Ireland has a short-but-controversial history with it’s northern neighbor. Following a history of colonial oppression by the British, Ireland was finally able to break free, in part, following an agreement in which most of the nations counties would become part of the free Irish Republic. The north had a greater quantity of British loyalists, so a collection of six counties were made to remain part of the United Kingdom.
For some, this was a point of pride, but for others it became a source of distress. Decades of political conflict were brought to a head during The Troubles, when the conflict turned to terrorism from both sides.
Officially, The Troubles ended following peace treaties signed by organizations on either side of the conflict, but the sociopolitical tension remains strong within The North.
We visited Northern Ireland as a daytrip to Belfast, the city which suffered the greatest during the Troubles. Our tour guide told us the history of the nation as we approached the border, but failed to mention The Troubles themselves.
As we reached Belfast and began our tour of the city, we transferred ourselves to black taxis. When asked why this was necessary, we were told the Irish-green buses previously used fell victim to too many terrorist attacks. The guide then went on to explain how religious conflict was still incredibly-common within The North, and how all five of the tour guides had an immediate family member killed in a hate crime.
The city itself remains strongly divided between catholic and Protestant. One neighborhood had 50,000 members and zero Catholics, while another had 30,009 and only Catholics.
The most surprising part came upon touring the Peace Wall, a ten-meter tall concrete partition between the two halves of the city. Designed to prevent terrorism, it’s supported even contemporarily by 85% of the citizenry.
My impression of the Irish republic so far had convinced me of the nations charm, but led me to believe all of Ireland was a slightly-modified United States. It wasn’t until I came to Northern Ireland that I realized portions of the nation still exist in a state of conflict.
The tour made me feel for the people on both sides of the conflict, and brought me a new appreciation of the tranquility of my life in America.