We spent most of the day in Northern Ireland. We drove down the east coast along the Glens of Antrim to Belfast, the capitol city. 60% of the population of Northern Ireland lives in Belfast. The traffic and the rows and rows of houses attest to that. Northern Ireland consists of the 6 most northeastern counties in Ireland. These are the counties that chose to stay British and the other 20 remained Irish. To this day, there is a deal in place that will allow Ireland to peacefully absorb Northern Ireland into their fold….if Northern Ireland requests it. When we went to Belfast, we quickly found a black cab and asked for a tour of Belfast. It is a 2.5 hour history lesson that goes back centuries, but really focuses on the last 50 years or so. Our cabbie kept repeating this mantra….”To kill for a cause, you are called a patriot. To kill for no cause, you are a serial killer.” In Belfast, 90% of the west side is Catholic (or Irish, as these seemed to be used interchangeably) The other areas are British (or Protestant). There are these “Peace Walls” that are put up all throughout the working class areas of Belfast. They are locked at 4:30 in the afternoons and only first responders have the keys. To get around the walls is quite a task. The parents request the doors between the walls be locked to keep their teens safe from violence. Over the nearly 30 years of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, there were over 3000 people killed and over 35,000 people injured in bombings, shootings, and other forms of violence. Most of those people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a majority were working class citizens. These working class families were given no closure or justice on the deaths of their loved ones and therefore, the hatred for each side has been passed down through the generations. When the peace accords were signed, they wanted to have all the Peace Walls down within 25 years – which is up in 2023…next year. However, there are now more than 3 times as many Peace Walls as there were when the accords were signed. Depending on which neighborhood you are in, you can see murals painted on the sides of buildings depicting heroes from one side (who to the other side are considered murdering criminals). The Peace Walls are signed by well-wishing and peace-loving tourists, who, like us, couldn’t comprehend the amount of hatred for your neighbor. We each signed the wall…Rich with his name and the year…me, with Dona Nobis Pacem and my name. Dona Nobis Pacem meaning in Latin, “Grant us peace.” Rich also put Joe’s initials and Recordado Per Sempre (Italian for remembered forever), which Joe had tattooed on his arm…and Rich does as well. In 1921, there were 70% British/30% Irish in Northern Ireland. Today, it is slightly more Catholic than Protestant. Our cabbie seemed to think that changes may be afoot when Queen Elizabeth II died (as obviously this was about a few weeks before that happened). He said they respected her too much but didn’t care much for her son. So stay tuned in to Northern Ireland and see what happens. The Catholics were treated horribly….not able to get choice jobs or housing simply because of their faith.
We left Belfast, deciding that is was one messed up city. The Peace Walls didn’t seem like they were keeping peace…but making a community separate. That was my take on it. We kept driving south and into County Meath, Republic of Ireland. There we stayed in a bed and breakfast in Trim, Ireland. Trim is known for their beautiful castle – the largest Norman castle in Ireland, in fact. It was used in the shooting of the film, “Braveheart” in 1995. We were again able to catch photos of the castle as the sun was setting. It was worth the mosquito bites…you can actually see some swarms of them in the sunlight in some of the photos.