Ireland’s history is ancient.  Ireland’s history is recent.  The Republic’s independence from England came under a hundred years ago.  And a good chunk of the country was kept by the British.  Northern Ireland, or as I also heard it called, the north of Ireland, is still part of the UK.  The British pound is the currency and the Union Jack flies over it.  And this foreign country can be reached without a passport via a two hour train ride.

I could write and write about how it happened that a quarter of this island is not a part of Ireland, but I would have to go on Wikipedia first, and you can really do that yourself if you want.  Let’s keep things simple.  For twenty-five years, from the 60s through the 90s, Northern Ireland was at war.  Those wishing to stay a part of the UK, often Protestants whose ancestors were “planted” by England, were in a terrorist conflict with those who wished to unite with the Republic, mostly Catholics whose ancestors were converted by St. Patrick.  This period of violence and terror made Belfast a dangerous, divided city.

After years of effort and with the help of Americans like Bill Clinton, though, the two sides agreed to a peace in 1998.  Yet Belfast remains divided — a literal wall called the Peace Line runs through the city between the two sides.

Marc and I were picked up by Ken Harper who has been showing tourists these areas for many years, explaining both sides of the conflict and letting us see for ourselves the wall and the murals and the memorials bred and nurtured by an uneasy peace.  Ken himself remembers seeing houses being burned when he was a teenager in the 60s, their owners running down the street, abandoning there homes and cars to gypsy looters.  

It’s hard to explain what it feels like to walk around in a city that seems at once a tidy, modern, historical European capital but is also be a place that monitors its citizens on CCTV, divides its neighborhoods with high walls and barbed wire, and teaches hatred to its children by depicting violence on the sides of buildings.

Some Irish mysteries puzzle and challenge the mind and invite curiosity.  Some sit like a lump in the throat and squeeze you behind the eyes.

Photos are HERE.