Belfast Notes: Breaking New Ground
Belfast is getting better. My perspective of Belfast is informed by a small graffiti I saw in a toilet stall in Europa Train Station. Nestled among crudely drawn penises and acronyms such as ‘IRA’, ‘UDA’, ‘INLA’, and ‘UVF’, were the words “I F*cking Hate Belfast” written in tiny letters upside down in one corner. As I see it, this kind of righteous anger towards all the insanity of The Troubles is exactly what is going to sweep Belfast into the modern age.
Although many are hesitant to talk about The Troubles, the general consensus among young people is positive about the way things have improved over the past few years. Many are angry at how the rivalry between Irish Republicans and Ulster Loyalists has held the country back, and are seeking a new way to express their own identities.
The news of two British Army soldiers being shot and killed outside the Massereene army base, came as a shock. I’ve been living in Belfast, and attending Queens University for three years without incident. What gives me hope, was the response from political leaders: all sides condemned the killings. How much they really believed what was said is open to debate, but even if the statements were politically motivated it goes to show how the attitudes of the people of Northern Ireland have changed.
Writing as a British citizen about The Troubles always leaves me feeling like I’m a white person writing about the success of the end to Apartheid. I feel guilt by association for the way the Irish people were treated by the British, but at the same time feel glad that Northern Ireland is now peacefully a part of the United Kingdom. Thankfully, when I associate with classmates born in Northern Ireland, none of this is much of an issue. Few of them care about politics, and most simply want to get on with their lives and enjoy the freedoms afforded to other young people in the West.
Belfast has a unique opportunity to leapfrog stale politics and shift towards progressive, liberal thinking and become a tolerant, accepting, model cosmopolitan city. With immigrants moving in from all over the world, Belfast is changing very fast.
The art scene here has blossomed, with venues like The Black Box, Belfast Exposed and The Ulster Hall all displaying the fruits of the new, motivated young artists from Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland — a far cry from the violent, hate-filled murals of just ten years ago. The city has a long way to go before it fully recovers, but things are definitely looking up.