How to out-drink the Irish and tear down walls

Tuesday, Nov. 16

Anyone who’s looking to out-drink an Irishman, here’s a tip.

Visit the Emerald Isle in November.

It’s the only month the island goes dry.

According to Catherine (my Irish/English friend), the explanation is very stereotypical.

Because the Irish drink so heavily throughout the year, November is a month of sobriety to prepare for the festive parties of December.

In light of the disappointing news, we drank our pear Magners and Guinness in the privacy of Catherine’s flat. (She hosted us in Kent, London and was kind enough to let us stay at her place in Belfast as well.)

On a more serious note, Matt and I took a city tour today to learn about Northern Ireland’s controversial history.

On a double-decker bus, we spent three hours listening to the problems that have plagued Belfast and the surrounding area.

(It wasn’t all negative – we heard about how the Titanic was built without error in the Belfast docks and then sunk by Englishman. And how the Parliament buildings of Belfast were covered in manure during the Second World War to prevent them from being bombed. It’s now an off-white colour.)

It was the best two dollars we’ve spent yet.

Here’s a very quick and broad run-down of what we learned:

– Northern Ireland is it’s own country, separate from the Republic of Ireland. It’s a part of the United Kingdom (along with England, Scotland and Wales).

– Northern Ireland is “broken down” into two groups: Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants want to be a part of the U.K. while the Catholics want to be a part of the Republic of Ireland.

– The divide in religion and territorial opinions are behind the country’s turmoil. However, everyone believes the true reasons for terrorist acts (such as bombings across England and Northern Ireland) have been lost with time. It’s now being passed down through generations to children who don’t fully understand why they hate their neighbours.

– As recently as 25 years ago, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was bombing England and Belfast to protest the union with the U.K.

– There has been a peace treaty in place for approximately 15 years.

– England is currently on high terrorist alert for more bombings from the IRA.

– Belfast is still physically divided between the Protestants and Catholics. The communities are clearly labeled with flags or coloured markings on lampposts. The Protestant areas are red, white and blue. The Catholic areas are orange, white and green.

– Numerous peace walls are still in place, dividing the religious communities.

– If the presence of flags, religious colours and walls weren’t enough to mark a territory, there are hundreds of murals throughout the city. Most of them depict masked men with weapons.

– The city of Belfast is starting to paint over the murals because the images are too aggressive. The city wants to promote a peaceful atmosphere.

– Belfast has an abundance of new buildings due to the bombings. Along with new additions, some recent alterations have helped prevent further damage. The courthouse has a surrounding wall that is 10 feet thick. Before it went up, the building was targeted by car bombs once or twice a week.

On a final note, our tour guide ended by saying she hopes for a Northern Ireland where the walls can be torn down so Catholics and Protestants can live together.

Unfortunately, she said it isn’t likely to happen in her lifetime.

Despite all of this, Belfast was recently voted the second safest city in the world for tourists, next to Tokyo.

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