Two Black Belfast Taxis - One Orange and One Green - Pt 2
If I thought that yesterday was a bit of an eye-opener, then today was going to be even more so; and if you haven’t already read Part 1
, this post will make more sense if you do.
If you have read it, you will already be aware that last night I managed to get a Catholic taxi firm to agree to send me a driver this morning who was prepared to show me a different perspective of sectarian Belfast than I had yesterday.
I met my taxi driver in the reception area of the hotel and he briefly introduced himself as a Republican, which said volumes already. Just as I could tell the difference yesterday between a protestant and a Loyalist, I sussed straight away that there was a difference between a Catholic and a Republican – in other words he was a member of the IRA. He asked me if I was ok with that, and even though I wasn’t really, I said yes. To be honest, I think he knew how I felt, and when we got into his taxi, he tried to reassure me that I was in safe hands and wanted to make sure I felt comfortable before we started off. I was and I wasn’t, because even though he came across as a very open and approachable chap, the front taxi seat must have been the most uncomfortable seat I’ve ever sat in.
As we drove off, he explained that I was staying in one of the very few places that he would be prepared to make a pick-up outside of a catholic area – the city centre and university area was about it really.
At the bottom of the street he turned right onto the Lower Ormeau Road, which just happens to be Catholic, and Brennan immediately pulled in near a betting office. He encouraged me to go and have a look, and outside was a memorial to the victims of a ruthless UDA gun attack in 1992. There were fifteen civilian customers inside at the time, five of whom were killed and nine injured. Five months later an Orange Order march passed the scene of the carnage with members shouting pro UDA slogans and holding up 5 fingers as they marched past. I was already beginning to see things from a different angle today.
The topic under discussion here is a sensitive one, but I hope not controversial. If any offence is caused, I can assure you that it’s completely unintentional, therefore please accept my apologies in advance if I have.
Two Black Belfast Taxis - One Orange and One Green - Pt 1
In 2004, six years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, I paid my first visit to Belfast. To have gone there as an English tourist before ‘The Troubles’ were officially ended would have been unthinkable for most people, and even after those peace documents were signed, not everybody approved of the outcome, and sporadic violence still wasn’t uncommon.
In my introduction to Northern Ireland I gave a brief explanation as to how the North got separated from the South after the 1921 Irish War of Independence; but the Government of Ireland Act may have solved one problem but it created another – and Belfast, being the North’s capital, found itself in the thick of it.
Different people have different opinions as to when The Troubles actually started because catholic discontent and protestant suspicion had been simmering for quite some time. On the one hand, the minority catholic population felt that they were being treated as second class citizens on issues such as jobs and housing (and there was little they could do about it under the prevailing voting system): Protestants, on the other hand, felt that there was a deliberate attempt by Irish Catholics to change the demographics of the province, and the Northern Ireland government was either inept or complicit in handling it. I think most people accept though, that it was during the late 1960s when things took a distinct turn for the worse, particularly around the time of the Civil Rights marches.
I’ve read numerous books, watched countless news reports and even witnessed first-hand how the conflict affected the UK mainland, but as far as Northern Ireland was concerned, only the people who were directly involved there during this tragic period of Irish history can come anywhere near close to describing what it was like to live in the province during those times. For these reasons, I don’t intend to delve too deeply into the background of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, but I will need to touch on some of the history for anything to make sense.
For anyone who would like to know more, I can highly recommend this excellent 2019 TV documentary series entitled Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History.