How the peace lines came to be the permanent barriers that separate both sides of Belfast's religious divide.

In 1969, civil unrest erupted across Northern Ireland with violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Both sides erecting barricades to protect their respective areas.

In September 1969, British troops moved in setting up their own barriers of sandbags and coils of barbed wire which were eventually replaced by concrete.

Nationwide takes a look back to this period of Northern Ireland history and the background to the peace lines. 

These defensive barricades would mark the start of a change on the Belfast landscape.

Frank Quinn, author of 'Interface Images' describes how the Belfast barricades came about when mobs of loyalists attacked Catholics along the Lower Falls Road and Bombay Street. Catholics retaliated by erecting their own barricades in self defence and established local defence committees. 

Along the Lower Falls and the Lower Shankill alone, at the end of August 1969, there was over two hundred barricades in that small .

Between 15 August and 10 September when the first peace line was erected, these areas became like no man's land. 

The Northern Ireland government under Major Chichester Clarke ordered the British army to move in and take down the barricades. The Catholics responded strongly to this resulting in a stand-off until the British army came to a compromise with the Northern Ireland government. Instead of taking down the barricades, they erected their own walls. 

Bombay Street resident Rita Canavan describes how she and her family were burnt out of their home and lost everything. When the street was rebuilt, Rita finally returned.  

What began as a few lines of barbed wire was eventually replaced with walls of steel and concrete.

While the walls were intended to the temporary, thirty years on it is estimated that there are around sixteen peace walls in the city of Belfast. 

The peace walls have undoubtedly saved thousands of lives during periods of violence here.

One of the most visible peace walls is in West Belfast separating the Catholic Ballymurphy area and the Protestant Highfield area.  

Resident May Blood describes how the wall grew over the years and how residents are so used to seeing the wall as a fact of life. 

Cross community groups in this area are attempting to break down the mistrust between the two communities on either side of the peace wall. Mark West of Newspring Cross-Community Project describes the success they have had in bridging the divide through football bringing together children from the age of ten to sixteen from both sides of the wall.  

Despite developments towards peace in Northern Ireland since the first ceasefire in 1994, the peace walls continue to be erected and many residents do not see the walls coming down any time soon. 

This episode of 'Nationwide' was broadcast on 17 September 1999. The reporter is Karen Brady.