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The war is over - see Belfast now
Belfast in General
Belfast in General
Date: 31/07/01, updated on 19/06/03 (12 review reads)
Advantages: see what all the news has been about
Disadvantages: only one point of view
SOME cities offer visitors bus tours of the sights – Belfast goes one better with its taxi tours of the notorious Catholic Falls Road area.
If you think it’s risky to tour Belfast’s frontline, you'd be right. But the IRA has vowed to decomission its arsenal and the city is as safe as it ever will be.
With your back to city hall wander up Donegall Place and turn left into Castle Street - a five minute stroll. Cross at the traffic lights and you'll come to the rank where the city's notorious black cabs ply their trade.
Black cab drivers are known for backing Sinn Fein and the IRA's (hopefully permanently suspended) campaign against the British army and the RUC.
They're big on tourists because they like a captive audience. They don't care if you're British - in the back of their cab you're grist to the propaganda mill.
At the rank the drivers' boss hurries over and asks our destination – cabs are like buses in Belfast and he wants to fill one with its engine idling.
We say we want a ride around the Falls Road and some friendly haggling ensues. We beat him down from £20 for 40 minutes to £17 - but it takes some hard bargaining.
A driver is summoned - mid 20s, articulate - and we are off in the back of his black cab.
We pass the Divis Flats with its army observation post on the roof and head for the maze of terraced housing by the peace line – a brick and steel wall which divides Catholic and Protestant houses.
It's like the inner city suburbs of a northern British city but with thick tension in the air.
There are huge, skillful, wall murals showing republican heroes/moments in Irish history everywhere.
The driver stops whenever we ask him to and is willing to take pictures of us posing self-consciously by a mural. The street urchins have seen it all before and indulge in a bit of friendly touris
We continue with our driver's running commentary on the woes of Northern Ireland. In many ways it's more absorbing than the street scene - there was (still is?) a lot of discrimination against the Catholic minority in jobs, housing, etc.
We pass an armed guardpost at a road junction which I've seen on TV many times before. A camera tracks us along the road. We head to a grim housing estate on the edge of the Falls.
There are Irish flags fluttering and even the kerbs are painted in Irish colours. More murals, this time of children killed in the Troubles and of Bobby Sands, the IRA leader who starved to death in jail.
We pass Milltown cemetery where Loyalist Michael Stone launched his one-man attack on hundreds of Catholics mourners at a funeral. It's eerie to see all the places you know from the news.
Finally we drive down the Falls Road, packed with shoppers and its gleaming new superstores. Our driver moans about all the 'real' jobs going to the Protestants. I feel like telling him to stop moaning - supermarkets might offer Macjobs but at least they're there.
We stop outside a pub peppered with bullet holes from a past gun battle. The Sinn Fein office is meshed like Fort Apache the Bronx.
It stops the bombs, says moany driver.
An hour and a half after we started we arrive back at the taxi rank. The driver talked so much we have overun our alloted time.
I give him £20 and scurry in to the nearest pub for a stiff drink. In some cities it's nice just to be a tourist.
PS: you can taxi tour the Loyalist Shankill Road.
Tourists are not deliberate targets in Belfast and it is relatively peaceful in the north at the moment. But you pays your money...