Northern Ireland / Places We Go

Belfast, Northern Ireland – The Bombs and Bullets Tour

northern-ireland-bombs-and-bullets-tour

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I visited Ireland with my mother almost twenty years ago. It was a good trip, but it didn’t include Northern Ireland. At the time, Northern Ireland was spoken of in a lowered voice and usually described as follows – “nothin’ up there ‘cept bombs and factories.” Naturally, this made me want to visit.

This desire was only intensified by my subsequent education about the conflict in the North and by the many pictures and stories splashed across the media depicting the violence between Catholics and Protestants and Loyalists and Republicans. When Brandon and I recently discovered that we had some Irish blood in us, I knew I had to visit this former “war zone.”

Eleonora never says no to a trip and so we found ourselves in Belfast on the first open weekend we had. E and I started by hiring a local guide named Ken Harper. It only cost us 25 pounds and this is the way to go for the best of the “Bombs and Bullets” tour because the locals know where all of the best murals and other things you want to see are – things you just wouldn’t know where to find if you are not from the area. Also, the guides can give you great background information and answer any questions you might have about symbolism in the murals and such.

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The three of us headed out to Falls Road first. This is the Catholic/Republican area. On the way, we passed Divis Tower which is a famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) condo highrise that until very recently had its top three floors commandeered by the British Army as an observation post to keep an eye on the restive Catholic Republicans:

divis tower

A mural wall in the Falls Road area… The murals are kept up to date and so the focus has drifted from the conflict in Northern Ireland to more current events…  Such as support for Cuba and opposition to the absurd sanctions the United States still maintains:

belfast murals

Or for the Basques in ETA:

falls road murals

Bush gets no love – even in Northern Ireland:

falls road murals northern ireland

This mural is about the present (as of this writing) fighting taking place in Gaza between Hamas and the Israeli military. The casualty numbers were accurate to within a few hours at the time I took the picture. I told you they kept the murals up to date:

belfast northern ireland murals

This is one of the pro-I.R.A. murals. Margaret Thatcher is the one wanted for murder:

murals northern ireland

A view of a “peace wall” separating the Catholic and Protestant communities – more on that later:

peace wall belfast

The famous Bobby Sands mural on the side of Sinn Fein headquarters – While in prison for I.R.A. activity, Bobby Sands was elected to the Westminster (UK) Parliament for 25 days, though he never took his seat or the oath. His term was cut short by his death from a hunger strike. Nine other IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) members who were involved in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike died after Sands:

bobby sands mural

Sinn Fein headquarters. Sinn Fein is the political arm of the militant Irish Republican Army:

sinn-fein-headquarters

This memorial plaque is placed over the entrance to the building. Loyalists just walked in and gunned her down one evening:

n563903375_1163011_1559

Four I.R.A. members were killed when the bomb they were constructing in this home prematurely exploded – “died while on active service” the plaque in front of the home reads:

home ira bomb

Bombay Road – memorial to I.R.A. “volunteers” as they call themselves:

n563903375_1163014_2418

And, as with all wars, the memorial to civilians has far more names on it:

n563903375_1163015_2706

However, both of the above seem almost insignificant if one considers the daily losses in a conflict like World War II or even a less conventional war like the present conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan.

We’re still on the Catholic Republican side here. These wire barriers on the back of the homes offer protection against the rocks, firecrackers and occasionally more serious item that comes flying over the “peace wall” from the Protestant Loyalist side on a regular basis:

peace-wall-belfast

The “peace wall” was constructed to physically segregate the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. It is Belfast’s version of the Berlin Wall. We’re still on the Catholic side of the wall here:

peace-wall-belfast-northern-ireland

These gates are the only way through the “peace walls” – most are only open Monday through Friday. This one is kept open all week, but closes every night at midnight. We’re entering Protestant territory now:

gates belfast peace wall

Remember the homes with the wire barriers above? This is exactly the same spot on the other side of the wall. The Protestant side:

peace wall belfast

The Protestant Loyalists are fiercely nationalistic. I’ve never seen so many British flags in one place – even the curbs were painted in the Union Jack colors of red, white, and blue. More British than the British.

“No fockin’ surrender” (to the Irish Catholics) is the slogan in this area and Shankill Road is ground zero for the hardcore Protestant Loyalists. The Ulster Defense Association was formed in 1972 and serves as the political wing of the Protestant Loyalists while the Ulster Freedom Fighters are the soldiers.

