The Belfast Black Taxi tour was recommended in every tourist book that we read and
found on every Internet site about Belfast so we decided to give it a try.
Accompanied by our tour guide, we were thrown back in time to a troubled and violent history. We witnessed the Belfast Political Murals and snapped off some pictures of historic rioters.
“How long has the fighting been going on?” I asked.
The driver responded by saying, “Since the 1620s, but the deadliest year was in 1972. Over 500 people were killed.”
“Did you live here then?” I asked.
As tears filled his eyes and his voice trembled, I believed his story as he relived the events….
He was just a boy and he idolized his father. He didn’t know of sides or wars or fighting. He knew of bedtime stories, long hugs from his bear of a father, and dinners with his parents where he fed the dog his vegetables. Newspapers and press reported only nine deaths on that Black Friday in 1972, but the follow-up reports didn’t explain the civilians, including his father, that died from injuries sustained during the bomb explosions. Of the 130 people injured, the driver’s father was one that didn’t survive. What did survive was the image of men, woman, and children being horrifically mutilated before the driver’s very eyes.
“Do you have children or your own?” I asked.
“I hope you can bring those good memories of your father to them. He was obviously a great man.” I hung my head in shame for the violence that people, all over the world, exhibit and inflict on others.
The somber mood continued throughout the drive and I felt speechless. How do you say, “I’m sorry to hear that” to a man that survived his father’s death? How do you apologize from something that happened before your time and you know very little about?
Next, we passed the long peace line that divides the Protestant and the Catholic communities. We sprung into the present as the taxi driver explained that people from both sides work together in the city in the day and then return to their side of the line at night. The gates are closed and both sides have to stay in their area. He made it seem like a perfectly normal occurrence. He said that nowadays everyone knows which side they are supposed to be on and if they stay there, the peace will be kept. His mood remained unfaltering, but I wasn’t hoping for a comedic tour of such a dark past.
It all seemed strange to me. I sat there wondering how in such an advanced world we still kill each other over religion, but I didn’t question the dispute. The driver had lost his father over such an issue and he had his own involvement in the matters.
We finished our trip with a bowl of Irish Stew and a pint of Guinness to wash it all down.
The tour lasted about 90 minutes and it definitely shows more of the turbulent history of Belfast than just looking at the murals on your own. For £25, we were given a history lesson that we could appreciate and we didn’t have to worry about getting lost.
I often reflect on that day in Belfast and think of the driver that relives his father’s death daily. Maybe it’s reinforcement for peace for him and many others. Maybe it’s his way of honoring his father. I’m not certain of his motives for becoming a Belfast Black Taxi tour guide, but I appreciated the candid conversation we had and I will not soon forget the history of Belfast.