Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The New Belfast: Crowds of Shoppers from South Cease-Fire Brings Dubliners in Droves, Many for First Time

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The New Belfast: Crowds of Shoppers from South Cease-Fire Brings Dubliners in Droves, Many for First Time

Article excerpt

THE 10:10 TRAIN FROM Dublin, Ireland, slid into the station and groaned to a halt, a face in every window, eyes wide and pressed against the glass.

When the doors flew open, the first voyagers planted their shoes on the foreign concrete and stood there a moment, as if to test the footing, like Neil Armstrong on the moon.

They had traveled only 100 miles, but this was another world. For 25 years, people in the Irish Republic had viewed Belfast the way American suburbanites see the South Bronx. Roughly 75 percent of the southern Irish had never spent a night in British-run, strife-ridden Northern Ireland.

Until now - in this season of the cease-fire.

"It's amazing that I am really here," said Joan Flynn, who had never come north in her 35 years. A Christmas shopper, she planned to blitz the British retail chains, few of which operate in Dublin. "I fancied this trip before, but it was always the fear of a bomb that kept me home. You hear such awful things, but once I crossed that border, I saw that the hills were as pretty and green as the ones back home, and it gave me a bit of a thrill."

The first peaceful Christmas season in 25 years has transformed Belfast, to the point where the locals are almost at a loss how to deal with it. In the months since the Irish Republican Army announced its cease-fire, and its Protestant counterparts followed suit, amazing things have happened:

You can ride into town without being stopped at random by British soldiers wanting to know who you are and where you're going.

In the city center, you can drive into a parking garage without a sentry demanding to look in the trunk and under the hood.

You can ride the buses without security men roaming the aisles, checking for bombs beneath every seat.

Inside the Castle Court mall, the downtown shopping mecca, you can walk into any store without being frisked, without being asked to open a backpack or briefcase or handbag.

If you're from the Irish Republic, you can drive here in your own car, with its distinctive blue plates, without much worry of being vandalized by some Protestant lout who assumes you must be an IRA sympathizer. …

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