From the city centre, Divis Street, a westward continuation of Castle Street, leads to the Falls Road, which heads on for a further two miles west past Milltown Cemetery and into Andersonstown. The first part of the Falls Road is known as the Lower Falls where most of the land to the left (south) consists of modern red-brick terraced housing estates. The right-hand side of the road is more of a hotchpotch and features some of the local landmarks: the bright blue swimming baths and the DSS (the Department of Social Security, known as “the Brew” – a corruption of “bureau”), cooped up in an awning of chicken-wire. Down Conway Street (by the DSS), stands the old Conway Mill, revitalized by a concerted community effort. Inside you can investigate the wares of the numerous small businesses and local artists who operate from here, as well as an art gallery and a small exhibition depicting the mill’s history. All the way along the Falls Road you’ll spot, blocking the ends of the streets to the right, walls of iron sheeting. These comprise the “Peace Line”, and directly behind them is the Protestant working-class district of Shankill.
Further west lie the red-brick and more recent buildings of the Royal Victoria Hospital, at the junction with Grosvenor Road. During the Troubles, the Royal, as it’s known locally, received international acclaim for its ability to cope with the consequences of the violence. Just beyond it, in a disused Presbyterian church at 216 Falls Rd, is the Cultúrlann MacAdam Ó Fiaich, a cultural centre for Irish-speakers, housing an extensive bookshop (also selling traditional-music CDs), an excellent café and a thriving theatre, often the host to musical events. Although you are unlikely to hear it being spoken on the streets or in most pubs, the Irish language is flourishing in Catholic areas of Belfast and throughout the North.