“We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.”
I spent last weekend in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I grew up hearing about The Troubles, as the civil sectarian conflict that took place there is known. It is often attributed as a religious conflict – that’s not the case. It just so happens that people who wanted Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland were mostly Catholic, and people who wanted to remain with Great Britain were mostly Protestant. As in so many other cases, religion was used as a political tool. Over 3,000 people died, and over 50,000 were injured during The Troubles that spanned a 30-year period ending with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Those are the bald facts of the situation. Seeing the streets where it happened and hearing some of the stories was something else entirely and deeply moving.
I don’t want to dwell on the events of The Troubles because the real story here is how well the hard-won successes of the peace process are proceeding. But there were a few anecdotes that caught me short and brought home a sliver of what it was like living in Belfast during The Troubles:
*Snipers could pick off school children on the streets – their school uniforms clearly identified which side they were on, so they were easy targets.
*The way you phrased certain things indicated which side you were on – semantics became a matter of life and death.
*The Europa Hotel was bombed 77 times during The Troubles, the most of any hotel in the world. Today it hosts TV stars from Game of Thrones.
*Any glass building in Belfast has been built since the Good Friday Agreement – glass facades were a luxury unimaginable when frequent bombings were a reality everywhere in the city.
But as I said, the peace process is working. People are working hard to set aside years of hatred and sorrow to live together in harmony. Whether they have an Irish passport or a GB passport in their pocket, they live side-by-side as neighbors. With each year that passes, the more the events of the past will move into barely remembered history as the people of Northern Ireland forge new ties and a bright future for their country.
The pictures in this post are mostly from a couple drives through Falls Rd (republican) and Shankill Rd (loyalist) in west Belfast. There are lots of other parts of Belfast, and I will include additional posts in the coming days with some photos I took elsewhere in the city.
Title quote: The Good Friday Agreement opening statement, read the agreement in full here.