The Number 1 city bus up the Antrim Road is a leap into Belfast’s troubled past and still-turbulent present. Like all bus routes in Northern Ireland’s capital city, the Number 1 starts downtown amid glass-and-steel high-rises, trendy shops, and cafés. Locals, international business travelers, and tourists mingle on streets newly adorned with two-story-high curved copper ribs intended to evoke the city’s maritime heritage, including the building of the Titanic, launched here on May 31, 1911. Once outside these 10 blocks, however, the Number 1 crosses what might as well be an astral divide. Belfast is one of the most segregated cities in the world, an occasionally Molotov cocktail-bombed landscape of “interfaces” and “peace walls” that have grown higher, longer, and more numerous in the 13 years since the Good Friday Agreement. The 1998 settlement formally ended the three decades of violence called The Troubles. In Belfast, an interface is where Protestant and Catholic communities battle and, in the best of times, grimly turn their backs on one another. According to the Belfast Interface Project, there are at least 10 in the one-mile stretch between the place where the Number 1 starts and the city’s lone synagogue north of downtown. If you go the same distance east and west, the number of interfaces easily triples.
more from Robin Kirk at The American Scholar here.