The red hand, the traditional symbol of the Ulster counties of northern Ireland. Today associated with the Protestant community, the Red Hand symbol derives from an Irish legend in which two rival clan chiefs decide to have a race to decide who would rule over the region. At the end of the race, one of the two competitors cuts off his own hand with his sword and throws it beyond the finish line, winning the contest by paying a price of blood, in a chilling anticipation of Ulster's recent history. The “Samson and Goliath” cranes at the shipyards of Belfast, one of the city's main landmarks. These shipyards built the Titanic and once employed tens of thousands of workers, mostly drawn from the Protestant part the city, East Belfast. With the economy in crisis, the rest of the docks are slowly being turned into a business and leisure development and the shipyards are mostly deserted, yet they remain a powerful symbol of the working class history of the city, especially among the Protestant population. The Botanic Gardens of Belfast, in the Queen's Quarter, not far from Queen's University. Folk music at the Sunflower Pub, an alternative bar in the centre of Belfast. The current owners have decided to maintain the protective cage at the entrance, repainting it in green, to bear witness of the times of the “Troubles”, during which the paramilitaries of both sides regularly attacked the pubs of the opposite community. Back then this bar was called the “Avenue”, and was attacked in '73 and '88, leaving five dead and dozens of wounded. A “Peace Line” divides a Protestant area from a Catholic one in West Belfast. The points of contact between the two communities are known as “interfaces”, and are often the site of frictions and violence. Tall separation barriers known as Peace Lines mark some of these interfaces, with gates at the main connecting roads that are closed from sunset to dawn and are often operated by the local residents themselves. Shankill Road, the heart of the Protestant community in West Belfast, which is traditionally regarded as the Catholic part of the city. Political murals can be seen everywhere in the city, and although they almost always depict the paramilitaries as they are engaged in open fighting against the enemy, a large part of their activities actually consisted of robberies, extortion, intimidation, killings and attacks against members of the opposite community, aimed at terrorizing it and dissuading the respective paramilitary organizations from continuing to fight, in a spiral of violence whose traumas are still evident in the people of Northern Ireland. Lists of casualties show the many dividing lines that fuelled “the Troubles”, forty years of sectarian low-intensity warfare that claimed thousands of lives and caused untold damage to countless others. While those killed are usually just “Protestants” or “Catholics”, sometimes murdered by members of their own community simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, those doing the killing had many options to choose from: the police forces, the British Army, and a vast array of paramilitary organizations from both sides. King William II, known affectionately as “King Billy” among the Protestant community, which every 12th of July still celebrates his defeat of the last Catholic king of England at the Battle of the Boyne, in 1690. This victory sealed the “Protestant ascendancy” over Ireland, and Billy's image can be seen everywhere in Protestant neighbourhoods. However ascendant and protected by the British Crown, the Protestants of Ulster never felt safe in their position, and throughout their history choose leaders who spoke to this feeling. Edward Carson symbolized Protestant opposition to an independent Ireland, and in 1912 he led half a million Protestants in signing the Ulster Covenant, pledging to resist Irish independence “by all means necessary”. Today, his statue stands in front of Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland's local government, serving as a remainder of the many decades in which Stormont was regarded as “a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”, and Catholics were largely excluded from power. The head of the policy department of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), the main Protestant party. Founded by a radical Presbyterian minister, Ian Paisley, the DUP opposed power-sharing with Catholic parties for decades, and campaigned actively against the Good Friday Agreement. Today, its opposition to the Irish Language Act, a law that would enhance the official status of the Irish Language in Northern Ireland, is one of the main issues behind the collapse in power-sharing with Sinn Fein, the main Catholic party, which has paralysed local government since January 2017. In the Museum of Orange Heritage of Belfast, a museum dedicated to celebrating the history of the Orange order, a Protestant fraternal organisation that plays a central role in unionism. Grave crosses, the red poppies used to commemorate fallen British soldiers and death in general play a central role in unionist imagery and culture, symbolizing the sacrifices made by the Protestant population in the name of the United Kingdom, with bloody episodes such as the Battle of the Somme commemorated everywhere as if they happened yesterday. A member of a