Welcome to Belfast   

Belfast: a city hoping for a better tomorrow

June, 1999

Black taxisAt first Belfast seems just like any other European city where they drive on the left side of the road. But once you know the city's history or speak with the locals, then you see a different picture.

Black taxi   

Take these taxis. They seem just quaint mechanical versions of taxis you'd see anywhere. But these are sectarian taxis. There's a group that services the Falls road (where the Republicans live) and a separate group that services the Shankill Road (where the Loyalists live). If you're a local you don't dare step into the wrong taxi. It is alleged that some of these taxis help fund para-militaries aligned with their respective politics.

Old GatesEverywhere in the city one sees symbols that speak at once of how bad "The Troubles" were, and how much better things are today. To the left is an abandoned gate in the city center. When Kathleen lived here eight years ago, British troops would have stopped all traffic going through here. Now they are chained opened.

Current gate   

But everywhere the gates sit ready to be used again. When trouble brews, the British backed authorities close the gates to separate fighting factions.

Most bombed hotel in Europe   

A tourist today could spend a week blissfully unaware of the troubles. The Europa Hotel once had the dubious honor of being the most bombed hotel in the world. Now it is simply a posh spot for the business traveler.

RUC officer   

Another sign of the amazing relaxation in tension is the simple presence of an RUC officer unaccompanied by armed British troops, and without the old vesture of heavy black body armor. And even though these guys have been targets and victims of lethal violence for years, this guy was as friendly as any relative.

Blair (our friend in blue) was concerned his car might be blocked in on the street where we'd parked if they still closed the street gates at night. So he sought out this officer a couple of blocks away.

Blair: "My car is parked just up there," he pointed.

RUC officer giving directions to a pubKathleen: "illegally of course." (we figure this was true, he was parked in a space that defined a turning lane.)

Officer: "where are you going?"

Blair: "The Kitchen Pub."

Officer: "Aye, that's a great pub. You should have no problems." He points up the street. "There are no constables up there after this hour."

Blair: "Thank you."

The officer had passed grace over an illegal parking situation he hadn't even seen.


It's like that here -- a strange mix of lawlessness and lawfulness. The radio still carries daily news of renegade sectarian killings and bombings.

Sidewalk diggingThis sidewalk on the Glen Road in West Belfast was dug up over the past few weeks because they were looking for bodies buried by the local IRA. The so-called "disappeared" are now at the fore front of politics here, with many sites all over Ireland being excavated for suspected IRA burials.

Home deliveryBut drivers still stop for yellow lights and if you buy more than 25 they'll deliver your groceries for free.

Serious fences   

In Belfast the locals take their boundaries very seriously. Fences are everywhere, and the more sensitive the space inside the more sharp things are on top of the fences. They're buttressed from behind so speeding autos can't crash them.

Murals express people's political points of view. Check them out with some explanation of the lines that have been drawn.

Ever vigilant   

Everyone still lives with the feeling that where you come from and where you're going is watched by potentially dangerous persons.

RUC Station   

Every person but the most hard core we talked to was dreading the coming march season. Over and over we heard the words 'civil war' and 'it could be another Kosovo' said with resignation.





Campaign signs   

But through it all the Irish keep their optimism. Even when they speak of the awful turn life may take here when peace plan deadlines pass and marching whips up violent passions, they turn conversation to something else.

Eileen's familyFamilies are still growing and well supported. The 'Dole' here means even with relatively high under-employment, everyone can expect a decent house and enough money for food on the table.

Nigel celebrates
Our friend Nigel pushes his son as he celebrates finishing his medical exams with friends over 'the mobile.'

Carefree drinkin' - Ian and HenryAt the end of the day, their concerns are put away and life goes on.

Great advertisements
Billboard found throughout Northern Ireland.

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