11.00 Voices from Across the Wall
British military officials created the “Peace Walls” in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in August 1969, in order to separate hostile communities in neighbourhoods where sectarian tensions were reaching a boiling point. The walls, which started as rows of barbed wires, are today a series of forty-foot structures made of cement and steel that tower over neighbourhoods located on both sides of the conflict. They stand to this day, despite the recent peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Yet the violent history of Belfast since 1969 suggests that the objective of fostering peace has not been met, and that the segregation imposed by the “Peace Walls” has only prolonged communal isolation and fueled sectarian antagonisms.
Historians, psychologists, and anthropologists have studied similar strategic borders, including the Berlin and Israeli walls, and written extensively on their effects on communities and uses as tools of segregation. However, in the few available studies of the “Peace Walls” in Belfast, the voice of the neighbourhoods has been absent. Based on oral-history interviews, this paper will give the residents of Cupar Street and Shankill Road, two streets on opposite sides of one of the original Peace Walls, a chance to tell us about its impact. The wall is part of their everyday life and geography, it affects their interactions with their own communities and the “other side,” and it has become an integral part of their cultural landscape. Their testimony suggests that the physical separation brought about by the wall has strengthened the longstanding heritage of beleaguered isolation within two communities, while promoting a perception of the people on the other side of the wall as the hostile “other.”