Protestant “Loyal Order” poses for a portrait at the end of a rainy parade in the centre of Belfast. Commemoratory parades with marching bands and other regimented displays of British patriotism are a central element of Protestant culture, and remain a source of frictions, especially when their routes bring them through Catholic neighbourhoods. Police in the centre of Belfast protecting a Protestant parade. After decades of violence, a significant portion of the police's vehicles are practically armoured cars, and police stations are fortified with protective cages and bullet-proof windows, even after the police was reformed under the Good Friday Agreement, turning from the largely Protestant RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) to the neutral and theoretically mixed PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). A tourist guide showing the memorial for the victims of the Bayardo bombing, in which a pub at the hearth of the Protestant area of Shankill Road was blown up by the IRA (Irish Republican Army, the main Catholic paramilitary organization) a few minutes after a gathering of loyalist paramilitaries had taken place on its first floor. The visible traces of the conflict such as political murals or the Peace Lines have become tourist attractions of sorts, with organized tours and specialized guides, who often are former paramilitaries themselves. Tourist take photos as the gates of one of Belfast's Peace Lines is closed in the evening. A loyalist mural in Rathcoole, a working-class “housing estate” in North Belfast. A former loyalist paramilitary in Sandy Row, a Protestant working-class area of West Belfast. Arrested after the police found weapons in his house, he spent many years in the Long Kesh prison and was freed after the Good Friday Agreement. Today he works as a social worker in the neighbourhood, as many other former paramilitaries do. A former loyalist paramilitary in North Belfast. After spending years fighting against Catholics, he came to realise his problems had more to do with being working-class than with the dangers of Irish nationalism, and that loyalist activists had to “become political”. With the organized British Labour movement siding openly with the Irish liberation struggle, the Protestant working-class has never been truly represented, with mainstream unionism often described as “big house unionism”, a reference to the large mansions of many unionist leaders, as opposed to the dire living conditions in loyalist communities. A loyalist political mural in West Belfast. While Catholic murals are mostly about struggling for freedom, Protestant murals are mostly about defending the community from external attacks, with loyalist paramilitaries depicted as ordinary citizens forced to take up weapons in the face of the threat posed by Irish terrorism. In their opinion, Irish reunification would result in Protestants “being thrown to the sea”, more than three centuries after they came to Ireland as part of the English colonization of the island. A campaign by the Department of Justice tries to dispel the notion that paramilitary organisations are the only true defenders of their communities. While many of these organisations are now engaged in drug-dealing, extortion and vigilante-style policing, they remain powerful social institutions in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, which is one of the Troubles' most enduring legacies. The European Union has played a central role in Northern Ireland's peace process, financing infrastructure, cultural activities and social programs, and allowing to open the border with the rest of Ireland. The consequences of Brexit, which was rejected by more than half of Northern Ireland's population, remain unclear to this day. A traditional Lambeg drum plays its threatening tune in front of Ulster Hall, in central Belfast, at a gathering of hard-line loyalist activists against what they call the “Betrayal Act”, Boris Johnson's proposed Brexit deal, just a few days before the elections. In face of widespread Catholic and European opposition to the return of a land border with the rest of Ireland, the British prime minister has opted to leave Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU, in turn infuriating unionists and loyalists. Hard-line young loyalist activists talk to the press after a gathering at Ulster Hall against Boris Johnson's proposed Brexit deal. Largely ignored by the rest of the Protestant community and the wider society, these meetings had the tacit backing of some loyalist paramilitary organizations, with their members attending discreetly, while other prominent loyalists stayed away, and are even known to have voted against Brexit. With the very fabric of the United Kingdom strained by this messy political process, many find themselves reconsidering the meaning of their loyalties. A newspaper stall in a grocery shop in Southern Belfast the day before the 2019 General Election of the United Kingdom. After more than three years of debating Brexit, the British public appears weary, and nowhere is this more evident than in Northern Ireland. “Whatever happens with Brexit”, it is often said, “will be decided in England”, pointing at the growing chasm between Belfast and London, and between the people of the United Kingdom and those who govern them.