Some work days are more memorable than others. For me, standing at the Peace Wall in Belfast reading the messages of peace and encouragement written by dignitaries like Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama while composing my own message was definitely a memorable work day. Let me explain.
For many years military checkpoints were dotted all over the city of Belfast. Bombings and violence were part of life in the capital city of Northern Ireland as “The Troubles”, a conflict over whether the province would remain within the UK or become part of an independent united Ireland, raged on from 1969 until 1997.
Today, Belfast is transformed. Gone are the military checkpoints and the city is peaceful. Although there are certainly numerous political murals and reminders of its troubled past, Belfast is a destination worth discovering in Europe…which prompted my visit.
The city has seen more than its share of industrial accomplishments and nowhere is this more evident than in the Titanic Quarter. It’s here that the ill-fated Titanic was built, and where she left her last footprint on dry land.
From the magnificent classical renaissance City Hall to its Victorian townhouses, Belfast is a city rich in architectural heritage. One particularly enjoyable place to soak up its design history is the ornate Crown Liquor Saloon. Designed by Joseph Anderson in 1876, it has earned a reputation as being the world’s most beautiful bar.
The saloon has ten cozy and elaborately carved wooden booths called “snugs”. These were often used by women who in years past were not permitted to drink openly among the men. Inside each snug is an antique bell system used to alert the bar staff when the drinks were empty. These Victorian-era booths have witnessed everything from revolutionary plotting to ladies engaged in non-Victorian behavior!
Belfast is famous for its many wall murals across the city. There are paintings of sports legends, musicians, the Titanic and of course, numerous religious and political murals.
In the Shankill and Falls Districts of the city, which witnessed much violence during the The Troubles, images of masked paramilitary figures still mark the walls of many of the buildings. In recent years, some of the more violent murals have been replaced with positive scenes in an effort to encourage renewal.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the regeneration efforts in Belfast is the Peace Wall. Originally built as a divider between the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, the wall has gates which were closed at night as an attempt to contain the violence.
In 2009, graffiti artists were commissioned to paint the wall and today it’s covered with messages of peace and encouragement from people all over the world including the Dalai Lama. And this is where I stood on that most memorable day at work.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not an ambassador of peace or a politician. I’m a travel writer. When I stood by the Peace Wall composing my own personal message I was working.
While visiting Belfast, I toured with a private guide in his very cool black taxicab. His perspective as a native of the city who had lived through The Troubles was invaluable to my research as a writer.
As a travel writer personal tour guides, complimentary lodging and meals are pretty standard. But as well as getting pretty much everything for free, I also receive checks for my published articles. I would have visited Belfast even if it wasn’t my job. Getting paid to be there was a bonus. But, standing at the Peace Wall writing my message next to the Dalai Lama’s…well, that was priceless.
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