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Belfast Taxi Tour: Part 5 – East Belfast & Stormont

Submitted by on July 23, 2010 – 2:36 pm2 Comments

 

Freedom Corner, East Belfast

Freedom Corner, East Belfast

We say goodbye to West Belfast and head towards the ring road and the East. We’re pushed for time now so I sense we’re going to have to try and take stuff in pretty quickly. When we’d been in Ardoyne, another enclave, we’d been a couple of minutes’ drive from another Nationalist area but East Belfast was markedly different. Put it this way, you’re not going walk-about with a Guinness hat and a Celtic shirt on if you’ve got anything about you.

One of the places hit by the recent rioting was Short Strand, a Catholic enclave in the staunchly Loyalist East of the city. Our driver pulls into a small street off the main Albertbridge Road. We’re entering Cluan Place, an enclave within an enclave, where Loyalists on a single, well protected cul-de-sac are hemmed in on all sides by their Catholic neighbours. The street has large wrought iron gates at its entrance. As we turn in we see every house decorated with red, white and blue. Behind the houses, of which there are about 20, huge walls and netting block out neighbouring streets. It has to be seen to believed. We do a quick u-turn, our driver probably keen to get away from the place as he’s probably one of hundreds of cars that pull in there for a nosey every day.

Peace Wall at Cluan Place

We take a left turn back out onto Albertbridge Road and then we drive through some of the deserted streets. There’s no one around and it’s well past half twelve. We reach a cross roads, where in front of us there’s a large mural which runs the length of a very long wall in the shadow of the famous Harland and Wolff shipyards. This, our driver tells us, is ‘Freedom Corner’, a Loyalist rebuke to ‘Free Derry Corner’. I’m not quite sure what the point is to be honest. We’re shown a patch of land where there used to be a pub which, the driver says, was owned by Jim “Doris Day” Gray, the East Belfast UDA leader who was shot dead on October 4th 2005 during the Loyalist feud. There are suggestions made by the driver about where the funds came from to buy the bar, including a successful trip to Vegas. I’m not sure the police quite bought the story.

On our final leg we head to Stormont, site of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which most Reds will know as the location of George Best’s funeral. We’re heading away from the rough-looking streets around the docks and out into the leafier bits of Belfast. Once again the driver points out flags in streets where there’d have been none until recently. He says that it’s “creeping back in”. We don’t need to ask him what. Arriving at Stormont we’re quizzed by the security guard on the gate. Not so long ago you could have just driven up to the hall without stopping but the attempt there by Loyalist cult-hero Michael Stone to kill Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 2006 has scuppered this. Stone, who was jailed following his attack on an IRA funeral in Milltown Cemetery in 1988, where he killed 3 people with the help of a pistol and several hand grenades, now makes a living selling artwork from the prison where he is serving a 16 year sentence. We make our way up the driveway, pull up for a photograph and within a few seconds we’re off again, with the driver questioning whether Sinn Fein and the DUP will ever reach a compromise. I have to say, having spent a couple of hours with him driving round this fascinating, complex and clearly edgy city, you have to wonder.

Stormont

Our two hours is nearly up. We should really be sticking to the plan for the driver to drop us at the airport but it’s been a very good weekend so nobody needs any persuading to go for one last pint or two. Someone asks the driver to take us to a pub on the Ormeau Road, scene of some rioting a few days ago. You wouldn’t know it though, the streets are quiet and we could have been in any city on the British Isles on any given Sunday. We pay the driver his well-deserved £50 and wish him well. Half way down that first pint and we’re all thinking the same – we could go on it again. Someone orders taxis and we say goodbye to Belfast. It is a wonderful, colourful, beautiful city and we’ll all be coming back. So we will.

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