Jul 29 2005

Lindsay goes to Ireland: The Bullets and Bombs of Belfast

by in Ireland, United Kingdom, Western Europe

While in Ireland, my family and I took a daytrip to Belfast in Northern Ireland. I found Belfast to be one of the most interesting parts of our trip to Ireland, primarily due to two reasons. First, my great-great-grandfather was an Orangeman from Belfast, so I had an opportunity to see the part of Ireland that my O’Neill ancestors came from. Second, Belfast has been an area of conflict between Catholics and Protestants for many years. I still remember watching the violent clashes between Loyalists and Republicans on the evening news, and wanted to see this former “war zone” for myself.

We took the train from Dublin to Belfast, and upon arrival at the station, hired a local taxi for a tour of West Belfast, more commonly referred to as the “bombs and bullets” tour. Our driver was great, and at times, his commentary was rather amusing. He talked a lot about the different paramilitary leaders and the violence that has plagued the city, something which I only had a very superficial understanding of.

We went to the Milltown Cemetery, which has a section reserved for IRA “heroes”:

Belfast cemetery IRA plot

Belfast cemetery IRA Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was an Irish Member of the UK Parliament who died during a hunger strike in 1981.

Belfast cemetery IRA plot

Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann, and Sean Savage were IRA members killed by British special forces in Gibraltar. At their funeral, a loyalist gunman, Michael Stone, opened fire on a crowd of mourners and threw several grenades, killing three people.

After visiting the cemetery, we drove through the Shankill (Loyalist/Protestant) and Falls Road (Republican/Catholic) districts. Seeing the towering fences that divided the communities was incredible – it was almost too hard to believe. I have never been a very religious person (and currently my Catholicism is practically non-existent), so it was very odd to see neighborhoods divided along religious lines. Personally, I just couldn’t imagine living in a neighborhood that was only composed of Catholics.

Belfast peace line

Gates (the “peace line”) seperating the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. These are actually some of the shorter gates I saw. There are much taller ones that look like they came from a maximum security prison.

Belfast mural

This is the mural wall in the Catholic area. When we drove by, our taxi driver pointed to this section of the mural and said “Aye, there’s George Bush, suckin’ the oil outta Iraq!” Hahaha.

Belfast mural

Another part of the mural wall that displays messages of solidarity for Palestine. There are also hundreds of Palestinian flags flying in the Catholic area.

Belfast mural

A mural of Bobby Sands on the side of Sinn Féin headquarters.

Divis Tower

Divis Tower, a British Army observation post. “They’re takin’ a picture of ya right now, so ya might as well take a picture of ’em.”

Belfast protestant neighborhood

Protestant neighborhood. I’ve never seen so many British flags in my entire life – even the curbs were painted red, white, and blue. This place has really gone on a jingoistic binge – it seems as if they are desperately trying to prove themselves loyal to an increasingly ambivalent British government.

Belfast mural

“Queen Elizabeth, please please please don’t forget about us over here! We’re your loyal subjects!”

Belfast mural

Mural condeming Republican violence.

Belfast mural

The Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the Ulster Defence Association, a protestant paramilitary group. Basically, a group of thugs.

Belfast police station

A police station.

After our taxi tour, we still had several hours until our train departed for Dublin. Hmmm…what to do? Ah, well, I noticed Belfast had a “hop-on/hop-off” bus, so we decided to take that for a general tour of the city. Our first stop was the shipyards, which are mostly abandoned now. Belfast used to have a huge shipbuilding industry, but it was hit hard during the depresssion after World War I, and the industry never recovered. The most famous ship built in Belfast was, of course, the Titanic:

Belfast titanic shipyard

Belfast titanic shipyard

Huge cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Belfast titanic shipyard

Three of the steam cranes that worked on the Titanic.

After we saw the shipyards, the tour took us through the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, so we had the chance to see those again. It felt very odd driving around there in a double decker bus with “City Sightseeing Tour” painted on the side, though. Can you imagine a busload of tourists driving around your neighborhood snapping photos of you? Very odd, indeed. Incidentally, although it was a “hop-on/hop-off” bus, no one actually got off the bus. I suppose most people took one look at the area and decided to stay on the bus. I would have liked to walk around the various neighborhoods for a while, but perhaps I will do that the next time I happen to be in Belfast (whenever that may be).

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend a daytrip to Belfast. I definitely came away from the city wanting to learn more about the area’s history, and once I finish my dissertation, I intend to read up on it.
I might have one more post about Ireland…and then I will work on uploading my photos from Prague.

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25 Responses to Lindsay goes to Ireland: The Bullets and Bombs of Belfast

  1. From William Bruce:

    You must remember that the Loyalists were defending their own people from IRA bombings & murder. How did you Americans feel after your country when your citizens were targeted by terrorsism ?

