A Calm before the Peace after 25 Years of Strife, the Residents of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Relish an Outbreak of Tranquillity

Article excerpt

THE Rev. Brian Moore recalls vividly the bomb that demolished a fish shop across the street from his Presbyterian church on Shankhill Road - the Protestant heartland of Belfast - last year. It killed nine people as well as the young man from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who planted it.

A minister here for 23 years, Mr. Moore cannot easily forget the despair that he and his fellow clergy often felt in trying to bring comfort to the families of those killed and injured in the Catholic-Protestant crossfire known as "the Troubles." But his despair has turned to cautious optimism. A cease-fire, announced Aug. 31 by the IRA and later followed by Protestant loyalist militants, has held so far.

"There is first of all a great sense of relief, followed by a feeling of unreality," Moore says. "People are asking themselves, `Is this really happening?' and the mood is, `So far, so good.' "

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the start of terrorist violence here, in which well over 3,000 people have died. The outlawed IRA has waged a bitter guerrilla war for independence from Britain. Loyalist paramilitary groups have likewise fought to ensure that Northern Ireland - the province of Ulster - remained part of Britain. Although the IRA's truce has not explicitly said its cease-fire is permanent, the British government has agreed to work under that assumption and to include Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, in talks on the province's future that are set to begin by Christmas.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland and its capital, Belfast, have been peaceful for nearly three months.

From the Shankhill to the Catholic stronghold of Falls Road, the troubled streets of Belfast echo the laughter of children instead of gunfire, and people are savoring a rare peace in a land that has struggled for its identity since the English conquests of the Middle Ages.

Sheila McGuigan has lived for 23 years on New Lodge Road, a Catholic area that has seen much violence. She notices big changes by observing small things.

"At the height of the Troubles, people's front doors were always closed tight. Now they are open," she says. …


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