Guided Tour of Belfast City
Belfast is a city of contrasts. I found it to be welcoming, forward- looking and vibrant. The people we met were very friendly, helpful and polite. Nothing was too much trouble for our group. However, on the day of our arrival, as we drove into the City, our coach was overtaken by many riot vans and later on the journey we saw riot police gathered, ready for the violence taking place later that evening. This scene was repeated again during our stay which was in the ‘Marching Season’ and every day the newspapers reported the previous night’s violence.
Our guided Coach Tour was to emphasise these contrasts. On the one hand, we visited some impressive and important civic sites, on the other we glimpsed some of the division and hatred that still mars and taints this beautiful Capital City.
We boarded our coach at the scene of the Harland and Wolff dockyards, where the Titanic was built, with their gigantic gantries which dominate the area for miles around.
Our tour continued with a drive to Stormont, the seat of Government. The steep mile-long drive up to this imposing building is remarkable and the view from the Stormont, down the seemingly vertical approach road, over the city is breathtaking. This huge white building dominates the skyline and leaves a lasting impression of grandeur and authority.
Later we passed the memorial to CS Lewis, with its Narnia based statue. C.S. Lewis is perhaps Belfast’s most famous ‘son’.
Stood fittingly outside Holywood Arches Library, this life-size statue is called The Searcher. It depicts the Belfast-born Chronicles of Narnia author as Narnia narrator Digory Kirke stepping into a wardrobe - no doubt in search of his mystical land. Sculptor Ross Wilson unveiled the bronze statue in 1998 - the centenary of Lewis' birth.
The rest of the tour took us into the area of ‘The Troubles’ – the Falls Road, the Crumlin Road, and the Shankhill Road among others. Here I gathered impressions of hopelessness and barrenness, fear and intimidation as I looked at the awful graffiti daubed on the ends of the soulless terraced houses. The graffiti was confrontational and graphic, conveying messages of revenge and hatred. We saw concrete walls and barbed wire, separating the warring factions and perpetuating the long conflict.
We also paid a visit to the Peace Wall, separating the Loyalists from the Republicans and some of us put our own messages of hope on this symbol of a divided city. Later in the tour we passed the Orange Hall, where the antagonistic marches took place only a day or two after our departure.
It was very interesting to do this tour. I began to understand that the conflict goes back many generations and that there is no easy solution. Mistakes and atrocities have been made by both sides. The tour gave me a good insight into the divided city.
Would I return to Belfast? Definitely! For there is much, and much more, to enjoy and admire about this city and I intend to return and explore more when I can.