Review: Black Taxi Tour, Belfast

By Christina Morin

After having lived in Belfast for a couple of months, I reckoned I’d lost my newcomer tourist rights and would therefore have to wait for visitors to take a Black Taxi Tour. Accordingly, when guests from the US arrived a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to show them around Belfast via one of these much-celebrated taxi tours.

Available from a seemingly endless array of companies, black taxi tours are essentially exactly what it says on the tin – a tour of the city from the (dis)comfort of a (not always) black taxi.  The history of these tours apparently stems from twinned tourist interest in but anxiety about wandering around on foot in certain areas of Belfast – the Falls Rd., the Shankill, the ever-changing display of murals around these areas, peace lines, etc. Although I imagine the tourist industry would be quick to deny any current threat to tourists taking in the sights on a walk through the city, a black taxi tour is, as advertised by the companies themselves, a pretty much guaranteed way of getting a safe and comfortable tour from a very knowledgeable guide with an incredible familiarity with the streets of Belfast and their sights.

For four of us, our tour (from this company) lasted an hour and a half and cost a tenner each – at least a fiver less than the alternative bus tour and, while you don’t see quite as much of the city as you do on the bus tour, you do get an intimate look at parts of Belfast you might not otherwise venture into by yourself (see the Google map of our route here). Our tour started when our taxi kindly picked us up at a place and time of our choosing – behind City Hall at 3 pm. We piled into the taxi (disappointingly blue, not black), and our heavily tattoo-ed driver gave us a brief history of the Troubles. Then, it was off to the Shankill and into a little housing estate replete with an amazing collection of murals. After pulling into the estate and giving us some more historical tidbits, the taxi driver told us to walk around and have a look at the murals, which included a vivid depiction of the myth of ‘the red hand of Ulster’; one of ten murals designed to replace paramilitary images with images of national culture and heritage; and a slightly freaky paramilitary mural picturing a balaclava-clad paramilitary pointing his rifle out at the viewer. Our taxi driver had told us to pay particular attention to this last one and to watch how the rifle followed us as we walked – very disturbing.

From the Shankill, we headed over to the Falls Rd. via the peace line – barriers that shut every night to keep opposing factions segregated as much as possible. (I won’t go into the history of Belfast’s religious and sectarian conflict here, but there’s some great info and a detailed bibliography here.) We also got to have a look at the recently refurbished Peace Wall. It used to be quite plain and bare, with just the notes and signatures from visitors and well-wishers decorating it, but it now has some fantastic graffiti and other artwork produced by a group of artists who had their safety guaranteed by the local homeowners before commencing their work during Easter 2009. (There’s a great personal account by an artist involved in this project here.) Of course, we signed our names and wrote a brief message before heading on to the Falls Road, where we saw a variety of murals, including the famous one of Bobby Sands (right next to the Sinn Fein offices), and a series of murals linking Belfast history with conflicts in other areas, including Palestine.

That was the bulk of our tour, and, though the route seems laughably short, we managed to see more of and learn more about Belfast than we ever expected. For my guests, it was an enjoyable and informative experience; for me, it was a fantastic insider’s view of some of the city’s most contested areas. Definitely worth a go if ever you find yourself in Belfast!

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4 Responses to “Review: Black Taxi Tour, Belfast”

  1. Ciara Meehan Says:

    As part of the Irish history module for visiting American students which I taught at the UCD Quinn School of Business, I used to take the students on a day trip to Belfast. The director of the cultural programme told me that when the programme first started running, they’d have to change coaches at the border because it was too risky to have a reg from the Republic when doing the tour of the Unionist areas. Happily, that seems to be a thing of the past. The murals are definitely worth a visit. What I found interesting was the change in tone / imagery of the paintings as you move outside the Falls and Shankhill Roads. Reflecting the current (albeit uneasy) peace, the militant images are gradually being replaced with issues of a more current concern to residents – dangers of joy riding, suicide prevention, etc 

  2. dfallon Says:

    I noticed on a recent visit to Celtic Park in West Belfast (Home of Donegal Celtic F.C, giants of football!) that there seem to be more international flags appearing in both communities than domestic ones.

    Examples would be the flag of Israel in Unionist communities, and vast quantities of Palestinian and Basque flags in Nationalist areas.

    http://0.tqn.com/d/goireland/1/0/W/F/-/-/belfast_murals_strike_1907.jpg

    This mural is by far my favourite, a mural to the dockers strike of 1907. “Not as Catholics or Protestants, not as Nationalists or Unionists, but as Belfast workers standing together”.

    More of that, and less of the balaclava-clad paramilitary types please!

  3. Frank Says:

    I visited Belfast a few years ago for the first time. During my brief trip there I went on the Black Taxi Tour. Like the other posters, I enjoyed the experience. I couldn’t’ however help thinking about the altogether different experience that someone had of one of these taxis at the height of the troubles. In Belfast on business the man hailed a cab and barely had he embarked on his journey than the taxi man asked the passenger would he mind if he picked up someone on route to his destination. The businessman, not wishing to offend, said yes and when the person was duly picked up a series of questions was put to the initial passenger that made him feel increasingly fearful of his safety. So, in his most relaxed voice, he said to the driver that he had suddenly remembered that the house of an old friend was just around the next corner and would he mind dropping him off there. The taxi man duly obliged and the businessman’s heart didn’t stop pounding for some time. I heard the man telling this story many years ago and wonder whether many people had similar experiences at the time. One taxi driver told me on my visit there that he was once visited by paramilitaries (can’t remember if they were loyalist or republican) who ‘asked’ to borrow his taxi for a few hours. I shudder to think what the taxi was used for but it was returned to him in good condition.

  4. Tierna Kelly Says:

    What a city one word brillant.The taxi tour was our high light we found over 20 companies http://www.belfasttaxitours.info and http://www.belfastsightseeingtours.com where recommended before we arrived.But my sisters boyfriend had already booked http://www.belfastattractions.co.uk .The tour was awesome we paid £10 per person but is was value for money. The tour started in the North of the city and we traveled through the Shankill and Falls road which is west Belfast and ended in South.The murals our wonderful and to see both sides republican and loyalist was a great help.You wont be dispointed the tour went into nearly 2hours and we seen other companpies offering £8 for a 1 hour tour so watch out.

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