Every time I set my alarm, I wake up a lot earlier before it rings. This time it was due to my roommates packing up and leaving early.
It was ok, I now had time to check out the breakfast options in the hostel cafe.
They had all the typical breakfast items, hot and cold. I selected the old favorite of bacon and eggs with coffee.
A hard dish to mess up and it was good. Different type of bacon out here though was only major difference. Round vs strips too.
There were maybe 10 people gathered in the lobby milling about so I took a seat and waited, keeping the group in sight.
Nearly to the minute of 10am strode in an odd-looking man. Short, grey coat, tweed hat and bits of cloth wrapped around both hand as if he had a wound.
He held up a cloth-covered hand and announced ‘if you were here for the free tour, come over. If you aren’t here for the free tour, there is one you can now join!’
He had the perfect Irish accent I’d ever heard up to that point. It was going to be a great tour!
I can’t remember his name, but he was born and lived his whole life in Belfast. He was a professor at one of the universities and gave free tours during his off times from work.
Our walk was going to be mainly in east Belfast, home to what there was of the IRA, Ulster movements. We would see loyalist, er English murals pleading for separation as well as Irish separatist murals demanding for a united Ireland.
His 1st warning was if we saw the police, do not take their picture. Being a cop is tough enough, but in Belfast, some separatist specifically targeted police; not just on their beat, but at their homes. Their families were threatened, too.
We should be safe, but someone may yell at us since we are walking through their homes so they felt like they were in a zoo, on display for us to gawk at.
He also informed us the language of Ireland is Irish, not Gaelic and to never refer to Irish as Gaelic.
‘Gaelic refers to several languages, some in Ireland, some Scotland and northern England, but me grandparents knew their language as Irish and so should yew,’ he said.
First stop was to point to a building that the IRA bombed years ago, just across the street. We were staying in the transitional part of town, east meets west.
A very complex issue that no 1 tour or I could ever explain so read about the Troubles to get some idea of what was going on in Northern Ireland.
He said there is still an IRA in Belfast, but it was just old men talking to young boys and riling them up using alcohol and drugs.
Very little gun fights or bombing goes on these days as it is hard to get either. I wonder how the UK is able to virtually stop guns from coming in to the islands?
We continued onwards, pubs usually had a mural take up a whole side of their building expressing separation. The buildings that were English owned expressed otherwise.
England at first tried to paint over the murals as they came up but it was a losing battle as the murals would return as soon as they stopped guarding them.
Several murals had the word Ulster on them or a red hand. This was a hard concept to understand so read up on it here.
Each neighborhood in this part of town was either Protestant or Catholic, it wasn’t really accepted to mix, which occasionally did happen.
A lot of people on either side weren’t especially adherents to any church, it went deeper to the core of the Irish people. Pick a side, united or separate, Protestant or Catholic.
Making our way through these nice yet small housing projects, we arrived to an empty field, full of the most graphic murals. There were remains of bonfires scattered about. It was here that if any fighting was to occur as it was a known stronghold for separatists.
The separatists feel like they and the Palestinians are both occupied nations and support the separation of Palestine from Israel. They also feel like the US, Obama is complicit in this continued occupation, which is true.
Continuing to walk through neighborhoods I did begin to feel like an intruder. Whole families sat out front watching us listen to a lecture about their hometown.
Soon we arrived to one of the saddest things I’ve seen, a freedom wall. That is really what they are called because wall = freedom.
Behind that was is a school, kids play there. Some freedom, some wall.
It separates a Catholic school from the neighborhood.
It is tough to see all this because it is still going on today. All the WWII things, camps, all that happened, its done. This wall of separation physically, religiously and economically continues.
We took a break and I asked our guide about my friend’s claim that McDonald’s Europe gets its cheese made in Northern Ireland. He misheard me and mentioned there were a lot of dairies, cows in Ireland though he doubted McDonald’s uses real milk cheese.
It was during this talk that I noticed why he had bits of cloths around his hands, sorta like some of the goths when they wear sweaters. He had many warts all over his hands. Looked like extra knuckles, they were that big and covered hands and fingers.
Previously we’d seen a mural that had been put up by the English so some locals chipped away the message between the 2 people.
Siochain means peace in Irish, the opposite of war.
Here is the complete mural with the message intact.
Continuing on to the docks, the one time heart of Belfast. The Titanic was built here tho he warned us not to go to the museum as it was ‘a bit shite,’ he claimed.
It was here my mind was and continues to be blown at the tale he told us. Back in WWII, the IRA got into contact with the Germans. They promised to aid in identifying the Belfast port in exchange for weapons.
They shot flares in the air, bombs were dropped, people died. They hated English occupation so much some were ok if their neighbor, soccer mate, or guy they ran into at the pub was killed.
