The Belfast Peace Walls were erected in a bid to reduce tensions in the city between Loyalist and Nationalist communities.
Standing for longer than the Berlin Wall ever did and now part of the city’s social fabric, the Belfast Peace Walls have become an iconic part of the Belfast experience for those who visit and want to understand the city’s turbulent past.
But how did they begin and what’s the best way to check them out? Here’s their story and how to see them when you visit.
Some quick need-to-knows about the Belfast Peace Walls
A visit to one of the Belfast Peace Walls is fairly straightforward, once you know where they are (it’s worth understand the difference between Northern Ireland and Ireland in advance).
The most prominent of the peace walls in Belfast are found, unsurprisingly, between The Falls Road and The Shankill Road in West Belfast. There are also peace walls in North Belfast, East Belfast, Portadown and Derry.
2. What it’s all about
Following the outbreak of ongoing sectarian violence that came to be known as The Troubles in 1969, the Belfast Peace Walls were erected in a bid to reduce tensions between the Loyalist and Nationalist communities.
3. Removal of the walls
After 50 years, there’s invariably talk of removing the Peace Walls in Belfast, but progress has been slow. The wall on Crumlin Road came down in 2016 but their popularity as tourist attractions and effective barriers means they could be around a while yet.
4. How to see them
The cheapest way would be to go on foot but to make the most of your visit we’d definitely recommend taking a tour. There’s the option of walking tours or Black Cab Tours, both of which we’ll discuss later.
The history behind the Belfast Peace Walls
Though something of an arresting sight to first time visitors, the Belfast Peace Walls have been in existence for 50 years and it all began with the riots of August 1969.
Alarmed by the scale and ferocity of the violence, the British Army were called in and set about constructing so-called ‘peace walls’ made of corrugated iron and topped with barbed wire. Set up quickly and rather crude looking, they were a simple solution for keeping the two communities apart from each other.
Where are they exactly?
Stretching to 800 metres (2,624ft) in length, it’s been an effective barrier but the walls aren’t just limited to this famous section of West Belfast.
Half of the Peace Walls in Belfast are found in the patchwork of sectarian enclaves of North Belfast while there are also significant walls separating the Nationalist Short Strand from the Loyalist Cluan Place areas of East Belfast.
Outside of the capital, you’ll also find peace walls in places like Derry, Portadown and Lurgan. In fact, it was the famous Battle of the Bogside in Derry that lit the match for the violence in August 1969 that found its way to Belfast and ended with the building of the walls.
How they are seen today
Perhaps surprisingly, since the pivotal 1998 Good Friday Agreement there are now more walls than there were before, despite the relative peace that the agreement brought to Northern Ireland.
Not only have they provided (for the most part) the safety they were originally intended to bring, they have also become part of the fabric of life in Belfast and certainly a curiosity to visitors.
In fact, the peace wall separating the Falls and Shankill Roads contains some of the brightest artwork found in Belfast and forms part of many of the city’s mural tours.
What does the future look like?
With the security they provide and their cultural relevance, it does feel like the Peace Walls in Belfast will be with us for some time yet.
In 2013, the Northern Irish executive started on a plan to remove all peace walls “by mutual consent” within the next decade. Yet as the target date of 2023 approaches, only a small number have been eradicated.
How to visit the Peace Walls in Belfast
If you fancy seeing the Belfast Peace Walls for yourself, you’ve several different options: you can go solo, visit on a Black Cab Tour or visit on a walking tour.
If you do visit solo, please make sure to visit early in the day – the Peace Walls are in areas of Belfast to avoid after the sun drops.
For the least fuss and minimal strain on your wallet, the simplest way to check out the Belfast Peace Wall is by yourself. Do some research, plan your own itinerary and choose the time of day that would be most convenient, depending on how long you’re staying in Belfast.
To get the most vivid experience, head out to Cupar Way which contains the most prominent of the walls that separate the Unionist and Republican communities in Belfast. Take as long as you like and check out the range of interesting artwork and graffiti that has been added to the walls in recent years.
On a Black Cab tour
As well as those iconic spots on the Falls and Shankill Roads, your driver will also take you to the peace walls and explain what it was like growing up in their shadow.
Unique to Belfast, these tours are great way to get under the skin of the city and learn more about its character alongside the usual historic info. Tours typically last around an hour but can go on longer.
On an organised walking tour
If you want an even more in-depth window into the peace wall and the stories surrounding the conflict, this walking tour with both Republican and Loyalist ex-political prisoners is a sure-fire way to open your mind!
You’ll tour the Falls Road and hear about what it means to feel Irish in Belfast, before passing through the peace wall gates and getting the perspective of a Unionist who feels a deep connection with the United Kingdom.
For those of you that like to use the likes of Get Your Guide, this walking tour is great value and has 600+ reviews (affiliate link).
FAQs about the Belfast Peace Wall murals
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from is Belfast segregated to are there still peace walls in Belfast.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Are there still Peace Walls in Belfast?
Yes – although some travel guides talk about the Belfast Peace Wall, there isn’t just one big wall – there are several.
What is the purpose of the Belfast Peace Wall?
The Belfast Peace Wall ‘movement’ began as a way of reducing conflict in the city between Loyalist and Nationalist communities.
What’s the best way to see the Belfast Peace Wall murals?
I’d argue that taking a Black Cab Tour is the best way to experience Belfast’s turbulent past, as you’ll hear the story of the area from a local.