The Former Battlegrounds of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Dusk over the old docks of Belfast

Dusk over the old docks of Belfast

The BEAT Carnival and night parade outside Belfast City Hall. Belfast city centre has come alive in recent years, with both locals and tourists returning in droves to experience this great city.

The BEAT Carnival and night parade outside Belfast City Hall. Belfast city centre has come alive in recent years, with both locals and tourists returning in droves to experience this great city.

Belfast Pubs

Traditional pubs in the “Half Bap” area of Belfast. The city is home to some of the most historic and liveliest pubs in Ireland. Grab a “pin’ o’ Arp” and have some craic with the barflies.

DeLorean Belfast

The futuristic DeLorean aka the Back to the Future Car, was built in Belfast in the early 1980’s before the company collapsed. “Time circuits on… Flux Capacitor… fluxing… flllluxxxxiiinnngggg…. Engine running… All right!!!”

You what!! Are you out of your mind?! Jesus Christ you could have been killed!!!” – The reaction of my well travelled friend (he’s gotten as far as Galway) when I told him we walked down the Shankill Road in Belfast in 2013.
For those out of the loop, “the Shankill” is the traditional Loyalist Protestant heartland of Belfast – meaning those who are loyal to the British crown. As a southern Catholic Irishman, it would have been inconceivable for me to walk through the Shankill 20, heck even 15 years ago.

And to be honest, I was bloody terrified. Walking along we heard a van slow down behind us, and literally crawled along and followed us….I didn’t dare look behind and we quickly took the next left turn back towards to the infamous Peaceline. Another few metres and we wouldn’t be kidnapped and tortured!! Hurrah! Thankfully, I made it into the “Green Zone” aka the nationalist Falls Road. Now….for all I know, the van could have been a gang of Loyalist paramilitaries, or a post man…..or a milk man. But alas for me, the fear factor remained!

Many of the remaining Loyalist murals on the Shankill and other areas still contain violent and militant images.....

Many of the remaining Loyalist murals still contain violent and militant images.

Falls Road Murals

In comparion, on the Falls Road, the nationalist murals portray Irish culture, remember international revelutionaries and focus on human rights. Above is Bobby Sands, the famous 1981 IRA hunger strikers.

….Whereas on the Falls Road, the nationalist murals are a lot softer…. they portray Irish culture, commemorate international revolutionaries and focus on human rights in Palestine, South America, and around the world. Above is Bobby Sands, the famous 1981 IRA hunger striker.

Belfast protest

Belfast City Hall – at the time we were visiting, a decision was made to only fly the Union Jack over City Hall on certain days, rather than all year round. This sparked widespread protests  and riots in the city.

Despite my instilled fear of the Shankill, Belfast today has come on leaps and bounds since the dark days of the Troubles. The city is fast becoming one of the most popular weekend breaks in the UK and Ireland, with new direct flights from across Europe and further afield. The filming of Game of Thrones and other popular TV productions has provided another unexpected boost to tourism numbers.

The Big Fish, along the River Lagan. It's ummmm, just a big fish really!!

The Big Fish, along the River Lagan. It’s ummmm, just a big fish really!!

The Winter view from Victoria Shopping centre.

The chilly winter view over the domes and spires of the city towards the Belfast hills. Thousands camped in the cold hills in 1941 as the German Luftwaffe blitzed Belfast during World War II.

Colours

The MAC venue is nestled within the old pubs of the Cathedral district. It’s a new world class arts venue, featuring exhibitions from local and international artists alongside theatre from around the world.

The compact city centre, dominated by the grand City Hall, is easily explored by foot. Find your bearings by taking in the sweeping panoramic views at the iconic Dome in the newly built Victorian Square shopping centre. Expert guides will point out historic Belfast symbols such as the Harland & Wolff shipyards, Divis Hill and the Albert Clock. Best of all, the guides provide all of this for free! And don’t forget to take a #domeselfie and post it to the Dome Instagram page, with a chance to win spot prizes….. Get poutingkids!!

Samsun and Goliath, the massive cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyards. This is where the Titanic was built between 1909 - 1912. The ship to be built was in 2003 and since then they manufacture wind turbines for offshort wind farms.

