top of page


Adventures In Belfast

Northern Irish After the Peace Agreement
cor 6.webp
"Partly a personal journey, with a spiritual and a mythical thread running through . . . 
A timely, engaging and insightful read!”

​Award-winning Northern Irish poet Ruth Carr, author, There is a House and The Airing Cupboard 

Dive into the people, history, turmoil, and myth of life in the North of Ireland, and the city that once gave the world its greatest shipyard, famous footballer George Best, Narnia Chronicles author C S Lewis, pioneering early aviation, the music of Van Morrison, and much more . . . 

From the major political events that shaped post-Peace Agreement life, to deeply ingrained traditions and powerful storytelling and myth. 

These are down-to-earth images of a complex culture, and the forces that have divided it for centuries.

You’ll meet brilliant poets, politicians, paramilitaries, university students and working people --

Each drawing a vivid picture of a country of longstanding feuds, amazing humor, and hard work and ingenuity that built the Titanic, and that now rebuilds a culture. 


Real-life stories of people living out their best and worst aspects, in a time of astounding transition

Image by K. Mitch Hodge
Praise for Adventures In Belfast . . . 

“Takes the reader into the heart of Belfast -- and into deep and passionate conversations with a wide range of Northerners. 


While this is partly a personal journey, with both a spiritual and a mythical thread running through, it also allows room and attention to a multiplicity of views and experiences, which add depth to the historical and political context of “Norn Iron.”A timely, engaging and insightful read!”


Northern Irish Poet Ruth Carr, Poet and Author of There is a House and The Airing Cupboard

Image by K. Mitch Hodge
From Adventures in Belfast
Chapter 3
“The People's Day”


It is July 2001, and I am walking down Belfast’s posh tree-lined Malone Road. I see a British soldier on the pavement ahead of me, a huge semi-automatic rifle in his hands. 

We draw closer, and I see he’s very young, with high spots of color in his cheeks, still in his teens. I realize then with a shock that he looks like my 16-year-old nephew, my sister’s only son.

I think of this boy’s mother, and try to imagine her. Then I realize that if I’d married while living in England in my early twenties, hell, I could have been her.

The rifle is large, looking inappropriate for someone so young to carry.

Since first reading about the Northern conflict at age 13, I’d instinctively sided with the Irish, condemning the British for their human rights abuses of the Northern people.

Now it seemed ludicrous to hold this one boy or any one soldier in contempt for all the wrongs the British had enacted upon its Northern colony.

I smiled at him as I passed, feeling only compassion for how young he was. He smiled and nodded and bid me a good evening.

Belfast is full of leaves and easy breezes in summer. I was one of the July tourists “rare as hen’s teeth” as the Belfast Telegraph put it.

In those days, Belfast emptied of even its citizens during the annual bonfire-burning, marching, Prod-pride holiday, which could be a contentious time for some neighborhoods.


Come the Twelfth [of July], there were reports of extensive rioting in the north Belfast neighborhood of Ardoyne.

As a proudly Catholic nationalist area, its residents were resentful of Protestant marchers and an unsympathetic RUC police presence.


By the next day, the debris was being cleaned up and the rioting had stopped, leaving behind the usual amount of aftershock.

A Catholic RUC policewoman had taken off her helmet in the midst of the onslaught of paint and smoke bombs to administer first aid to a stricken fellow officer. She said that people came at her with “venom in their eyes.”


You miss being in such a place, Traveler, when you’ve seen it as a vibrant coat of many colors, each thread running easily into another.

Talks had been taking place among the political parties at meetings in England, but things were still at an impasse. David Trimble had walked out of one high level meeting.

There was some give from the unionists on the policing reform and British army demilitarization that nationalists required. But these would not be fully granted so long as the IRA remained armed.

Both sides were stuck between the devil of “granting concessions” to the other side so they could actually get on with governing, and the deep blue sea of not wanting to appear to be selling out their own parties.


You miss being in such a place, Traveler, when it’s become a second home. When you’ve seen it as a vibrant coat of many colors, each thread running easily into another.

I’d missed my Belfast mates, particularly the writers’ group. Since I’d been in Belfast last, the Northern poet and musician James Simmons had died.


He would be missed, though he’d left many gifts behind him, including his son Ben, an excellent poet.

If the North was still in the process of releasing its old rage and resentment, in a smaller way, so was I. I remembered talking to my therapist in L.A. on the phone one day in autumn 2000.


Standing inside an old red phone box on the Ormeau Road, I told her the anger I felt at seeing what the Northern Irish had witnessed and suffered for so long.


Thrown into the mix was my own rage over being abused as a child, the worst memories of which had only surfaced a few years before.

“Can you define yourself by something other than your anger?” she had asked.

“I don’t know,” I’d told her. “Some days, I don’t think I can, no.”

Now nine months later, I was writing in my journal, I don’t want to define myself by my anger anymore. It was how I had drawn the first boundaries between me and the world.

Now anger and resentment were simply a block in the road, for me and the North both. I felt caught between an old form of identity—reaction and protest—and a very new one where I allowed the world to live and let live, to get on with its own reality, whatever that might be, without judgment.

I thought of Baby Suggs in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. Here is a woman whom slavery had finished in so many ways.

Yet she tells her suffering daughter-in-law Sethe, “Lay down your sword.”

Because she knew the madness of fighting what could not be defeated that way . . . 




Copyright 2014, Caroline Oceana Ryan

If you repost, please maintain the integrity of this information by reprinting it exactly as you find it here, and including the link to this page.

Thank you.

Image by Mirna Nora
bottom of page