The ethno-nationalist conflict that lasted over 30 years in Northern Ireland have been named The Troubles. After the Good Friday agreement in 1998, The Troubles ended but the two communities are still as physically divided as ever. This is painfully clear to see in Belfast where walls reach up to 6 metres high and the gates are locked at 7pm every night. There are 30 km of walls in total and they divide the suburb communities that are predominately unionist or nationalist. During most of the year the gates in the walls are open and allow free movement between both sides during the day. The gates in prominent areas close during the evening or if there is fear of conflict. At Falls Road the gates are locked at 7pm and won’t even open for emergency services, an ambulance would have to drive extra miles to get around the locked wall.
The Troubles are a name given to a violent conflict in Northern Ireland from around 1968 to 1998. The fighting was between the Loyalists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and Republicans who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland. The nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Unionist paramilitary forces both used guerilla tactics. The conflict was full of street fighting, bombings and imprisonment without trial. During the years of conflict over 3,500 people died. Half of these were in Belfast alone.
The walls were first erected in 1969. In August violence broke out between Loyalist and Nationalist communities. The British army was called in to keep the peace and the walls were constructed. These peace walls were built from corrugated iron and barbed wire. These walls were not just in Belfast they have also been erected in Derry, Portadown and Lurgan. Currently, there are more walls today than were first put up in 1969.
Many believe that the name peace walls is ironic. Others believe that the walls only purpose is to keep communities apart which creates even further divides. Many claim that real peace can only be achieved by dismantling the walls and encourage talks between the two sides.
It has been over 25 years since the Good Friday agreement and the discussions around removing the walls have been shut down. It has been mutually agreed that these walls that have been standing for longer than the Berlin Wall are a good thing for Northern Ireland. The belief is that lives would be lost if the walls were taken down and that civil war could start.
Exploring the walls
The walls and the murals in the surrounding areas of West Belfast are now visited by roughly 500,000 tourists each year. They raise awareness of the conflict and a great way to do so is by taking a black taxi tour. These tours are led by a guide who lived and experienced the troubles but give an impartial view of the conflict. The locals on both sides of the wall encourage tourists to learn more about their history and we felt it was thoroughly worth the money. We booked the black taxi tour and the Crumlin Gaol entrance ticket which was £120 for two people. During this tour we were given the history of the murals in Shankill, an area covered in Union flags and images of the Queen, and also Falls Road. There was also the opportunity to sign or write a message on the peace wall.
In 2013 the Northern Irish executive started on the plan to remove all of the walls “by mutual consent” within 10 years. Now, in 2023 only a small number have been removed. The process of removing the barrier between the two communities is going to be a long and difficult one. Currently there are a lot of heightened emotions and feelings of revenge and hostility.
Until the rest of Northern Ireland becomes de-segregated in education and social housing it is unlikely that we will see these walls removed.
Last Updated on 8 November 2023 by Michael