A good story can't be good without you being part of it. At least this is what I learned and keep doing since my huge "mistake" experience in Northern Ireland back in 2008.
Belfast, capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, epicenter and home of poetry and music. The city of C.S.Lewis, Van Morrison, Gary Moore, the almighty Titanic, George Best's right foot...George Best's left foot, come to that.
But as well, a city that wears scars from the dark days when a war zone was declared in the area.
-So here I was on a cold morning of February, walking in the city and looking for the historical places to photograph. And of course, trying to understand that beautiful but so difficult northern accent. It was cold, very cold.
Belfast is a city with stories, many of those sad, full of anger and death. Actually, Belfast has a very tragic History. The Troubles, as many people know the events occurred back in the day, was a feud between Catholics and Protestants communities. For over 300 years, the hatred and violence were the main protagonists on the History of city.
In 1969 walls and dividers were built in an effort to keep separate Protestants and Catholics. (Does it sounds familiar? nowadays maybe?) and one of the first sections built was -ironically- named "The Peace Line".
-The cold was killing my hands, I couldn't feel not even my nails. But my purpose was to look for this wall.
It was an 18 foot high concrete wall that stretches (you can still see it) for 2,5 miles and separates the Protestant Shankhill district from the Catholic Falls neighbourhood. You can find about 20 different barriers similar to the Peace Line in the city. The last one was built in 2002.
-I finally saw it, just in front of me: a big piece of concrete, full of political and remembrance art on it. It was intimidating. A big giant telling you how much suffer these streets have seen. A giant telling you how much damage man can do.
If you really want to know the truth and have a better understanding of what happened in Belfast, you can take a black taxi tour and hear from a local what "The Troubles" were. The tour is known as the "Bombs and Bullets Tour".
Following the route of "The Troubles" you'll find these two districts - The Shankhill and Falls Road
The Shankhill: A Protestant and loyalist working-class district. The art on their walls makes references to paramilitary members carrying weapons, face masks.
Falls Road: Catholic, pro republican neighbourhood. The art on their walls talks about martyrs to the cause, historic references.
-Because of the cold I maybe forgot some important facts and protocol. I was looking for the Bobby Sands mural. So after a long time trying to find it with no success, I asked a woman who was passing by with her daughter if she had an idea of where that mural could be...as soon as the name came out of my mouth, her face turn and I saw Regan from The Exorcist.
Bobby Sands was a member of the parliament in the IRA. In 1981 he led a group of the IRA inmates who demanded political prisoner status on a hunger strike. 10 prisoners died as result of this strike including Sands.
-The woman replied in a decent but angry way: "Let me tell you something mate, you better don't go around asking bullshit.", she said. "You are in the wrong place and some people won't be nice if you ask about Sands' mural again". I was petrified. "That mural is in Fall Roads, you are in Shankhill", enough said.
I don't really think people can balance these two communities and say who's better or who is worse. Or even though, I don't think people can say who's evil and who's good. Both sides have blood on their hands and they need to live with that. But, what is undeniable, is the new spirit these events brought to the city. The murals tell a bitter story of even worse days in better times when things seems to shine at the end of the day.
Belfast is not what it was but a good and safe place.