I arrived in Belfast mid-afternoon after a quick and painless train ride from Dublin. The train skirts the Irish coast and meanders in and out towns, through the countryside and into Belfast.
I met the rest of the group I will be spending the next week with. We are a small group from various parts of Canada. Well, not really, just two parts of Canada: Upper Canada and Nova Scotia. We are in Northern Ireland to attend a workshop at the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre, but more on that another day.
We headed out for dinner at Robinson’s Pub, which was a treat. Good dinner and good beer. After which, we headed to the Crown Bar for a quick peek. There is an interesting story about the Crown Bar: there was a great debate as to decor between a loyalist and a republican. From what I gather, the republican conceded to have a crown decorate the pub……on the floor at the entrance, so patrons walked on it while entering the establishment. Whether this is true, I cannot tell, but it makes for a great story. It is situated across the street from the Europa Hotel which was the target for many bombing and shootings during the Troubles. Hard to believe when you walk into the lavish foyer. A bit surreal, actually.
Today we visited the Ulster Museum, which is home to an interesting exhibit on the Troubles and walks you through the history of the conflict and the humanity of the conflict. A delicate task in a city that is still divided. I also made a point of wandering through Queen’s University of Belfast, as a proud alumnus of a different Queen’s University, I somehow felt a kinship. Though, my Queen’s is older.
In the afternoon, we hopped on the hop on/hop off bus and got a pretty decent overview of the layout of the city. We saw the Titanic Quarter, the home of the original drafting offices of the White Star Lines, where Titanic was conceived, designed and built. The Titanic Museum sits at the end of Slip 3 where Titanic was launched. I am going to try to get into to see the exhibit next weekend before heading back to Dublin. Part of the tour takes you past the peace wall, a 40 foot cement and wire fence that separates the Catholic community from the Protestant community. Gates are locked daily and there is a clear divide in the neighbourhood. Jarring, to say the least. We also saw a smattering of the murals on both sides of the wall that tell the story of the Troubles and fallen comrades. As murals fade or are replaced, they increasingly tell the story of a peaceful Northern Ireland and a shared history. Northern Ireland is home to a complex and bloody history. I certainly don’t know or understand all the nuances of the conflict or the complicated history, but I hope to be able to chip away at it over the next week at Corrymeela.
We headed to Kelly’s Cellars, one of the oldest pubs in Belfast, for a bit of a break. Not just from our busy day, but from the sun! Come on?! Too much sun in Belfast?! Not possible, you say. I promise you, I am sunburned. Like a lobster. Guinness was enjoyed along with slanted floors, unbelievably low arched ceilings and quite possibly the smallest toilet stall ever. So, with any luck, tomorrow bring more sun and bigger stalls.