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Belfast Taxi Tour: Part 3 – The Falls Road

Submitted by on July 23, 2010 – 2:34 pmNo Comment

 

Bobby Sands MP

Turning left off Springfield Road, we head South East down Whiterock Road, which joins the well-known Nationalist Falls Road. There’s a graveyard on our right which, our driver says, is a Protestant cemetery, one of the largest of its kind in Belfast and in the very heart of the Catholic West of the city.

He points out that despite most bodies having been there for many decades most of the headstones are new. I know what’s coming next and, before he gets a chance to tell us that they had to be replaced because local Catholic kids had driven cars over the graves, I’m shaking my head. I’m not judging one side or the other because I know that there’s a high likelihood that this would have happened if this was a Catholic graveyard in a mainly Protestant area, but it’s just wrong. One of our lot lightens the mood. “Of all the offensive graffiti I’ve seen whilst I’ve been here”, he announces, “that’s got to be the worst”. He points to the cemetery wall where someone has daubed ‘Liverpool FC’ in white emulsion.

We reach the Falls Road and I notice the road signs are also written in Gaelic (Bóthar na bhFál) and the murals, still on most gable ends, depict noticeably different themes from the Unionist areas we’ve been to. Here the focus is more political than paramilitary. There are murals relating to the 1981 Hunger Strikers, internment (the policy of arrest and imprisonment without trial, used with ruthless effect by Thatcher’s government in the 1980s), the use of rubber bullets by the RUC / PSNI, as well as the customary tributes to fallen volunteers.

Our driver takes us about a mile down the Falls. It is noticeably less colourful than the Shankill Road, due to the fact that the Loyalist area still shows the signs of the recent July 12th ‘celebrations’ and the numerous marches that take place in the weeks running up to it. For Ulstermen of the Protestant religion this date is perhaps more sacred than Christmas Day. This is when Protestant / Unionists celebrate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when King William III (William of Orange, or Billy to his mates) defeated Catholic King James. It is seen as the turning point in a long running battle to exert Protestant influence over Ireland. Nowadays, as far as I can tell, it provides sectarian Loyalists with an annual opportunity to stoke up centuries-old religious bigotry and set fires. The Nationalist displays of colour, we are told, occur mainly during Easter and August, but for now the Falls Road looks like any ordinary busy city road, except punctuated with the odd painting of Thatcher with blood dripping from her fangs.

We pull into a street on our left, and our driver points up to the street sign. “This”, he tells us, “is Beechmount Avenue or, as it’s otherwise known, RPG Avenue”. Our attention is drawn to a huge mural depicting an IRA volunteer carrying a rifle. It is set against a green, white and gold background and has the words “Éirí amach na cásca 1916″. It celebrates the Easter Rising of 1916. What we don’t see at first is that the street sign has been painted over and ‘Beechmount’ now reads ‘RPG’, in recognition of the Avenue’s notoriety for its use in rocket propelled grenade attacks on British forces. Further down RPG Avenue a space has been left where one or two houses are missing from the terrace. In it there’s a memorial garden with wrought iron gates flanked by sunrise and shields of the four provinces of Ireland. An Irish tricolour flies from a flag post.

We’re on the move again. There’s a lot to fit into a two hour tour round Belfast and I’m sensing that to do this properly and have a good look at everything you’d probably need a couple of days in West Belfast alone. Further down the Falls, towards the city centre, our driver points out the fencing in front of the Royal Victoria Hospital. “The NHS has no money”, he tells us, “but they had £1.5m to spend on those nice railings”. We nod in agreement. They are nice.

In front of us we can see a block of flats on the right. This, he tells us, is what’s left of the now demolished Divis Flats complex, where the IRA used snipers against the British forces. The Army would eventually build an observation post there in the 70s after taking over the top two floors. However, it was so dangerous for soldiers to enter the estate that they were only able to access the tower by using a helicopter landing pad that was constructed on the roof. Divis Tower is also where the first child of The Troubles – 9 year-old Patrick Rooney – was killed, in August 1969, by a Browning machine gun fired into the flats by the British Army, who believed that they were coming under attack from sniper fire.

Before leaving the Falls to head North we stop at a mural of world causes, including one calling for an end to the US boycott of Cuba. There are other paintings in support of Palestine and, if I remember rightly, one denouncing “Israeli apartheid”.

Solidarity

Solidarity - Falls Road

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