This morning we sailed into the Port of Belfast. This is a heavily industrial port; in fact, there’s not even a cruise terminal. Our space was marked off with concrete barriers and portable fencing. At least there was a sign that said, “Welcome to Belfast. Cruise Port.” All the indicators of commerce were evident: cranes, dump trucks, container trucks, delivery trucks, construction machinery, aluminum buildings, silos both tall and short, stacked containers, tug boats, freighters, container ships, paved roadways, fenced-off areas, men walking around in reflective clothing, etc. Our tour guide for the day later confirmed that Belfast is and has been an important industrial focus of Northern Ireland. From the ship, however, we could also see the green hills in the distance.
We boarded the bus for a tour of the city and found that we had a guide who is a native of Belfast who thinks he knows more about the city than anyone. At least that’s what he told us. Maybe he’s right. Anyway, the time of the “troubles” was never far from his mind as he pointed out to us some of the important historical and cultural sights of the city. He was pleasant and talkative, but he left us feeling depressed about the religious and political factions and the evident inability of anyone to find a means of reconciliation. As we drove to different areas of the city, we learned how each had been affected, or not affected, by their problems.
Our first stop was at the city hall, where we went inside to admire the marble interior and stained glass windows. Outside city hall was a memorial focused on the Titanic, with the names of those lost engraved on a plaque. As we continued driving, we passed Queen’s College, a major university with 26,000 students, and many churches and schools. It was important to our guide to mention their affiliation (Protestant or Catholic) every time. We next stopped at a mural which illustrates many of the fighting points of the different factions. We saw several other murals during the drive as well. It seems that they have been painted only in certain areas of the city, not all. Another remarkable feature was the presence of high and unsightly walls which divided the city into different zones. It was all so depressing.
Next, we drove to Belfast Castle, the ancestral home of the landowners who first held the property which became the city. Here we had a short photo stop with lovely gardens, a fountain, and wide views over the city. On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the magnificent home of the Northern Ireland parliament. We approached it along a broad boulevard lined with perfectly matched trees. It sits high on a hill, with a wide façade and impressive pillars and pediment around the front entrance. It was closed for 30 years during the “troubles” but is open now and accepts tourists during the summer months. Even though our tour ended with relatively positive images of Belfast, we retained our feeling of sadness for the heartache that has been such a large part of this city’s history.