This fact is what makes any discussion about Ireland, IRA, Ulster very difficult to discuss as it was literally neighbor vs neighbor, both of who are against the English rule.
The idea was to begin another front against England, remember London was bombed, so that Churchill would relent and give up Ireland so as to not have another front in the war.
The plan went as far as a boat, loaded with weapons and bombs, being sunk around the Irish island.
Some of the separatists forgo weapons and instead fight the English through music competitions. Any win vs the English is a win for Ireland.
The tour was well over 3 hours by this point, some had walked away at the 2 hour break, others saw places to hang out on the way.
He pointed out the only neighborhood not leveled during the bombing. These were government houses, all small houses with gates out front. It looked and seemed like a great place to grow up until you learned about the history.
He highly recommend we all go to one of the oldest markets in the UK, St. George’s, near the port. I made a note to pop in for breakfast the next morning.
Ending up downtown, he waved his hand and told us about the modern, fancy buildings but we’d just seen the best part of the city.
Suddenly a lady began blaring on a megaphone nearby, drowning out our guide. He threw his hands down and said, ‘Goodbye,’ and walked off, basically mid thought.
The lady was reading, no screaming, bible verses and making long comments about what they meant. It was so loud and abrasive, I cannot understand why people feel this is the best way to go about spreading the word.
I got out of there and popped into a store to get some water. I didn’t anticipate a 3+ hour tour of Belfast. A 3 hour tour.
This was downtown, full of people going this way or that, rushing along. I passed a music store and spied a copy of NME, a music website I read. This was the first time I’d seen a printed copy so I picked one up, they were free.
Finding a bench I sat down to read, making it a full article in before I was tapped on the shoulder.
It was a couple of Mormons missionaries wanting to spread the word. They were girls, I was used to the white shirt, black slacks, name tag uniform for the guys. Just change out a dress for the ladies and you’re there.
So we have to talk about religion, my trip, why don’t I believe and don’t want to talk about church. My whole thing is beliefs are a very personal and you expect me to talk about them on a busy street with a stranger whose goal is to change these beliefs?
Of course they will have a private study with me. That misses the point. I was just sitting there, not talking and yet you come up and try to not just talk to me, but try to discuss one of the biggest things I do not want to talk about in public.
I’m pretty much a whatever makes your day, whatever makes you happy, god, jesus, buddah, allah, or no diety. Just don’t hurt yourself or others, whatever you believe. And don’t talk to me about what you believe.
It took a long time to walk back to my hostel and I was feeling heavy. So much to process from the walking tour to my religion encounters. I was feeling existential, very aware of how big things are yet how small I was compared to it all.
The whole way back I was making notes on what to really check out tomorrow as there were many cool spots on this side of town. Many statues, parliament building and other green areas would be much better seen with fresh eyes.
Boy did I need a pint so I found a very small pub near a mall. A lot of pubs are incredibly small, but they fit in a lot to their limited space.
This one resembled the Flatiron building in New York. It was on the convergence of 2 streets so it was curved, but corner point of this building.
It was like being in someone’s living room, bar in corner, a few seats, a standing area near the restrooms.
1 bartender for everything, pouring pints, mixing drinks, washing up glasses, it was amazing watching this guy work. Seemed most of the bartenders across Europe were Irish, certainly the good ones that stood out were.
Lots of local paintings of politicians and writers on the walls. I struck up a conversation with the bartender for a moment. He recommended a fine local pint. He also tried to sway me from going to Dublin, too haha.
He was happy I started my visit to Ireland in Belfast, most tourist don’t make it up here.
Bittles Bar if ever you should find yourself in Belfast I recommend a pop in.
Wandering the surrounding area, I found another pub that seemed very cool. Turns out to be one of Belfast’s oldest pub, McHughs.
As much as I paid for my pint, 1 would be it. I guessed they were cashing in on their history and were charging accordingly. Still it was a cool pub full of people. Live music in the basement.
Off into the night I went, heading back to the hostel. It had been a long day.
As if on cue, it began to sprinkle, then pick up with each block. I just made it back to my hostel’s awning before the sky opened.
I sat and watched it rain from inside the hostel for a moment. I do love night rain.
There is a lot of info on this entry. I am by no means an expert on Belfast and it is my sincere hope that I’ve spurned you on to further research into Belfast, Northern Ireland, and more about this area.
There is a lot more to this region than the Troubles and fighting, the area of Belfast has been inhabited for centuries.
This sentiment goes for any of my blog posts. It shouldn’t be the final word but rather a impetus to learning more about an event, a city, a country.
If I am wrong about anything I’ve stated please correct me.
Be ever curious!
Song: Stiff Little Fingers Alternative Ulster