Samsun and Goliath, the massive cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyards. This is where the Titanic was built between 1909 – 1912. The ship to be built here was in 2003, since then they manufacture wind turbines for offshore wind farms.

Titanic Belfast Museum

Titanic Museum

In 1912, the Titanic set sail from Belfast. It took 3 years for the ship to be built at the Harland & Wolff shipping docks. With a month, it would lie at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic Museum pays tribute to this magnificent vessel, it passengers and its crew.

The redeveloped Titanic Quarter is home to the Titanic Museum, a striking building that has the appearance of a great ship steaming through the old dockyards of Belfast. 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the launch (and sinking) of the Titanic, and Belfast is surely the only city in the world that pays homage to a vessel that sank with the loss of 1,500 lives.

Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating museum, echoing the golden days of passenger cruise liners going back and froth across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Game of Thrones, the hit TV series, is filmed close by in a massive TV studio, so keep your eye out for Jon Snow and HODOOOORRRRR!

Albert Square clock, Belfasts version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Albert Square clock, Belfasts version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Peaceline belfast

The main Belfast Peaceline stretches between the Catholic Falls Road and the Protestant Shankill Road. This isn’t the only in Belfast, there are close 50 throughout the city. Considering the Berlin Wall fell over 25 years ago, tourists are shocked to see division like this still exist in Europe today.

Peaceline Barrier

A road barrier separating Loyalist and Nationalist areas in West Belfast. The Northern Irish government has committed to the removal of peacelines by 2023. However, a poll showed that 69% of residents were in favour of keeping the walls as a means of safety and security.

A Black Taxi tour is the best way to learn about The Troubles – the civil strife that affected Northern Ireland between the late 1960’s – 1990’s. There are still pockets of disorder today, but nothing compared to back then and the majority of the population shun violence.
The Black Taxi tours take you to both the Nationalist (Irish) and the Loyalist (British) communities and the taxi drivers will provide an excellent insight into Belfast and how it affected them, their family and the wider communities. The drive will include a visit to the enormous Peaceline that separates the Loyalist and Nationalist communities of West Belfast, and you’ll also come across many of the hundreds of political murals that dot the city. Previously, the murals reflected the might of paramilitary forces such as the IRA or UVF, but today many focus on community heritage, sports and a bright future.
You’ll realise walking and driving through these communities that they are very similar, same accents, same shops, football everywhere….and you wonder, why were 3,000 lives taken during this dark period of Irish history???

Nationalist Memorial Belfast

The Clonard Memorial on the Nationalist Falls Road. Commemorating IRA Volunteers from the area as well local civilians killed during the Troubles.

Loyalist Mural belfast

Belfast UDA Mural

As mentioned previously, many of the Loyalist murals continue to feature armed Paramilitary forces. Many communities would rather see murals celebrating local artists and heritage rather than the areas violent past. Nonetheless, these murals are a major draw for tourists.

Belsonic (2)

Belsonic

The cracking Belsonic festival in Belfast city centre attracts leading music artists from around the world every August. We ended up seeing Deadmau5, 2ManyDJs and Dizzee Rascal in 2009. Nine Inch Nails, Skrillex and Florence & The Machine have also played. The festival began in 2008 and was a major confidence boost for the city. And why thank you, the moustache does suit me 🙂

15 years ago, downtown Belfast was a ghost town. A security cordon manned by police and army officers meant nightlife was almost non exist, and many previously popular bars were shut down due to bomb damage and lack of business. Thankfully, the city has rebounded and offers some of the best dining experiences and nightlife on the island of Ireland today.

Kurrito, on Botanic Avenue, can already lay claim to perhaps the finest burrito joint on the island of Ireland….but with a difference. It’s a fusion of Mexican and Indian foods. What, you mean curry in a burrito? Yes Sir, and it works, man oh man it comes out good! Keep an eye on Friday’s for their weekly specials.

Close by, the Empire Music Hall hosts live gigs and comedy nights. In fact, you can have you whole evening sorted out in the Empire. They do great food deals, including £3 pizzas. So pop in, grab some food and drink and then rock out for the rest of evening with some of Belfast’s best up and coming bands.