Shankill Protestant Boys sign and mural… UVF is an acronym for Ulster Volunteer Force, another Loyalist paramilitary outfit:

uvf protestant mural belfast

The murals and signs in this area tell a slightly different story than the one you get on the Catholic Republican side:

n563903375_1163023_5051

Cromwell, for example, was not a nice guy by most objective standards, but he is a hero in these parts:

oliver cromwell mural belfast

protestant mural belfast

northern-ireland-murals

loyalist mural belfast

Part 1 of this mural:

n563903375_1163028_6710

Part 2 of this mural:

loyalist mural northern ireland

uff-protestant-mural-northern-ireland

This is a typical, drab neighborhood in the Protestant Loyalist area. You see this and it makes you wonder what they were fighting for… For this?

protestant-loyalist-neighborhood-belfast

Other areas of Belfast aren’t much better…

bombs and bullets tour northern ireland

…although The Big Fish is pretty cool:

the big fish belfast

These are the Harland and Wolff Shipyards… Parts for some of the homemade guns that appeared during “The Troubles” were made in the machine shops of these famous shipyards. These secretly-produced guns became known as Shipyard Specials:

Harland-and-Wolff-shipyards-belfast

Orange Hall – protected from attack by wire barriers:

orange hall belfast

This may look like a fortress, but it is actually just a police station. The tall wire barriers are to protect against attacks from rockets:

n563903375_1163120_4181

This is the public entrance to the police station:

n563903375_1163121_4435

Interesting stuff. However, while informed sources advise me that Armagh and the border areas still have some excitement, if you really want bombs and bullets, go to Afghanistan or Somalia. Belfast is starting to become more tame. They have shopping malls now and are trying to bring in more tourists. So, unfortunately, some of the unique history of Belfast is being lost as “aggressive” murals like the U.F.F. one below are beginning to be painted over:

uff mural belfast

And replaced with “friendly” murals like this one of the Titanic (which was constructed in the Belfast shipyards of Harland and Wolff):

titanic mural belfast

 

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8 thoughts on “Belfast, Northern Ireland – The Bombs and Bullets Tour

  1. Hey “J”
    Love the murals & art with the messages of life…

    You have really workedthat awsome little sony of yours bro…
    Great photos! Composition is informitive, discriptive yet creative too. Very nice collection of pics lil’ Bro……”M”

  2. From Paul Theroux
    The Observer, Sunday 13 February 2011

    The deaths in Northern Ireland were always in the news, the bombings all over. Bloody Sunday occurred about two months after I arrived: 14 Irish protesters gunned down by British soldiers, and many wounded. “The paras know what they’re doing,” was the line up at the Gollop Arms in South Bowood, “and one of those dead blokes had a nail bomb in his pocket.”

    Bombs, bombs! So many of them on lovely days, in parks and public houses, on Christmas, in hotels, nearly all of them the work of the IRA, whom I saw as aliens, like me. Even the car park of the House of Commons was a bombsite, the MP Airey Neave, about to be named Northern Ireland secretary, blown up in his car. The Guildford pub bombing of 1974, four people killed, many injured, and the same year, in two pubs in Birmingham, 21 people murdered. Lord Mountbatten and three others, including two children, blown up on his yacht, the Shadow V, while on an August holiday in Ireland. To the mournful echo of the bomb came the sententious crowing, the toothy triumph of Gerry Adams, cock-a-hoop with the deaths on the yacht.

    The official IRA line was always, “Look what you made us do! It’s your own fault!” A large nail bomb in 1982 in Hyde Park killed four soldiers and seven horses; another the same day, a large bomb under the bandstand at Regent’s Park, instantly killed seven of the bandsmen and seriously injured all the rest, including many people in the audience – another sunny day, the band playing selections from the musical Oliver! Six people killed at Harrods in 1983, at Christmas time. A bomb at three in the morning at the Grand Hotel in Brighton that was intended to kill Prime Minister Thatcher and her whole cabinet – five people killed, many injured. Thatcher, working on her speech at the time, survived.

    There were much worse bombings in Ulster, just as cowardly, just as vicious, just as pointless. IRA member Bobby Sands went on a hunger strike, demanding prisoners’ rights in Long Kesh Prison, where he was serving 14 years. Refusing food, he intended to call attention to his list of demands: “The right not to wear a prison uniform” and others. He wished, punishing himself, to arouse pity. But the IRA bombs were in everyone’s mind. And, not understanding that most people didn’t care, and certainly not the prison staff, probably glad to see him suffer, Sands died of self-imposed starvation.

    The clearest memory I have of the whole nasty Ulster mess, of cruelty and bloody-mindedness, is a newspaper picture of a skinny teenaged Irish girl whose boyfriend was a British soldier: tarred and feathered, gleaming black, with white tufts stuck to her body, her head shaven, terrified, pushed along a street by a howling mob of Catholics. She looked like an alien to me, suffering the alien’s fate of rejection – in her case, extreme and humiliating.

