Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Belfast Day 2!

The second day in Belfast was completely different than the day we spent on the coast! On Friday, we took a bus around the city to see the political murals. The first mural was done in 1908 of King Billy (William of Orange), which is symbolic of the Protestant rule he established that lasted for 200 years. The murals began in prisons as part of art classes, and eventually evolved into the political messages throughout Dublin that they are today. They denote border territory (Protestant and Catholic) and also memorialize leaders from the different sides that died fighting. While most of the murals are specifically about Ireland, some of them bridge themes about international violence. There are also "gardens of remembrance" around some of the murals and are used for peaceful memorials.

This mural is one in a series along an entire wall in Belfast. It is for a taxi service generally run by political prisoners (usually IRA members) who could not find work after getting out of prison. Apparently they also give city tours... The service was started during "the Troubles" when people needed transportation, but buses and other vehicles were being stolen and used as block-offs by IRA members. Where normal taxis were too expensive for the average person going to work, especially in the areas of the fighting, the black taxi service offered a reduced rate for people to get places.

This is a mural about violence aimed at innocent bystanders. Here, the artist uses the example of desegregating the schools in Arkansas to also depict discrimination against Romanian immigrants to Ireland and then Protestant violence against a Catholic girls' school (Ardoyne) to depict history repeating itself.

The tour guide told us a story during the bus ride about a muralist who was actually shot by police while painting a mural. Although it was fairly obvious that the man was a painter, the officer claimed that he thought he was using a gun. This story reminded me a lot about themes we have studied with Irish literature, especially the value of words towards political change. Seamus Heaney actually writes about his pen feeling "snug as a gun" in his hand as he writes, as words can have the same potential to incite violence and/or change.

This banner commemorates one of the first hunger strikes that political prisoners held for laws established making political activists treated the same as political prisoners. The woman in the middle is the personified Ireland, and Bobby Sands was a leader of the IRA and also the first striker to die. He actually won a political seat while he was in prison because people wanted to show their support for his Ireland.

Most of the areas that we went through are still extremely segregated. For instance, Falls Road, is 99% Catholic and St. Dominic's Grammar School, which trains teachers, actually only sends those teachers to Catholic Schools today. We also went through areas termed "Catholic ghettos" - places that the government apportioned for Catholics to stop violence- which at the time were considered lower class, but safer than mixed areas. Areas like these were also gerrymandered to continue the oppression of Catholics in Northern Ireland.

The men in this mural lived in the same neighborhood and Jim Bryson was actually shot in the back by another IRA member. These men were famous not only for leading the movement, but also for "hijacking for the poor" - meaning that they were modern day Robin Hoods.

As I have mentioned before, the entire city is streaked with multiple layers of "the Belfast Wall" or the "Peace Wall" (seemingly ironic) which was built to prevent sectarian violence. Since there was a murder the day that we were there, you can decide how effective it was. It is a very tangible mark of violence and segregation used in places like Gaza and Berlin, and there are murals depicting the symbolism behind the idea.

King William of Orange. We also visited a Protestant area in Belfast, which showed a different point of view in the murals. Protestants were most afraid at the time of home (Catholic) rule in Ireland (probably because the Catholics were oppressed for so long). However, it also reminds us that the Protestants have effectively been in Ireland for 300 years, making their side somewhat legitimate in wanting to keep the country the way that it was. During World War I, there was a rift in the country even among those who wanted home rule because some believed that the best way to get independence would be to fight for England, while others believed the best way would be to refuse. This is just to say that this fighting over the best "Ireland" has been debated even before the 1970s, when violence began.
The picture above is of Oliver Cromwell, the symbol of tyrannical Protestant rule in Ireland. Cromwell is the reason why most of the old Catholic churches we saw in Kerry mainly consisted of ruins. Lovely guy.

The Red Hand is a symbol of the Provence of Ulster, when King O'Neill apparently cut off his hand to fling it to shore in a race to make sure that he would win. What you should know is that the word "ulster" is generally a synonym for Protestant in this day and age because of the Ulster areas of land in what is now Northern Ireland and the North of Ireland that were mainly Protestant and against home rule. Thus, the fact that O'Neill was the king there shows his devotion and a symbol for the Protestants that fought for their cause.

This is a refreshing mural we saw later, calling for peace.

After the tour, we really needed to relax because we definitely were not anticipating something so personal, raw and frankly current even today. So, we went to a "culture fair" (read: tourist trap) to drown our sorrows (and spend the rest of our pounds, since they don't do us any good in Dublin).

Upon arriving in Dublin, we got fish and chips at the oldest fish and chips "takeaway" place in the city- Burdocks. It was a peaceful ending to a very somber day. To also end this blog post a positive note, dinner was delicious.

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