Live music in the Empire Music Hall

Live music in the Empire Music Hall

Crown Saloon

The Crown Bar and Saloon. During the Troubles, countless other bars were bombed or divided between being a Catholic or Protestant pub. The Crown was deemed to be neutral ground, and was never the direct target of any bombings.

The Crown Saloon is the most famous Belfast pub, and cannot be skipped on a visit. This extremely decorative Victorian bar is full of character. Despite being opposite the most bombed hotel in Europe (the Europa Hotel has been subjected to 28 bomb attacks), it managed to survive and today the thriving bar is owned by the National Trust who have fully refurbished it’s period décor.

So that’s Belfast, go on….. get on over for a visit. Really and truly a great city, with a fascinating recent history and a resilient population who remain extremely friendly. After Belfast, why not pop on down south across the border to Dublin?

Please leave a comment, or we’ll throw you into the back of one these….

Police car

The intimidating armoured police Land Rovers of Belfast are thankfully slowly being replaced with regular police vehicles. However it is still a shocking sight to see these around a modern European city. And wait until you see the Police stations!


Creative Commons Credit and thanks to mertxe iturriozportengaround, Beat CarnivalNico KaisersedogliaeaandersonPhilip Ray

15 Comments

  1. 18/09/2015 / 11:27 PM

    Wow, lots of fascinating stops!!! I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, hope to go someday!!

    • continentaldrifters
      19/09/2015 / 8:19 PM

      Cheers Alexis, it’s a great place. And a great starting point to explore the rest of Ireland too 🙂

  2. 20/09/2015 / 4:24 PM

    I didn’t get to Northern Ireland when I went but it looks like I missed out!

    • continentaldrifters
      21/09/2015 / 4:11 PM

      Always next time! Great wee place, seriously lovely people, excellent whiskey and of course the stunning Giants Causeway just down the road as well!

  3. 21/09/2015 / 3:12 AM

    I have been to Dublin and thought the people of Ireland were the BEST! Looks like I have another place I need to visit there!

    • continentaldrifters
      21/09/2015 / 4:10 PM

      Thanks for the comment. It’s very different to Dublin, and it’s a great stop off on the way to the Giants Causeway!

  4. 21/09/2015 / 3:59 PM

    Why there are such armored police cars in Belfast? I never heard of it.

    • continentaldrifters
      21/09/2015 / 4:09 PM

      A legacy of the Troubles Julius, Police can still be targets of car bombs and rocket attacks so these armoured jeeps are still used in more dangerous parts of the city. They’re also used for controlling riots who are sporadic… unfortunately there’s still a lot of work to be done to make the city full peaceful.

  5. 21/09/2015 / 4:00 PM

    We visited Belfast this year and loved it, it is so different to Dublin and we really didn’t expect that. We visited the murals and didn’t feel intimidated one bit, fascinating place which more people should visit when they go the Ireland. Lovely surrounding countryside and coastlines too.

  6. We visited Belfast this year and loved it, it is so different to Dublin and we really didn’t expect that. We visited the murals and didn’t feel intimidated one bit, fascinating place which more people should visit when they go the Ireland. Lovely surrounding countryside and coastlines too.

    • continentaldrifters
      21/09/2015 / 4:06 PM

      Thanks for reading! I guess growing up in Dublin and hearing about the horror stories meant I still had a fear of going close to the anti-Irish neighbourhoods. But still, brilliant city and the drive along the coast to the Giants Causeway is brilliant!

  7. 21/09/2015 / 4:53 PM

    Never found interest in Ireland until now! I just never thought there’d be so much unique culture there. You’ve just proven me wrong! Seems like there’s so much to learn and see!

    • continentaldrifters
      21/09/2015 / 11:06 PM

      There is SO much to do in Ireland! For such a small island we certainly have a lot on offer!!

  8. 23/10/2015 / 2:50 PM

    Nice to see this blog and to see so many positive things being said about Belfast. I grew up there during the Troubles and things have definitely improved a lot in the years since the ceasefires. Just a little detail – there was definitely a great nightlife even in the dark old days of the 90s, it has probably just got better since (I don’t live in NI any more) 🙂

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