A short walk westward from Belfast city centre will lead you into the predominantly working class area of the Shankill Road. The complex history of this area spans centuries but some of its most notable events took place not too long ago. A visit to the Shankill Road is a great way to observe the incredible changes that have taken place as well as the old wounds that haven’t completely healed in this, one of Northern Ireland’s most historic districts.
Though the first settlement of the area known today as the Shankill dates back as far as 455 AD, the version known today is much younger with origins in the 16th century. With the foundation and growth of Northern Ireland’s linen industry, the population of the region expanded significantly. As the population grew, so too did the Irish Catholic concentration in the area known as the Falls Road, which proved problematic for the Protestant loyalists of Shankill. For this reason, the Shankill Road area of Belfast became a chief location of fighting during the Troubles and the site of countless bombings and violence in the 1970s.
What once existed as the border of Belfast is now a symbol of separatism between two prominent religious and political groups. The traditionally loyalist citizens of the Shankill Road area and the Catholic Republicans of the Falls Road district are separated not only by political views and ideas, but also by physical walls along the roads.
What to see
A visit to the Shankill Road is ideal for history lovers and those wishing to experience the past for themselves to get the best idea of the area’s struggles. Walking down Shankill Road, visitors will see the many political and historical murals that cover the “peace lines” separating the Shankill and Falls districts. However, the mural featuring celebrated boxer Wayne McCullough, a Shankill native, proves not everything in the area is politically driven. The visual history presented in the Shankill is better than anything you can read in a guidebook.
Also located on the Shankill Road is the Spectrum Centre, an arts and culture multi-purpose venue that opened in 2001. This venue hosts many annual events showcasing the best Shankill Road has to offer. From historical exhibitions and cultural events to art displays and musical performances, there is always something to check out at the Spectrum Centre.
On your walk along the Shankill Road, don’t miss the Shankill Memorial Garden, a beautifully designed spot dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 1993 bombing of Shankill Road and other victims of the area’s terrorism. Similarly, the Shankill graveyard intrigues visitors as one of the oldest cemeteries and historical sites in Belfast. This graveyard has been used for burials for over 1,000 years meaning that it is the resting place for many of the victims of the Black Plague.
Though the area of the Shankill Road is centuries old, the most well known historical events are all fairly recent. The unique experience of a visit here will remind you of the dark times faced during the infamous political conflicts and will shed new light on the progress that has been made in recent years.