Belfast, Northern Ireland

Yesterday on a bus tour of Belfast, our first photo stop was at the memorial to those lost on the Titanic which was built in Belfast. At one point Belfast was a thriving city with prominent shipbuilders, airplane builders, and over fifty percent of the world’s linen production. Beginning in 1970, the city had a terrible decline due to the civil war between the Protestants and the Catholics, the Loyalists and the Unionists. In an amazing one-hour lecture that covered Belfast’s long history, we learned that the battle in Belfast was as much about whether to be a united Ireland or remain part of the United Kingdom as it was about religion. The lecture gave context to the famous murals that we saw later in the city tour.

The first murals were painted on building walls by the Protestant Loyalists, the people that wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Then in 1970, a wall was built around a Catholic neighborhood to help protect it and the Catholic Loyalists had a forum for their paintings and thoughts. It reminded me of the wall the University of Kentucky built around a construction area in the middle of campus that became a forum for students to express unrest about the Vietnam War. This struggle ended in the Good Friday Accords in 1998 and Belfast became a thriving city again.

What we learned from all this is that Ireland may be headed for trouble again if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Northern Ireland and Scotland both voted against leaving the EU. If that happens, it will require a border between the Republic of Ireland in the south which is part of the EU and Northern Ireland. When the European Union was formed, this border was abolished. No one wants it back.

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