  3. Northern Ireland (March 2011)

    A large VIED was discovered near the Bishop Street Court House at Derry on Sunday evening. The bomb was described by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as “substantial” and evacuations of nearby St Columb’s Cathedral and residential areas nearby were conducted until the bomb was made safe. Political parties representing both sides of the divide have condemned the attempted attack with Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson saying the bomb was out of step with the views of the vast majority of people in the city. Northern Ireland has suffered in past years from a resurgence of dissident Republican violence culminating in two British soldiers being shot at an Army base in County Antrim in March 2009.

  4. From the Guardian…

    Horror in Omagh as bomb kills Northern Ireland policeman

    Booby trap bomb kills 25-year-old officer preparing to drive to work as David Cameron condemns ‘wicked and cowardly’ attack
    April 3 2011

    Dissident republican terrorists have killed a young police officer in Omagh. The victim was only a schoolboy when the worst atrocity of Northern Ireland’s Troubles was visited upon the same town 13 years ago.

    A booby-trap car bomb killed Constable Ronan Kerr outside his home in Omagh, where 29 men, women and children were murdered in 1998. At the time of that massacre Kerr was only 12.

    The murder of the young Catholic police officer united unionists and nationalists across Ireland, all of whom vowed to oppose those republicans determined to destabilise the historic power-sharing settlement in the north.

    David Cameron “utterly condemned” the bomb attack. “Those who carried out this wicked and cowardly crime will never succeed in dragging Northern Ireland back to a dark and bloody past,” he said. “Their actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people from all parts of the community.”

    Referring to the murdered police officer, the prime minister said: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his friends. This is a terrible tragedy for all who knew him and served with him, and for a town that had already suffered so much.”

    Kerr died after the device exploded beneath his car shortly before 4pm as he was driving to work at his local police station. He is the second member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to die at the hands of republican dissident paramilitaries opposed to the peace process.

    The 25-year-old, who only graduated from police training college three weeks ago, lived in the Highfield Close area of the Co Tyrone town. Families were evacuated from the area as the security forces searched for secondary explosive devices. The scene of the blast was close to the home of the Tyrone Gaelic football team.

    Suspicion will fall on one of the three republican dissident terrorist groups that have resumed their violent campaigns in the north of Ireland over recent weeks. Ireland’s recently elected prime minister, Enda Kenny, also condemned those behind the murder last night describing it as a “pointless act of terrorism”.

    The province’s first minister, Peter Robinson, said it was an evil act by a minuscule group that wanted to drag Ireland back into the past but that the community would unite against such violent threats.

    Sinn Féin’s president, Gerry Adams, sent his condolences to the family of the murdered officer. “Sinn Féin is determined that those responsible will not set back the progress of the pace and political process,” Adams said.

    The Ulster Unionist leader, Tom Elliott, described the attack as “evil and cowardly”, while Democratic Unionist Jonathan Bell said he was devastated over news of the police officer’s murder. He called Kerr a “young hero serving his entire community”.

    The attack in Omagh will conjure up memories of August 1998 when a Real IRA car bomb exploded in the centre of the market town. With the death of 29 people and two unborn children, Omagh was the single biggest loss of life during 35 years of conflict in Northern Ireland.

    No one was convicted of direct involvement in the atrocity although some of the families of Omagh’s victims later took a landmark civil action against a number of men they claimed were leading figures in the Real IRA. The alleged Real IRA leaders are currently appealing against a high court ruling in Belfast last year that they must pay compensation to the victims and their families.

    The Omagh bomb also resulted in a damning police ombudsman report that severely criticised the former Royal Ulster Constabulary’s handling of intelligence material prior to the attack. The atrocity came just five months after the Good Friday agreement was signed marking a historic compromise between unionism and nationalism.

    Although a faction of the Real IRA declared a ceasefire in response to public outrage over Omagh, more militant dissidents broke away and formed a number of units dedicated to thwarting the peace process. One of those organisations became Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH). The group has attracted a number of former IRA bombers. Last year it detonated a bomb underneath the car of a Catholic police officer, Peadar Heffron. Heffron was a well-known Gaelic footballer and lost his legs in the blast, which was similar to the one that killed the PSNI officer in Omagh.

    In March 2009, a Continuity IRA sniper shot Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, just 24 hours after the Real IRA had murdered two British soldiers outside a military barracks in the town of Antrim.

  5. Republican dissidents have perfected a new generation of weapons with which to launch a fresh terrorist offensive, senior security sources have told the Guardian.

    The security sources in the Irish Republic, already concerned about a renewed undercar booby-trap bomb threat, say anti-ceasefire republicans have been working on a mortar bomb device, one of which was seized recently near Dublin.

    In a further worrying development Irish security sources told the Guardian that a new form of TNT explosive had been discovered during a Garda raid on a republican dissident arms dump in Dunleer, Co Louth last year.

    Security sources in Britain have also indicated that the threat from the dissident republican terror groups has become more pronounced in recent weeks. MI5, which has overall responsibility for security in Northern Ireland, states on its website: “There have been increasing signs of co-ordination and co-operation between republican terrorist groups.”

