So we set out for a walk around Shankill and the Falls - if you visit, don't bother with the Black Cab tours that cost about $50 for maybe an hour or two of falling out of the taxi to take pictures of a few murals. West Belfast might not be the Champs-Elysees, but it's perfectly walkable and safe during the day. Just make sure not to wear your Union Jack t-shirt in the Falls ;)
Just a 15 minute walk from the city centre, at the foot of the Falls Road, I could feel the atmosphere changing. To be honest, until then, I thought there was no Irish at all in Belfast (unlike the Republic of Ireland, where all signs are bilingual) - but then it hit me: suddenly, street names had Irish names. Houses had Irish names. Shops had Irish names. Even conveniences stores, hairdresses and coffee shops had Irish names, and the Irish flag was everywhere. Every second window was decorated with crosses and other cathlic paraphernalia and there were lots of small signs that still said things along the lines of "Out with the British". Just an example of how easily we come to live in a bubble (in my case, the neutral university quarter)!
Now might be the time to come and see the murals - Belfast City is planning to get rid of many of the murals because it thinks they just keep the tensions between the two different groups alive. I don't think that removing the murals will help much with that (not as long as there are still over 50 'peace walls' throughout the city that separate neighbourhoods). Yet, although I was a little sceptical at first, some of the new murals are actually pretty interesting and convey mostly leftist, environmentalist, and anti-capitalist messages.
Have you been to West Belfast?