We left the Republic of Ireland, crossing into Northern Ireland two days ago, just in time to get our first experience with legendary Irish weather. Our walking tour was soggy, and although we were undaunted, we were grateful when our Tour Leader took us on a quick detour into the nearby mall. Not only did we get a chance to dry off, we also ascended to the mall’s top floor to take in this magnificent view.
Okay, so maybe THAT day’s view wasn’t all that magnificent, but you have to admit, it is pretty cool to have a glass dome atop a shopping mall.
The next day’s panoramic view was significantly better because we were higher up, and the weather cooperated.
This photo was taken from the Grand Central Hotel’s cocktail lounge. No, we didn’t have a drink there, because I suspect the cost of a cocktail would have been as much as our full dinner at a nearby pub. Joe, our tour leader, took us there for a “ gawk”, and that’s exactly what we did.
Although the city is lovely, and I have many photos to prove that, the real highlight of our time in Belfast was our visit to The Felon’s Club. We spent the morning with three men who, back in the day, were formerly enemies: a loyalist, a British soldier, and an IRA member. They each told us a little about themselves, their backgrounds, their activities during “the troubles”, their time in prison and what their lives are like today. It was a riveting discussion that was particularly relevant now, given the divisiveness we are currently experiencing in our own country. What was encouraging was where they are NOW. All three have been working toward reconciliation and educating others about “the troubles”. All three are committed to the peace process.
I had forgotten the important role George Mitchell and Bill Clinton played during peace negotiations. One key element of the negotiations was a referendum (with no date specified) on whether or not Ireland should be reunited. When asked if the referendum were held today, only the former member of the IRA was able to say for sure how he would vote. The other two wanted to know more about the impact the change would have on their lives. Their focus was on the issues, not on former identities as a member of a particular group. I would have loved to spend more time with them, but our Black Cab Tour was scheduled, so off we went to view the murals painted on Belfast’s walls.
During our tour, the final song from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” kept playing in my head: “Who lives, who dies, who tells our story”.
In the photo below, our cab driver is holding a rubber bullet, to show us how huge they were. He then pointed out the names of civilians, carved into the wall, who died after being hit by rubber bullets. By telling their stories, the black cab drivers and the members of the Felons Club are keeping their memories alive.
The afternoon was spent at the Titanic Museum, an experiential museum, where another sad story was told—not only about those who went down with the ship. We also learned about the workers who built the ship.
It was a rather poignant day, so we were only too glad the sun was shining as we walked back to our hotel.
We are all quite happy that we were leaving Belfast BEFORE King Charles III arrived. Yes, I know it is a historic event, but the crowds and traffic might have made it difficult to see as much as we did.