    A senior security source said the Republic’s security forces had found a sophisticated technical element to a new mortar bomb launcher which Irish police recovered during an operation on the M1 motorway linking Dublin to Belfast late last year.

    The device was potentially more deadly and accurate than the mortar bomb launchers used in Northern Ireland in recent times, the security source stressed. The mortar find and the explosives indicate that republican terror groups opposed to the peace process have improved their engineering techniques and secured new war material from eastern Europe.

    Before Saturday’s murder the Real IRA and Óghlaigh na hÉireann (ONH) had resumed their bomb and hoax bomb attacks across Northern Ireland.

    According to security sources there has been a slow but significant movement of former Provisional IRA individuals to the dissident groups which are now estimated to total between 700 and 800 active members.

    They said recruitment to the dissident groups had been encouraged by the economic climate and increasing unemployment in Ireland, and youngsters who have joined the groups have no memory of the security measures imposed during the Troubles, the sources said.

    In addition, the IRA and Sinn Féin no longer have the power or influence to stop attacks.

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  7. JANUARY 19, 2012
    2 Bombs Hit Northern Ireland City

    Two bombs planted by Irish Republican Army dissidents detonated Thursday night in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, but no injuries were reported as police quickly evacuated the area following phoned warnings.

    Martina Anderson, a former Irish Republican Army member who represents Londonderry for the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, said one bomb left outside the city’s main tourist office exploded as about 75 elderly residents of a nursing home were still being evacuated about 25 yards (meters) away.

    She said IRA dissidents “need to come forward and explain how they believe this achieved anything, other than the disruption of vulnerable old people’s lives.”

    Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin, the police commander in Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, said much of central Londonderry would be sealed off Friday so that police could comb the bomb sites for forensic clues.

    Police evacuated the city’s largest shopping center as bombs placed in nearby streets detonated within 10 minutes of each other. At least one bomb appeared to have been concealed in an abandoned gym bag.

    IRA splinter groups based in the overwhelmingly Catholic west side of Londonderry have repeatedly targeted local businesses and police stations with a range of homemade bombs. They reject the IRA’s 2005 decision to renounce violence and disarm, and insist that Northern Ireland should be ejected from the United Kingdom by force.

    Thursday’s attacks came on the eve of a court judgment in the trial of two suspected IRA dissidents charged with murdering two British soldiers in March 2009. The victims were off duty and unarmed when IRA dissidents shot them at close range as they collected pizzas outside the entrance of an army base. They were the first killings of British security forces in Northern Ireland since 1998, the year of the province’s Good Friday peace accord.

    Mr. Martin said police received two coded telephone warnings about a half-hour before the first of the bombs exploded. The extent of damage wouldn’t be determined until daybreak Friday because of the risk that dissidents had placed additional booby-trap bombs in the area to ambush officers.

    “Thankfully we aren’t dealing with mass casualties or worse this evening,” Mr. Martin said.

    “The people in Derry don’t want this disruption. It is cowardly and callous. People simply want to move on with their lives, not take a step back. Regrettably the whole community will once again suffer because of the needless actions of a few,” he said.

    The attacks by the splinter groups have caused relatively little damage and few casualties, and chiefly appear to rally politicians from all sides in support of Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant government, the central accomplishment of nearly two decades of peacemaking.

    “These are the desperate actions of yesterday’s men. They seem to be more wedded to the struggle than to the cause they claim to be pursuing,” said David Ford, justice minister of the unity government.

  8. 7 Tied to Faction Of the I.R.A. Face Terrorism Charges

    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Published: May 19, 2012

    DUBLIN (AP) — Seven Irish republicans were arraigned Saturday on terrorism charges after a security sweep against militants whom officials suspect of plotting to sabotage Northern Ireland’s peace process.

    Three were charged in a court in Lisburn, near Belfast, with “directing terror,” a charge never levied against anyone suspected of being Irish Republican Army members in Northern Ireland.

    Use of the charge suggests that the police and Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, believe they have caught senior members of the Real I.R.A. faction, an Irish Republican Army splinter group.

    Three of those arraigned were relatives of Colin Duffy, reputed to be a senior Real I.R.A. figure. The three — Mr. Duffy’s brothers, Paul, 47, and Damien, 42, and his cousin Shane Duffy, 41 — were charged with preparing acts of terrorism, conspiring to murder and conspiring to cause explosions. Paul Duffy also was charged with directing terrorism.

    In Omagh, the Northern Ireland town where the Real I.R.A. committed its deadliest bombing, in 1998, four people were arraigned on charges of preparing acts of terrorism, possessing a rifle and ammunition and attending a Real I.R.A. training camp.

    Two of them, Sharon Rafferty, 37, and Sean Kelly, 46, also were charged with directing terror.

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