Category Is... Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK!

With a day spare in Dublin, I decided to jump on the cross-border train to Belfast. I wanted to investigate this city to see if the tensions had subsided and to see what British influence Belfast possessed present day. Religion has always been a sore spot in NI, I went to a Roman Catholic school so my notion went in a specific direction. Oh, Belfast had many a category to show me!

Stepping on to the platform from that Enterprise Inter-city train at Belfast Central, I had left the Republic of Ireland firmly behind me for the day. Experiencing some brain-fog, I realised I was back in the United Kingdom, with that revelation sprung upon me I checked my phone! I had my signal and internet access back, that would be me set for my Belfast adventure! The Euros that I had changed up for Dublin became worthless in that moment because the British Pound Sterling stood as the currency within Northern Ireland. Technically, I was standing in the United Kingdom, that meant I was a step closer to home, being England! I only booked my train to Belfast a few days before I boarded my DUB flight, I wanted to experience a different Ireland. My first port of call was Belfast City Hall, finding this point of interest was really easy because the streets were signposted really well. I knew that Belfast City Hall looked like a smaller version of London's St. Paul's Cathedral! With a the day ahead of me, Belfast had many things in store!

The British influence could be seen all around the main city centre area of Belfast, a stark contrast from the architecture that I had found in Dublin the previous day. From my first moments being in Belfast, I sensed a really positive aura of the area around me. I will be honest the weather in Belfast wasn't that cold compared to the likes of Dublin, the snow had hit Belfast quite considerably cancelling flights and causing general chaos to the whole of Northern Ireland. Enough about the weather, I had a few places in mind for that Belfast day of discovery! Would I take a taxi tour? Of course! Would I get to spend those Pounds like I would in England? Where was the Titanic museum located? I'd find it! I had a lot of questions that I wanted answering. Yes, the journey from Dublin had been seamless and being a soft border I wasn't required to show my UK passport. Belfast already knew it had much to show me during that day, I was very much ready for it all! That accent! Oh yes, I loved hearing the Northern Irish accent very much!

Becoming a political tourist was entirely my plan, I wanted to see things that represented the troubles. Taxi Trax Tours enabled me to see how the two communities live in Belfast. My first stop was in the Shankill Road area, a known Protestant strong-hold that put the cat amongst the pigeons for certain! Captured above is the mural that depicts Oliver Cromwell's 'Hand of Ulster', a known symbol on the Northern Ireland flag. So, I was shocked by what I saw, due to it reinforcing the meaning behind the flag and the 'Ulster Hand'. The mural put the fear in me, that will always be the same for me to say. My taxi driver/tour guide informed me about the area that we were in, being a Catholic he removed the yellow flower badge he had one his jumper. I have been to some eerie places but this side of Belfast was a very bitter pill to swallow. One mural featured a masked 'UVF' fighter, which turned my stomach the wrong way. This said mural had this 'UVF' fighter pointing a rifle at whoever was looking, how I felt all of its presence! Mummy!

Something about this area didn't sit right with me, you don't have to show your loyalty to Britain by flying the 'Union Jack' flag high on every corner. I believe the Protestant people only do this to antagonise the Irish Catholic people. Religion is religion but why should that get in the way of normal life? Tourism presents itself in many different ways, I took my Taxi Trax experience very seriously and with many thoughts crossing my mind about the question mark that is the United Kingdom. Are we really that United? Probably not so! Aside from the religious statements presented, the Shankill Road area exuded a frozen personality that stood cold in time, mixed with the cool weather and left-over snow the whole atmosphere of the place I didn't know what to think! Along with the unsightly murals this area was nothing more than a seriously bleak council estate. Belfast gave me everything, I had to find out more about the troubles and the days during the Holy Cross riots and protests. Where was that Peace Line though? Taxi, taxi! Go!

Springmartin Road wasn't like any other road that I had ever seen before, it was a sight like no other! The Peace Line sent a shiver down my spine, it was something else! Adorned with graffiti but not of a discriminatory kind. My taxi driver gave me a marker pen, I wrote my own message of solidarity. We drove across the Peace Line into the Falls Road area that interlinks with 'West Belfast'. Being on the Catholic side of the city I felt certain kind of safety. We passed through a twenty foot cast iron gate that separates the two communities this gate was once closed for thirty-seven years. Now it only closes from Friday to Monday morning. Taking sometime out to see the Clonard Martyns Memorial Garden, the gated area remembers the lives lost from the fires of Bombay Street. The people of the Catholic community raised the money to rebuild the houses of 'Bombay Street' because the Protestant council refused to help the Catholic residents affected. The visit to Bombay Street put the fear into me, it was an unforgivable atrocity! Awful!

Overall, I did feel a lot safer on the Roman Catholic streets of West Belfast, we gradually moved into the Gaeltacht Quarter. I sensed Belfast's Irish Gaelic heritage was widely celebrated in that part of West Belfast unlike the Shankill Road area. I was shown a mural of Bobby Sands MP, an inspirational man from the Roman Catholic front in Belfast. Bobby Sands was a Catholic Member of Parliament and also a freedom fighter, standing as a hero for the Roman Catholic community in his Northern Ireland. Passing by the office of Sinn Féin cemented by feeling about Northern Ireland, that would be my political party of choice to vote for. The DUP have an archaic system, barring the right to abortion and the legalisation of Gay Marriage, in this day and age it is appalling those in Northern Ireland still don't have that right! Up the RA! Make it political but don't bring religion into it, get it together Northern Ireland because the category is 'Gay Rights' and the 'Irish Language Act!' The Orange Order need some 'White' and 'Green!' OK!

The Samson & Goliath Cranes fronted my view, after taking the train from Belfast Central to Titanic Quarter with NI Railways. The Harland & Wolff (H&W) Shipyard loaned its name to the cranes mentioned before, they still stand as an iconic part of Belfast's dock with the River Lagan bringing its waters closer to the Northern Irish capital. From the Titanic Quarter, I walked to Titanic Belfast, my day in Belfast had gone through many extreme and moving situations and categories but the final segment would school me about the gargantuan ship that hit that ice berg! Built by the Harland & Wolff shipbuilders, RMS Titanic was a project that they had not undertaken before. The Titanic Belfast was a complete experience that taught me about the vessels beginning and its only crossing from Southampton, England to New York, USA. Located on Queen's Island, the Titanic Belfast had been built on the same land that the 'unsinkable' vessel had been constructed on before that 1912 doomsday sailing. Belfast kept on teaching me! 

After my Titanic Belfast experience, I was aware that my Entreprise Inter-city train would be departing for Dublin's Connolly station within a short period of time. Taking that NI Railways train once again, I found myself back at Belfast's main train station. I concluded by Northern Irish day with a pint of Magners Cider at the train station's own bar! Taking the train back to Dublin was simple, I had experienced a lot of the city and had found myself back in the familiarity of the United Kingdom. The Shankill Road and West Belfast experiences taught me that we are all people, we might speak different languages, observe different religions but fundamentally we still live and breathe. I don't know if more progress will be made within Ulster? Will Marriage Equality ever be recognised in Northern Ireland? Will pregnant women have the right to abortion without having to travel to England or take illegal medication? Will the Irish Language Act be passed in Northern Ireland? Belfast was amazing, I want to return, B! 

Belfast Is Brilliant!

Joseph Harrison


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