Friday, 25 July 2008

Black Taxi Tour - Falls Road and Shankhill Road in West Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast is something of a rejuvenated city. Once regarded as a virtual no-go area by tourists, the violence and bombings have now largely stopped. Indeed, it is becoming something of a fashionable city break destination.
But it would be wrong to think that the city’s Protestant and Catholic populations now live together in perfect hand-holding harmony. There is still a dividing wall between the two communities in West Belfast, and on either side there are housing estates decorated in a series of astonishing murals.
These brightly-coloured paintings often take up the entire side of a house, and are artistically fantastic (if usually morally dubious).
On the Shankhill Road (Protestant side) and the Falls Road (Catholic side), the murals depict guns and balaclava-clad men or glorify murderers. They are a sign that people aren’t prepared to forget the past just yet.
It is possible to venture around these mural-laden streets independently, but by far the best option is to take a tour in one of the Ulster capital’s famous black taxis.
The drivers are locals, and can take passengers through the history of the areas and Troubles with first-hand knowledge, and often dark, wry humour.
The tours go past Red Hands, Irish and Union flags, the Sinn Fein headquarters and assorted spots where buildings were bombed and people were killed. It’s ugly, but it’s fascinating, and totally unique.

Getting to West Belfast
Nearest international airport:
Belfast has two airports – the tiny George Best Belfast City Airport is nearest to the city centre, but most flights arrive at Belfast International Airport slightly further out.
The Black Taxi Tour: There are numerous taxi companies that give tours of West Belfast, picking up from the city centre or hotels. Hotel receptions will happily recommend one, but options include Cora Tours and Belfast City Taxi Tours.

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