Saturday 21 October 2017

North still faces uncertain times, but a new generation is helping provide grounds for optimism

A boy holds a Union Jack flag in front of a bonfire in the Shankill Road area ahead of last year’s July 12 celebrations by members of the Orange Order in Belfast. Photo: Reuters
A boy holds a Union Jack flag in front of a bonfire in the Shankill Road area ahead of last year’s July 12 celebrations by members of the Orange Order in Belfast. Photo: Reuters

Gerard O'Regan

Despite everything, despite all that has happened, and is happening including these Brexit days, it is difficult not to feel some optimism about the future of Northern Ireland, particularly if one takes the trouble to visit Belfast.

It's intangible. But there is a feeling that even when walking the small sideways streets of the Falls and the Shankill, the worst is over and better days have come.

On its most indulgent moods, Belfast is still a flinty and hard-edged city. The raw hatreds of wilful sectarianism can lurk scarcely beneath the most civilised and reasonable of conversations. Was it ever thus? For centuries, the city has been the cockpit of division in the battle for supremacy between Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist.

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