Trouble in Northern Ireland: Do's and Don't's
Trouble in Northern Ireland: Things to Look Out For
If you are touring Northern Ireland by car you might come across a roadblock set up by the police or, on rarer occasions, by the army.
In the four years we were there we came across them maybe 15 times or so. They are more common when the marching season beings. The police may ask you where you are coming from and where you are going to and also for some ID. Generally they are very polite. It is good to carry some ID with you when you are in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the world, but even on occasions I had none there still was no problem. Quite the contrary, when they stop you it is a good time to ask for directions. If there is marching ahead, they will point you to the best way to bypass the marchings and reach your destination quicker.
Politics and Religion are the roots of the Trouble in Northern Ireland and are two things people don't talk about to strangers because these have been and still are controversial issues. You are best not to talk about these things too, unless you are with people you know well and in a setting that will not create friction.
Painted pavements, flags, murals.
One of the things that will catch the attention of a visitor quickly is the painted pavements, usually red, white and blue.
Flags are also common; murals less so, but some are quite spectacular. Painted pavements, flags and murals are visible in certain areas and absent from others.
If you see them in one area what it usually means is that:
(a) this area is probably religiously homogenous, i.e. most of the people living there are either Protestant or Catholic;
(b) political/religious feelings likely run high. Red, white and blue are the colors of the Union Jack and if you see these colors painted on a pavement the area is Protestant.
If you see the Union Jack or murals of the Queen you likewise know you are in a Protestant area. Tricolors or a predominance of green suggests a Catholic area. Certain areas in Belfast are known for their murals and a tour will certainly give you insights into the psyche of the Northern Irish.
If you do go in such areas keep two things in mind:
First, remember that the Trouble in Northern Ireland was very real. Murals and flags were not set up as a tourist attraction. Rather, they are outward expressions of feelings that run very deep. People have literally gone to war over such symbols. And while things are much quieter now, the pain and anger are still raw. For a tourist to go around sporting a big camera and touristy grin can be considered offensive and land you in hot water. Second, preferably keep your visits to the daylight hours.
Marches. With the coming of the summer the marching season begins. For Protestants it reaches a climax in the first half of July; for Catholics in August. Overall you will see the Protestants marching more. Some are fairly harmless, even family events. On a couple of occasions we went to the marches in Loughbrickland and felt it was more of a festive than a trouble occasion. Maybe in the past it was different, I don't know. In other areas the marching creates tension, especially as one nears the 12th of July. If in doubt avoid them unless you know a local who can advise you where and when to go and where and when not to go.
Overall, the years of Trouble in Northern Ireland are over. When you travel in Northern Ireland and follow these elementary precautions you will feel safer there than in many other parts in Europe. We travelled far and wide throughout the country on many occasions without feeling threatened in any way and enjoyed our travels and the hospitality and friendliness of the people. We would recommend the experience to anyone.
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