The Shankill Road, the Protestant/Loyalist enclave in Belfast, Northern Ireland, runs parallel to the Falls Road, the Catholic/Unionist area. A concrete wall, ironically named the Peace Wall, divides the two communities. When I first visited the Shankill in 2017, I was struck not only by the presence of the Wall but also by the number of murals lining the Shankill. The murals depict the fallen “heroes” of The Troubles, thirty years of sectarian violence. Although a Peace Agreement was signed in 1998 it seemed to offer a fragile peace.
In 2016, I visited the Shankill and returned every year for five years. During those years, I got to know the people. They are fiercely proud of their culture and traditions. Bonfires are lit every July Twelfth. These bonfires, often six stories high that take weeks to build, lit the way for King William of Orange, a Protestant, after his 1690 win over the Catholic, King James at the Battle of the Boyne. The following day his victory is celebrated with members of the Orange Order parading through Belfast. Over the years the City Council has curtailed the Parade Route and restricted the Bonfires leading one man to tell me “This is our identity; this is who we are”. The intent of the series, “The Shankill: Portrait of Pride and Resiliency”, is to move beyond the conflict and look at what is there today, a resilient people and fiercely proud. A people who live with their past every day but are working to see beyond it.
© 2024 Julie W. McCarthy