When I visited Northern Ireland recently, Sian and her family arranged for us to go on a Black Cab Tour of Belfast. In addition to covering the general sights of the city, these tours specialize in educating visitors about the "Troubles" which plagued Belfast due to strong political differences between Protestants who want Northern Ireland to remain part of Great Britain and Catholics who would prefer it to become part of the Republic of Ireland or an independent nation. It's a very complicated issue, with very strongly held beliefs on both sides. The radical fringes of both sides have engaged in sectarian violence which scarred the country for too many years. Although I consider myself politically aware and well educated, the tour made these issues real in a very powerful way. One of the sights which brought these issues home was a visit to a "peace wall." I naively thought a "peace wall" was going to be a sculpture, art display or monument to the peace process which led to a cease fire in 1995. I discovered that the "peace wall" is a border (scavenger hunt item #3) between neighborhoods, designed to ensure everyone's safety. It is really long:
And there were blast marks from where explosives have hit in:
As we toured the areas that are still most adamantly divided, we ran into a few young toughs who overheard me speaking about something that I had seen in "Ireland." They wanted to remind me that I was in Northern Ireland. I acknowledged that of course we were and hastened to explain that I was speaking of something I had seen in the Republic earlier in the week.
I had been discussing the prominent display of Irish flags I had seen in Dublin because Ireland was playing in Euro 2012. In Northern Ireland, the prominent display of Irish flags signals partisanship. On the other side, flags and bunting left over from the Queen's Jubilee have blended into partisanship displays in anticipation of the "marching season." The prevalence of the banners and their dual meanings really affected me.
I created this art journal page to reflect on this:
I like the page because, while it fits within my travel sketchbook, it feels more like an art journal page helping me think through and deal with things I learned while traveling, rather than a sketch of something I have seen. It's a new use of my sketchbook and something I want to do more of. I'm offering it as part of Paint Party Friday and wondering whether others use their sketchbooks to do something beyond simply sketching. (For more entrants in the paint party, go to this link). Thanks for reading this post, and thanks to Sian for showing us this side of Belfast. I hope I didn't offend anyone.
Belfast is a wonderful, cosmopolitan city, and Northern Ireland is stunningly beautiful. No one should be dissuaded from visiting because of its troubled history. Like many others, I pray for the day when the Peace Walls come down.