We were told we would hear the truth. The facts would be correct. The numbers, the events, the statistics would all be true. We were also told though, that the reasons for those truths, the background to those truths would be interpreted freely and from an admittedly biased perspective. Four hours later, we had walked own the Falls Roads in Belfast with a staunch Republican.
Coiste organizes walking tours of Belfast on the Republican side of Belfast. Their main objective is to give former IRA political prisoners work after the amnesty agreement and their subsequent release from prison, although not all guides are former political prisoners. The company offers a variety of different tours on the Republican side of Belfast.
The group does not hide from their past. Instead, they use it to their advantage and as a teaching tool. Several times throughout our tour, we were told that it would be a good idea to take a similar walking tour on the Loyalist side of Belfast with a similar group called EPIC (unfortunately their website is currently being renovated but contact information can be found here).
Throughout the tour we were told the history of the Falls Road, the background to the numerous murals painted along the road, the sites of murders, attacks, bombings. We eventually made our way to the Milltown Cemetery, the burial site of several IRA members and itself a site of historical significance. After the cemetery we crossed the street to a Republican pub and received our free glass of Guinness.
What was supposed to have taken about two and a half hours, took four. And I couldn’t get enough. Our guide, Jack Duffin, was knowledgeable, engaging, had an intimate connection with the area and was greeted several times by people walking along the streets. He even cracked a few jokes along the way. Considering the severity of the topic at hand, it was good to lighten the mood every now and again. Duffin also provides other tours in the Northern Ireland area with a company called Irish Historical Tours.
Belfast isn’t always at the top of the list when people are doing their Europe travel planning. It should be. I was amazed by the history of the area, and the changes taking place in a city so long tied with the Troubles.