In the back seat of one of the world’s best taxi tours…in Belfast

Belfast is perhaps best known for two things: The Troubles and the Titanic.

As a result, it has also become known for its tourism, a fact reflected in the fact that the taxi firm was ranked 17th on TripAdvisor’s list of the world’s best experiences.

Cab Tours Belfast is the only company from Northern Ireland to achieve this success.

It scored higher than Dubrovnik Snorkeling, Istanbul 3-Day Tour and Puerto Rico River Cruise.

The company was founded by Thomas Campbell and Isaac Swindell from north Belfast in January 2017.

The business partners belong to opposite sides of the sectarian division: one is Protestant and the other is Catholic.

TripAdvisor gives awards based on the quality and quantity of reviews, and Thomas and Isaac believe their approach to explaining Northern Ireland’s troubled history somehow explains their popularity.

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Isaac Swindell of Cab Tours Belfast

“The question I get asked the most when I take people on tour is whether I’m a Protestant or a Catholic,” Isaac said.

“I tell them they can guess by the end of the tour.”

The second most frequently asked question they hear is how to tell a Protestant from a Catholic.

Thomas often jokes that the L and R plates on cars stand for Loyalists and Republicans.

He credits their recommendation of places to eat and visit also make them popular with visitors.

When I joined the company for the tour yesterday morning, Isaac joked, “Today you only have one problem on this tour. If you see me running, run in the opposite direction. They’re after me, not you.

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Niamh and Isaac at the mural of King Billy

The couple and the drivers they hire always say “we” and “our” when they run their tours.

Atrocities committed and suffered by both Loyalist and Republican communities are given equal attention and sympathy and are always described as “our communities”.

The tour starts at the “beginning of Protestant West Belfast” with a stop at the corner of Gardiner Street.

“You will see your very first piece of art in town, Welcome to Shankill Road,” Isaac explained.

“There are many languages ​​that say “Welcome” [20 in total]but one language is missing: Irish.”

At the fresco of King Wilhelm III, he continued: “1969 is the time when the modern Troubles erupted, but if you look at the gable wall on the left, you will see that our Troubles began long before 1969.

“The first and last frescoes you will see today are the most important in our city.”

After explaining who King Billy was, tourists are invited to view the “Respect, Remember, Resolution” sculptures adjacent to the mural.

“Our attitudes and thinking are changing, and so are our works of art,” Isaac said.

The project was created 11 years ago as part of an initiative by the Lower Shankill Community Association. It replaced a previous sectarian mural depicting Oliver Cromwell.

Also nearby is the Women’s Quilt, a relatively new piece created by local women to reflect and represent their experiences. “It’s a patchwork quilt. Each area inside it will have its own word that means something to them – respect, inspiration, mother, sister, aunt, ”said Isaac.

“But they had to put in two words for the men to do it politely – stubborn and loud.”

After walking along the wall of peace that separates the falls and Shankill Road, tourists are invited to jump in and sign it with messages of hope, as thousands have done before them, including the Dalai Lama and former US President Bill Clinton.

The first wrote: “Open your hands to change, but don’t let go of your values.”

This is exactly what the Cab Tours Belfast experience does. He is balanced, compassionate and informative about politics and the past, as well as looking to the future.

Thomas said, “Our ‘unsinkable’ ship sank and we’ve been killing each other for years, but at least we’re gone.”

At the peace wall, Isaac described the events of August 14, 1969, “the day the riots started” with riots between Dover Street and Deavis Street that lasted several days, forcing 50,000 Catholics and Protestants from their homes.

“The best way I can describe the city to a visiting person is that the center is neutral. All prosperous areas are neutral,” he added.

“The working-class neighborhoods where I come from are predominantly Catholic or Protestant.

“If you look at our city from the air, we are like a chessboard with black and white squares scattered around.

“Where these squares meet in disputed areas, you’ll get defensive gates or walls.”

Tourists are then escorted through the gates of the world wall on Lanark Way, which is often the most shocking experience for visitors. “People are surprised when they see the peace wall, but they are even more surprised when they find out that the gates are still opening and closing every night after 24 years of the peace process,” Isaac said.

After visiting Bombay Street, where the homes of Catholic families were burned 53 years ago, travelers head to the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden. Nearly the last is the International Wall on Deavis Street. Here, the frescoes change regularly, but are usually associated with the history of the republic or revolutionary movements around the world.

It also currently features a painting of a community rescue service sponsored by Cab Tours Belfast.

Isaac said: “In this tour we are talking about heroes and martyrs in both communities. These are living heroes. This is a voluntary group of young men and women, Catholics and Protestants, who devote their free time to the search for [missing] people. Most often, these people commit suicide.

“In the recurring conflict, about 3,800 people were killed, but since 1998 and the signing of the peace agreement, until we were hit by Covid, we have lost almost 5,000 people by suicide.”

The last stop is the famous Bobby Sands mural on Falls Road. The 1981 hunger strike, death, and Sands’ election as MP for Fermanand and South Tyrone are explained in detail.

Cab Tours Belfast offers Giant’s Causeway tours, Crumlin Road Jail combo package and shore excursions, but their Black Taxi Picture Tour is by far the most popular as most of their clients come from Ireland.

Isaac said he loves to see people in awe of how much the city has changed over the years, especially since many people, including guests from the Republic, would never have dreamed of visiting it in the past.

He concluded, “At this point, I can say that this is the end of the tour. I hope you enjoyed it.”