Belfast’s cultural Glienicke Bridge?

This short piece from the LA Times really captures the sense of kind of bridges slowly being reconstructed, even in heavily polarised areas like West Belfast. Former Republican prisoner Caoimhin Mac Giolla Mhin takes the writer on a tour of nationalist West Belfast, until he hands them over, as though at some latter day Glienicke Bridge, to his Loyalist business partner on the other side.

“We’re working on a project with a loyalist ex-prisoners group to do joint tours on a daily basis, because I personally don’t want to go over there and talk about their background, their history. We work with them. But that’s work. If I went over into that area and had a pint with that guy? I might not come out of it alive.”

It’s not difficult to see how it came to pass. Although the shops in the Shankill once drew people all from over Belfast and well beyond, and its pubs provided a watering hole for GAA supporters lately returned down the Seven Mile Straight to Belfast, to quote Churchill in an earlier time, the animosity between these two areas has been “savage, repeated, and prolonged”.

The challenge will be in turning such micro enterprises, largely focused on a traumatic, if shared, history, into something more permanent and penetrating of old suspicions and mistrust. Indeed something that again allows people from each area to ‘cross the bridge’ without danger (whether perceived or real). It remains to be seen whether the political mythos on either side will allow such fragile possibilities to grow.

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  • miss fitz

    This might be interesting on this topic, Mick

  • Dr Strangelove

    Nice to see that the (loyalist) tour guides, well one in particular, are providing the punters with some towering intellectually insight, as witnessed by Jake’s comments in Missfitz’s link above.

  • Weapons of Crass Instruction

    One small correction Mick

    Caoimhin is not a former Republican prisoner. He once worked as political tour coordinator for Republican ex prisoner group Coiste na n-Iarchimi, (no longer working there), but Caoimhin
    has never been charged, convicted or sentenced to anything.

  • rapunsel

    I hear of a significant grant from the peace programme to develop this initiative further and on the basis real effort is made to establish conections based on respect and trust. Haven’t taken a tour myelf yet but planning to do so in the New Year with some relatives visiting.