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.
The driver shook his head “yes” and he talked about his familiarity with the riots. He finished his answer by showing us the spot where his own father was killed.
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.
I did one of these tours, and I will never forget it. The drivers aren’t just guides, they are members of the community, and all of them have their own personal stake in their stories. One day, maybe the walls won’t be necessary.
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It seems beyond my understanding why they still exist today, but I guess they can’t erase the countless years of history. I feel blessed to have grow up in a peaceful community surrounded by friends and family.
The people of Belfast like the certainty the peacewall has brought and so don’t see a need to remove it.
I’ve done this tour too! The best way to understand the history of Belfast and so entertaining at the same time. I was shocked that they still have this huge wall with checkpoints! That’s crazy.
I don’t think this was ever a religious war. It’s about the crown. But if you are catholic, you want northern Ireland to be separate and if you are Protestant, you are loyal to the Queen.
It even goes as far as how to name Londonderry. If you say Londonderry, then people know you are Protestant and if you say Derry, people know you are Catholic. Saying the wrong one can get you in trouble.
It all started because of religion, The protestant William of Orange overthrew the catholic King James in the 17th century. To this day protestants called “orangemen” enjoy marching through catholic areas to celebrate the famous battles. This was a huge bone of contention for years and an instigator for violence and mayhem for years. Imagine being treated as a second class citizen because u were born into a catholic family, couldnt get a decent job or a nice house to live in. Meanwhile every year pipebands marched down your road to remind you why your family and friends are stuck in such a situation.
Fortunately the situation has greatly improved and unless you are in some backstreet drinking hole full of a few hardcore bigots u can call Derry whatever u like.
Its also not as simple as saying catholics want seperation and protestants want to stay loyal to the crown. There are heroes of Irish republicanism that were protestant and catholics that worked to maintain the Union. The Northern Irish golfer Rory Mcilroy is catholic but holds a british passport even though he cud have an irish one.
This is something I mut do. I have always been fascinated by the politics of Northern Ireland, and I had a number of friends at university who grew up there during the Troubles. I’m only an hour’s flight from Belfast, but have never been. If you want another view on life in Belfast, read “Eureka Street” by Robert McLiam Wilson. As well as having a very famous and deeply moving account of a bombing, it manages to provide a humorous view of life in Belfast. It’s one of my top 5 books ever.
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Did this tour as well, with two gals from the hostel who were from The Republic. This was in the 80’s. As I’m American, they asked me to do all the talking because they wanted to see the Protestant neighborhoods without being heckled/hurt. There was also an older man from the Republic who was visiting his daughter in prison there and he couldn’t get a room anywhere else because of his accent. I had just been kicked out of The Derry hostel a few days before because they clear the place during marching season. Up here in Alaska people are complaining about having x-ray searches at the airport when they travel. I remember soldiers with guns getting on the bus when we went across the border from Northern Ireland to The Republic. I also somehow found my way into an IRA celebration of The Hunger Strikers where I saw a man pummeled for taking a photo. I attended recovery meetings on both sides of Dublin and everyone was scared. I learned a lot about fear.
Love Belfast and love this post. I had studied abroad in Ireland and Northern Ireland and conducted some research in Belfast. I spoke to some former political prisoners and it was some heavy stuff, especially with those murals as a back drop and constant reminder of the conflict there. I find it unfortunate that many of these murals are now painted over and most were already done so when i was there in 2007. However, I’m not sure if the people of Belfast feel the same way as I do. When I talked to the citizens many were crying out for peace and although I think the murals are an important part of history, I’m sure many Belfast residents associate them with pain and loss. Great post though.
The tour sounds great but some of those street art photos are beyond amazing!
Wow, I have to get there!
I have done this tour too and it is indeed something impressive to do. Like you said it is much better than walking around town yourself without a guide.
we did this black cab tour while we doing a tour throigh Northern Ireland. Also the Derry tour over the walls there and the sunday bloody sunday monument were pretty impressive.
Belfast is one of my favourite cities. Growing up in England in the 1970s, it was impossible to imagine a place of such beauty, warmth and vibrancy. As a child, I could only picture an apocalyptic hell-on-earth.
Your recounting of the taxi tour through the eyes of the driver will be especially poignant for anyone who feels affection for the city.
And to anyone who’s unacquainted, go! Go as soon as you can. And give my regards to The Eg Bar!
As someone from just outside Belfast I found this a lovely post, you really captured the essence and beauty to be found in Belfast despite the hardships.
Such a great post about Belfast, hope you had a great time!
Belfast is very much a divided city you can still feed the divide mentally and physically. However you sure can as hell can still touch the history and that is an eerie feeling. The first time I felt that was in Phnom Penh