    Posted on July 17, 2007 at 11:08 am #
  2. From Anonymous:

    IRA heores is one name for them, another would be murdering scum – killing innocent protestants and catholics who stood in their way of them achieving a united ireland by force.
    Glad you enjoyed your tour of Belfast. If you ever come back to Northern Ireland a tour of Londonderry, NI’s second city is highly recommended. This city was plagued by violence as well, 18,000 were forced from the cityside of Londonderry by the IRA as well.

    Posted on January 24, 2008 at 6:57 am #
  3. From Anonymous:

    I’m sorry but my family grew up in Belfast and were all IRA. I spent summers in Belfast and was not allowed to be called by my Gaelic name because they knew i was catholic. how dare u call anyone murdering scum when they would have gladly beat me up or killed me because of my name. the IRA is a group that is fighting for their freedom from people who stole it from them. they are HEROES and nothing less.
    ULSTER SOARISE.

    Posted on March 15, 2008 at 9:38 pm #
  4. From Anonymous:

    And so it continues. Few on either side even know the true history of their own “people”. Most don’t care, it’s more important to them to shout slogans or wave flags. Screw all the tribes.

    Posted on April 18, 2008 at 11:15 pm #
  5. From Adam:

    That’s cool that you saw the ship yards regardless if they were mostly abandoned. With the History that took place there, Titanic and her sisters, the fact that Harland&Wolff were the biggest ship builders in the early 20th century even before Titanic’s time, I’d just be excited to be standing there looking and picturing all that went on those days.

    Posted on July 24, 2008 at 7:11 pm #
  6. From Anonymous:

    Murdering scum?its interesting that you fail to mention the British as that as well. How many men did the British pull from Catholic neighborhoods due to their religion, IRA or not? How many people have lost their lives due to the British in Catholic neighborhoods. Yes there were people on both sides killed, but its a civil war. But murdering scum? You want to tell that to the orangies that almost beat my cousin to death when he was walking home? and IRA never intended to kill innocent people. Their targets where soldiers. And with the comment about the Loyalists defending their country from IRA bombings…theyre NOT in their own country.If they want to defend their own country, they should live in England.

    Posted on January 2, 2009 at 2:57 am #
  7. From Rmg12:

    Actually you went on a tour of Northern Ireland. A completely different country to the republic of ireland.

    Posted on May 14, 2009 at 4:11 am #
  8. From Lindsay:

    Uh, that’s pretty obvious, Rmg.

    Posted on May 17, 2009 at 12:59 am #
  9. From Paul:

    A Black Taxi tour of the city isn’t the most reliable or unbiased way to learn about it.
    William Bruce: the IRA were looked upon to defend ‘their people’ from the likes of the UDA and from counter-rioting by ‘Protestants’.
    To the Anonymous who signed off “ULSTER SOARISE”, I cannot believe you were “not allowed” to be called by “my Gaelic name because they knew I was Catholic”. Who were you ‘not allowed’ by? That a small number of people may have been willing to beat you up because of your name (and equally, others would gladly have beaten Protestants up because of their names, religion or various other ‘reasons’), does not detract in any way from the fact that the IRA were murdering scum. I dare call them that for two reasons: a) That is what they did and b) As a Belfast native I have never been involved in murdering, beating up or supporting any such things. I don’t know who you think has “stolen” ‘freedom’ from anyone, but I’d advise you to read a decent history book which might inform you of the ‘Book of the Taking of Ireland’ – a book detailing the Gaelic conquest of Ireland.
    To the Anonymous who finds it interesting that no mention of the British is made by the commentator who called the IRA “murdering scum” – the IRA’s job and intent was to murder, maim and destroy. The British people had no such desire. As for your cousin who who claim was almost beat to death by “orangies” – you might want to consider peoples’ cousins who were almost beat to death, and worse, by .. shall we say “greenies”?
    As for Loyalists “NOT in their own country”, I’d advise you to look up a decent geography book. Whilst I personally find Loyalism undesirable, they are no less living in their own country than a rabid Combat 18 member in England is living in their own country. A Loyalist in Northern Ireland is not English. In all likelihood, they don’t even have English ancestry. Again, try reading a decent history book.

    Posted on May 25, 2009 at 6:48 pm #
  10. From boby hernandez jasso:

    dear friend will be posible from you to tell me hoo is michael stone ..thank you ..

    Posted on January 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm #
  11. From Old Wolf:

    ‘…IRA never intended to kill innocent people. Their targets where soldiers.’

    One word: Warrington

    Which soldiers were the hoping to target on the pedestrianised highstreet of a provincial town?

    Try telling the parents of the children killed that it was for a just cause.

    Posted on January 15, 2010 at 7:23 am #
  12. From John Knox:

    The IRA republicans only targeted British soldiers did they???

    Try telling that to the 10 innocent Protesant workmen who were taking from their worksvan lined up and murdered in cold blood, or the innocent adults and kids murdered in the fishmongers on the Protestant Shankill Road.

    No soldiers were anywhere near these atrocities.

    Northern Ireland will alway be part of the United Kingdom.

