Peace Walls, Belfast

Faces of Resistance

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Belfast is known for being the former epicenter of the Troubles, the conflict that ran approximately 30 years and ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Known as a conflict between the Protestants and Catholics, it was mostly sectarian in nature; Unionists and loyalists, mostly Protestant, wanted Northern Ireland to stay in the U.K., Irish Nationalists and republicans, mostly Catholic, wanted the North to exit the U.K. and join a united Ireland. The origin of the conflict actually goes back to the Irish Confederate and Williamite wars of the mid to late 1600s. I can’t write about a conflict that spans 700 years, but there are many authoritative books to read if you are so inclined. 

All of this led to the 1990s construction of Peace Walls, barriers that separate the loyalist Irish republican and Unionist neighborhoods. While they were supposed to be temporary they have grown in number and size, up to 25 feet tall, and some have gates to allow access to the communities during the day. Discussions to dismantle the walls started in 2008, in 2017 the Northern Ireland Department of Justice published a program to remove the structures by 2023. The taxi driver who showed me around the Peace Walls, said he isn’t optimistic it will ever happen. A 2012 study indicated 69% of residents felt the Peace Walls were still needed due to potential violence. I don’t know if there has been a follow-up study, it would be interesting to see if anything has changed in the collective mindset. 


Pedestrian gate

Roadway gate

lower profile barrier

Cages on the back of the house to protect from projectiles

As part of the tour, the taxi driver took me to Shankill Road, a loyalists section of the divide.  Throughout the tour I kept wondering, what is it going to take to bring down the walls and who has the answer? 

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