Return to Belfast…and more politics

 

We land back in Belfast on a hot and dry morning wondering where Heydays will be and whether we will be able even to get into the marina. Still no response from the harbour admin… Heydays is now rafted up and the remains of the sailing festival are being cleared away with a lovely square rigger still in the marina. A call to the harbour gets a code for the gates and the promise of a response re payment etc.

We have a loose plan to sail for Isle of Man on Tuesday due to favourable winds and so after a quick settle in we set off to see something of Belfast. The Titanic museum certainly deserves its reputation and we end up spending over 3 hours there learning about not just the building and sinking but also about the history of Harland and Wolff and the docks.

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It turns out that even in the late 1800s there was a clear sectarian segregation among the workers, with catholics working in the poorly paid flax spinning and rope-making industries and living in 2 room houses, whilst the 3 room houses and skilled jobs were reserved for the protestants.

Equally fascinating, but also depressing was the open top bus tour. This took in all the key sights including Stormont with its imposing statue of (the protestant) founder of separate Ulster, Edward Carson.

We wondered how they would deal with ‘the troubles’, but the commentary whilst being very balanced and non-sectarian, nonetheless tackled the difficult matters head on. It included a visit to all the key areas of West Belfast such as Shankill and Falls road, the various para-military murals, the memorials to the ‘heroes’ from both sides… mostly shown with balaclavas and guns… and the ‘Peace Wall’ and gates.

 

…and it went on and on and on throughout West Belfast…

We had seen pictures and documentaries many times, but we were still both shocked and depressed in equal measure by the wall. In places it is nearly 15m high and one passes through shabby industrial gates which are still shut each night to keep the catholic and protestant communities apart despite nearly 20 years since the Good Friday agreement. Each housing estate seems solely the province of one ‘religion’ or the other and all have high walls and razor wire surrounding them.

The murals are all carefully repainted and nurtured and we saw plenty of Union Flags hanging from protestant lamp-posts together with huge bonfire preparations for the 12 July commemoration of William of Orange defeating the catholic King James at the battle of the Boyne. A big mural says “Culture is not a threat” but we wonder whether in the face of all these reminders plus segregated schools when/if it will ever really end.

Even Crumlin Road Jail remains as a monument to the inability to seek to forgive rather than condemn. We failed to learn from Nelson…

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Back on the boat we re-do the tidal calculations and decide to make best use of the southerly ebb from Belfast Lough rather than the at first simple option of a day sail…the snag is that it requires a 1am departure. A quick shop, pizza on board and a couple of hours kip serves as our preparation.

With apologies for so much focus on the politics this time, but it still has an enormous impact on Belfast, whether as a tourist or resident.

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