    Deal with it!

    Posted on February 13, 2010 at 9:02 pm #
  13. From Annoymous:

    i think that its great that you came to Belfast! i live here. im actually doing coursework on murals in NI for school. i found your insight to what has happened here very interesting and helpful. as ive grown up here i have been surronded by murals of all different kinds mainly down in the west belfast area and they dont bother me..some of them can be quite intimedating though. it depends but for the most part they dont annoy me. maybe its that im too young to understand? but they are pretty normal to me. ive read through some of the comments left and some are abit over the top..okay maybe in certain areas of belfast that you would be fearful of using an irish name but it can be the same for english names in certain areas too..but for every day life i dont really think you would avoid using an irish name. someone also asked who michael stone was..hes a famous (for right or wrong reasons whichever way you want to see it) for a savage attack which killed a woman and her six year old daughter and nearly killed her nine year old daughter. you can read about him on http://www.scandals.org/michaelstone/index.html || i dont really understand IRA and UVF fights they confuse me and im going to stay out of them lol. but i do know this, theyve both killed inocent people and do you really think we should all fight about their mistakes? i dont..eem well im young..but i can learn! (:

    Posted on April 27, 2010 at 10:02 pm #
  14. From ^wrote that:

    eem see the Ulster Saorise thing..is that supposed to be Ulster Saoirse? if it is then add an irish dictionary to your list of supplies 🙂 lol.i go to an integrated school/secondary school here and ive never been so insulted in my life about my name. i am constantly being asked how to pronunce it by teachers and pupils.a teacher once asked me ‘whats your name?’ and when i said it she said ‘okay..what can i call you instead?’ i was so annoyed! but still life goes on and there is vast magority more of protestants in my school than catholics and yet, i have never been in danger if being hit because of it..its an irish name btw. i wouldnt call myself catholic of protestant. i call myself me and i dont want to be stareo typed..not to be rude. i am flunt in irish though and was brought up with english and irish and love it! and i agree with the person called paul..black taxidrivers in belfast can be very biest to what they say. like i said though im not getting into all the Loyalist and Catholic stuff because the fight will last agessss and its too complicated.
    lets see how many people can read this
    Éadaoin (;

    Posted on April 27, 2010 at 10:41 pm #
  15. From Michael Reilly:

    Tiocfaidh Ar La

    Posted on October 8, 2010 at 10:33 am #
  16. From Mandie:

    In my opinion the IRA and the UDA are both as bad as each other to be honest i think all the conflict that has and most likly will continue is just childish because srsly what for? N.I i suppose it doesnt really matter where it belongs if its the UK or Ireland its jus a piece of dirt really and i dont mean that as in its a shit hole cause its not i mean its just a piece of land. Lol but yh IRA kill Protestans and the UDA kill Catholics so one cant call the other scum its kinda like pot called the kettle black in a way. ♥

    Posted on December 7, 2010 at 8:52 am #
  17. From Someone:

    What do you mean what for? What a stupid f***ing statement, I’ll tell you what for. Sovereignty, it’s a crying shame that ‘they’ are even part of our history. Another thing, this ‘so what’ attitude has got to stop among nationalists. If you don’t care then maybe you should go down south with those other traitors/deserters. What ever you prefare to call the majority of ’em.
    Beyond that, Lindsay keep doing what your doing.

    Posted on March 28, 2011 at 6:39 am #
  18. From Francois Begin:

    I went in NI in July 97 on my honeymoon…lollll.Growing up in Quebec,Canada has a catholic,having my great grand mother coming from Cork Ireland…i always wanted to know where i came from.The week that i spent in NI will always be a beautiful experience.We toured the city (Belfast) with a mate (Republican )that we met in a pub on the loyalist side.
    The visit at the Milltown cemetery is a the hilight of that tour…seeing the grave of my hero…Bobby Sands.And the visit in Derry…wow !!!
    To all my republican friends….Long live the IRA !!!

    Posted on January 4, 2012 at 6:13 am #
  19. From mark:

    bobby sands…..hero , ? is that the guy who had his first conviction for stealing lead of a church roof ????

    Posted on May 2, 2012 at 11:26 am #
  20. From Corkonian:

    Go on home british soldiers go on home

    Posted on June 20, 2012 at 6:16 am #
  21. From A.S:

    This page is full of complete idiots. The IRA are and always have been scum. If you don’t like Northern Ireland don’t live in it and sponge of the Queen for your health and benefits. Back across the boarder you go to your Celtic Tiger.

    Posted on August 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm #
  22. From Donal Doherty:

    Welcome to Ireland love great photographs

    Posted on October 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm #
  23. From anon:

    lmao

    Posted on May 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm #
  24. From friends of loyalist ulster:

    you say the ulster young militants were a bunch of thugs no were near as bat as the ira child killers ULSTER IS BRITISH THEN – NOW – FOREVER NO SURRENDER TO IRS SCUM

    Posted on November 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

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