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.