the history and complexity of the city’s violent relationship with its English rulers. A guided tour led by a local would be a must.

    Liked by 1 person

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