A barrier to peace

November 15, 2012

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

“Sure, why would they want to pull down these walls?” asks William Boyd mildly as he offers me a cup of tea in his home at Cluan Place, a predominantly Loyalist area of east Belfast.

He pulls back his net curtains to show me the towering 20-foot-high wall topped with a fence that looms over his home blocking out much of the natural light.


But what becomes apparent to me as William shows me around the pensioner’s bungalow he’s lived in for 12 years is that he’s not expecting an answer to his question. Rather, it’s clear he has become so used to living in conditions that most people would find prison-like that he finds it completely normal.

The pipe bombs, bricks and fireworks that are regularly hurled at these few houses in an otherwise quiet cul-de-sac are so commonplace that they are just part of daily life. This is simply where all William’s friends live, this is his home and he doesn’t seem to notice the oppressive atmosphere created by the huge structures outside his bedroom window.

“The wall should be left the way it is,” he tells me. William says he likes living here and loves the sense of community there is in Cluan Place.

On the other side of the wall I meet people who I know will never set foot in Cluan Place. As members of the Nationalist community their political views are the polar opposite of William’s.

The red, white and blue murals and Union Flags of Cluan Place are noticeably absent from Bombay Street where Jean McAnoy lives.

This is a staunchly Catholic area of west Belfast where intense riots in the late 60s sparked the deployment of the British army into Northern Ireland. And so to protect the residents the barriers were erected. 40 years later they’re still here – meaning that the view out of William and Jean’s windows are practically identical.

Jean lives in what I can only describe as a cage. Not only does she have walls and metal fencing surrounding her house but there is thick wire mesh forming a roof over her back garden. But Jean is used to living like this. She has lived all her life on this street. Her grandfather was burnt out of his house back in the 1960s but she says she’ll never move.

“The walls should be left the way they are,” says Jean echoing the words of William, although I suspect they will never discuss the issue over a cup of tea. And that’s a shame because I think they would get on well together – heated debates on politics aside. But there’s the problem, until people living on either side of these walls are able to actually see each other going about their daily lives I think they will continue to think they are very different.

But they aren’t so different. The flags on the streets are different colors but the residents share the same set of values and both place great importance on community spirit and family. As long as the walls remain there will always be mistrust of the ‘people from the other side’.

One comment

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A really great blog with input from both sides of the sectarian divide. I’d love to find out more about your research as I’m a PhD student in Human Geography based in Newcastle upon Tyne. I study Tyneside Irish masculinities within the region and within my research sectarian conflict is almost an absent presence. There are very few examples of public tension between or within the community (unlike your work of course)but there are the ‘banal’ everyday comments which signify more underlying tension. Thanks again, Michael

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