AS the Andersonstown News marks its 50th anniversary, another West Belfast institution which has been literally on the go even longer is the Black Taxi Association. Started in 1971, black taxis have been a mainstay on the roads for over 50 years, servicing the Falls, Glen Road, Lagmore, Twinbrook, Poleglass and Ardoyne in North Belfast to name but a few.

As well as a cheap fare, it is perhaps their drivers that make the black taxis the service that they are. Two such drivers are Seamy Rice, who has been on the road nearly 49 years, and Gary Clingan, who has 35 years of service – and both sat down with the Andersonstown News to talk about their history.

“It started in people’s private cars from John Street in around 1971. Black taxis didn’t come to between 1974 and 1975,” explained Seamy. “I started as a co-driver and was sharing a taxi before I got one of my own.

West Belfast Black Taxis’ present base in King Street which they moved into in 2010

West Belfast Black Taxis’ present base in King Street which they moved into in 2010

“There was no transport on the road. During the Troubles, everything was burnt to the ground. “People were trying to get to work and they were walking through rubble and everything. “Every time there was any sort of incident, the buses were pulled from the road. It was the black taxis that kept public transport afloat during those days.

“It was tough for any ex-prisoners driving the black taxis. The driver was constantly getting dragged out and searched by the British army and the customer sitting there. “You got to know everybody on the road. It was much more than a transport service. You got to know where your customer was going without even asking.

“After the Troubles, we competed well with the buses on the road. I think we have always been a cheaper and quicker service for people than the buses. “The Black Taxis have led the way for years in the West Belfast community.”

Throughout the years, the Black Taxis have been based at various locations including John Street and Castle Street and for the last 13 years, based in a new premises in King Street. “We moved to Castle Street in the 1980s,” added Gary.

“We thought people would not follow us but they did. It was an open-air car-park and the taxis lined up for the customers. “In 2010, we moved into our current building. We used to be based downstairs in the underground bit.


“It was like a community building, with a shop and restaurant it. It became a sort of meeting spot for people in Belfast city centre.” The Black Taxis have been met with countless challenges over the years but have always fought to stay on the road.

Through the Troubles, the introduction of the Glider and the Covid-19 pandemic, the service remains an integral part of daily West Belfast community life. “Times have changed now and there are only about 40 drivers on the roads,” said Seamy.

“The Glider and then Covid have killed us in many ways. We are very grateful for our regulars who still use us day in and day out. “During the Covid pandemic, we were off the roads for about a year before we got the special screens put in the taxis.

“Looking back, we should have tried to keep the taxis going on the road. It is a big regret for us and we probably lost a lot of customers then.” Looking ahead to the future, Seamy and Gary have a simple message – “we are still here.”

“It is a tough old job for our drivers. The school runs and the tours keep us going,” said Gary.

“The Black Taxi tours started about five years ago and they are very popular indeed. “It is a very much a wait and see job and to not look too far ahead in the future, but our message is that we are still here and we still need your support.

“We would like to thank all our customers for their continued support and loyalty.”