Sunday, August 30, 2009
"The Troubles" for Tourists
Belfast is booming economically - reflected in the graffiti commentary on the wall above. Not only has it shed its gritty past as a grey, industrial city, but has been peacful for the past ten years since the Northern Ireland Peace Process culminated in the Good Friday Agreements . It is significant that the Northern Irish peace agreement occurred on Good Friday, as it is a day that many Christian churches - both Catholic and Protestant - throughout the world stage peace walks.
I made several visits to Belfast during the troubles in the mid-1970's and early 1980's, and was witness to the devastation of the Troubles. That is why I have mixed feelings about "Troubles" tourism. I didn't have an opportunity to take a Black taxi tour in Belfast, and some appear to focus on the famous murals.There has been a great deal of "disneyficaiton" of historical sites in the Republic of Ireland, and I worry that this is spreading to the North.
I also visited Derry a city I had only passed through in the 1970's. On that day, I only got a glance of the famous mural YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY, and quickly left town. The hostility to strangers was palpable (understandably so).
There are recently created murals in the Bogside, the Catholic area where the Bloody Sunday killings occurred, and the site of many battles between the British Army and locals. Catholics established Free Derry a self-declared autonomous Irish nationalist area from 1969 and 1972.
The Bogside Artists , three artists, have created 12 murals in the neighborhood illustrating history of the troubles, and paying homage to peacemakers. While this is a tourist attraction, The Bogside Artists efforts do not come off as a commercial enterprise. I visited their gallery, and because it was a hour wait for a tour, and starting to rain, walked through the area on my own.