I recently had the great pleasure to visit Belfast with my father. It was an unforgettable and unique experience, not only because trips like these can be wonderful for bonding with parents (hopefully!), but also because of Belfast’s unique history.
When the Republic of Ireland gained independence from the British in 1922, after centuries of English rule, Northern Ireland was not part of the deal. It was bitter sweet for Michael Collins but one he felt necessary to avoid further blood shed. He also hoped that one day in the future the north would be re-united with the rest of the Republic.
The “Troubles” which later ensued with ferocity during the 1970’s to 1990’s between protestant unionists, loyal to the United Kingdom and catholic republicans wishing to re-unite the island flared up. There was bloodshed and political imprisonment in the north and the occasional car bombing, even in Dublin.
The “Troubles” effectively came to end in 1999 with the Good Friday Agreement
. Under this deal, residents of Northern Ireland can choose to hold British or Irish passports. During the 2012 London Olympics, Paddy Barnes from Belfast won a bronze medal in boxing competing for Ireland.
The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is now totally open. No border guards or check points and no passport required. Though it is advised that if you are not European, you should still be traveling with your passport as random checks are possible.
The currency in Northern Ireland is noteworthy. While they use sterling pounds, like the rest of Britain, not euros like the Irish, they mint and dispense special sterling pounds that do not include the Queen of England. I was shocked when I visited the Ulster Bank ATM to literally receive sterling pounds issued by Ulster Bank themselves. I also received sterling pounds issued by Bank of Ireland. And I received change from a coffee shop featuring normal sterling pounds with the Queen, as they will still trade these.
While there is peace, one wonders if this is merely just the quiet before another storm. Tensions are still evident with occasional flare-ups, the “peace wall” dividing the catholic and protestant neighborhoods, and the political murals of Belfast that dominate the western half of the city. Lest we forget.
Seeing the political murals and memorial monuments in Belfast is a moving experience that my father and I will never forget. Many are both great works of art, and a touching testament to revolutionaries who fought for independence from the English crown.
*Updated July 25th, 2018 Below*
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