All aboard for Terror Tours; ONCE THE GUNMEN AND THE BOMBERS STALKED THE MEAN STREETS OF BELFAST ...NOW THEY'VE BEEN REPLACED BY HOLIDAYMAKERS WITH CAMERAS; Why the Caribbean's Old Hat. Americans Are All Queuing Up to Visit the Falls and the Shankill

By Ellam, Dennis | Sunday Mirror (London, England), August 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

All aboard for Terror Tours; ONCE THE GUNMEN AND THE BOMBERS STALKED THE MEAN STREETS OF BELFAST ...NOW THEY'VE BEEN REPLACED BY HOLIDAYMAKERS WITH CAMERAS; Why the Caribbean's Old Hat. Americans Are All Queuing Up to Visit the Falls and the Shankill


Ellam, Dennis, Sunday Mirror (London, England)


T COULD have been Bermuda, it could have been Bali. Instead, Lilian and Charlie Berman were touring this summer's most unlikely holiday destination...the mean streets of Belfast.

"Wow, will you just look at this," Charlie said, aiming his camera at the loyalist flags on the Shankill Road.

Ten minutes later, he was admiring the wall paintings in the IRA's strongholds off the Falls. "Now this is really something to tell the folks back home," Charlie said.

Not so long ago, he was reminded, a stranger loitering here risked being shot. But peace has brought remarkable changes, and foreign visitors are arriving in their hundreds. This season tourism has replaced terrorism as the big industry in Belfast. "What's going to be hot this year?" Lillian, a psychotherapist, had asked their travel agent at American Express in New York, and the girl had suggested Ireland. But Belfast?

"We browsed through my travel guide and it said the peace process had made things safer here so I said 'Charlie, we're going for it.'

"Frankly, he wanted to get me on a yacht cruising the Caribbean, but that can keep. We're only in our mid 70s and there will be plenty of time to cruise. Here, we're looking at history being made.

"Our travel agent is very understanding. She has sent us all over Europe and I guess it wouldn't be any surprise to her if one day we didn't come back." So the couple packed their bags in their Manhattan apartment by Central Park, flew to Dublin, then caught the train north. "Nervous? Hey, I'm a New York orthodontist, it takes a lot to make me nervous," said Charlie. "What I get from this place is experience - experience of places that before I'd only seen on the TV news."

The couple travelled the city in a black taxi tour run by cabbie Michael Johnston, 26. "People want to know about this city," says Michael.

"Belfast became famous around the world for its strife, so it's better to try to explain what happened here rather than pretend it never did."

Visitors go home to the US, and Australia, and Tokyo,with thrilling stories to tell about the areas where they dared to go with Michael. "As the tourist board will confirm," Michael says, "I haven't lost one yet."

Now a street called Hopewell, it seemed to 32-year-old Omar Hopkins, from North Carolina, must be symbolic of this new era for Northern Ireland. So when the cab stopped he shouldered his camera and crunched across broken glass and fragments of paving slab, the debris of the old days, to get the picture. His partner Kare Molina, 29, went with him, holding his hand.

They might have been trippers strolling Trafalgar Square or the Champs Elysees, only these holiday snaps will show quite a different scene.

Omar posed in front of a mural painted on the entire side of a house, portraying men in balaclava masks taking aim with guns. This was me on the UVF's doorstep, Omar would be able to say.

Ten minutes earlier, he had been standing against much the same kind of artwork on the edge of the Whiterock estate off the Falls. This is me where the IRA hang out, he could add.

Walking the peace line, Kare said she felt an eery atmosphere.

A few yards from where she was standing, she was told, assassinations used to run at two or three a week, and Kare shuddered.

"I've photographed kids starting fires on derelict land on the Falls, then found exactly the same scene on the other side," Omar said. "I have to say, some of the sights here are right out of Mad Max."

Local people on both sides of the divide, Michael says, have welcomed the influx of visitors. Shops on the Falls and the Shankill are even selling souvenirs to them.

In one, a selection of T-shirts is on display for pounds 6, printed with a simple message such as No Decommissioning, or there's a wall plate depicting Gerry Adams, the People's MP, for pounds 8. …

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All aboard for Terror Tours; ONCE THE GUNMEN AND THE BOMBERS STALKED THE MEAN STREETS OF BELFAST ...NOW THEY'VE BEEN REPLACED BY HOLIDAYMAKERS WITH CAMERAS; Why the Caribbean's Old Hat. Americans Are All Queuing Up to Visit the Falls and the Shankill
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