Northern Ireland's troubles aren't entirely over. A police constable was killed by a car bomb in April, and one was seriously injured by a car bomb last year. But despite these sporadic atrocities dissident republicans are thought to be behind both attacks peace is finally working there, so much so that enterprising taxi drivers are taking visitors to the capital, Belfast, on tours of once dangerous sectarian areas.
Billy Scott is one of several drivers making these excursions. The Belfast native drives tourists past the extravagant Stormont Parliament buildings, the nearby gardens and Reconciliation sculpture, and on to memorial sites, disused jails and courthouses before reaching the so-called peace walls that divide the republican and loyalist communities of West Belfast. "We do both sides," says Scott.
Most striking are the large propaganda murals (some dating back to the 1960s) painted on buildings and walls in the Falls Road (above), Shankill and Ardoyne districts. "Here even the atheists are Catholic or Protestant," Scott jokes. Some of the wall paintings depict historical figures or commemorate victims of the hostilities. Still more portray balaclava-wearing gun-pointing paramilitaries over such slogans as OPPRESSION BREEDS RESISTANCE, or HISTORY IS WRITTEN BY THE WINNER. Today their impact is supplanted by conciliatory slogans on the peace walls. IT'S ALL GOOD, reads one.
What's striking is how close these once implacably opposed communities are to each other and to the center of town. The Europa Hotel, which makes an ideal base for exploring Belfast, is only a short drive from the Protestant heartland of the Shankill Road. It was once the most bombed hotel in Europe, for which it was dubbed the Eurupta. Nowadays, though, you sleep in comfort.
To book a taxi tour with Scott, call (44) (0)7798 602 401. Prices start around $50 an hour.
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