Joel is driving me through the notorious Protestant Shankill district where he grew up in Belfast during "The Troubles"—when bombings and killings wracked this city for 30 years. I didn’t know a lot about the conflict before coming here.
Joel is one of a handful of ex-political prisoners operating “Black Taxi Tours.” The guided tours explore both Shankill and the ex-IRA Catholic neighborhood on the other side of the 45-foot high “Peace Wall.” The wall has a series of gates that close off the roads traversing the two sections every night and all weekend.
“People want things to be normal and they’ve seen the benefit of it,” says Joel. “Over the last 10 years, it’s really the younger ones who are coming together.”
“So what’s with the gates?” I ask.
“They close them to make sure there’s no trouble from any hooligans out drinking,” he says.
We stop at “The Garden” in the Catholic Clonard district where a memorial (above) pays tribute to those who perished from the neighborhood. Joel is obviously agitated standing beside the faces of dead Catholic paramilitary members, male and female.
Back in the cab I ask him, “Were you active during The Troubles?”
Joel looks at me for a few seconds in the rearview mirror. His face is ominous, full of regret. I get the sense Joel hurt some people and lost others.
“I was born and raised here; I’ve lived here all of my life,” he says. “So I saw everything that happened every day in the Shankill. You couldn’t really not be part of it.”