Belfast murals Cuchulainn

Photos: Should the Belfast murals remain?

by Michael on March 13, 2012

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Belfast is famous for how its sectarian divide is portrayed in the murals plastered on building walls in Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. The Belfast murals promote various factions in the centuries old struggle for dominance in this Irish city. They also serve as a marker for the wayward visitor who’s not sure which neighborhood he has just stumbled upon. Many of the images are violent, reflecting the armed struggle that has taken place here. Some highlight centuries old grievances in an attempt to make them relevant today.

The murals have come under fire in a now peaceful Belfast that is trying to look forward instead of dwelling on hurts of the past. One mural was even painted over to show children in a message of peace. Take a look at the photos below. Should the murals remain as a historical record or has their time passed, to be replaced by a hopeful message?

Protestant Belfast Murals

Belfast Murals

Belfast mural

Belfast mural

The Red Hand of Ulster shown above relates a local legend. Back in the olden days, the kingdom of Ulster was without a king so a boat race was contested. Whoever touched the shoreline first would be made king. Legend has it that upon seeing he was about to lose, one man cut off his hand and threw it to shore, thereby winning the contest. This myth gives some idea of the tenacity of the people here.

Picture of Belfast mural

Catholic Belfast Murals

The Catholic murals usually portray more recent events, meaning the last century.

Belfast mural

Belfast mural Bobby Sands

This mural represents Bobby Sands, he was the first of the hunger strikers to die in 1981, creating worldwide publicity for IRA prisoners.

Belfast mural Maghaberry Prisoner (525x443)

The Catholic murals are international in flavor as they advocate for what they feel are fellow struggles for freedom around the world as seen below:

Belfast Murals

Belfast mural Che Guevara

Six months into our  journey the most prevalent pop culture t-shirts we’ve seen for sale around the world are Manchester United, the New York Yankees and Che Guevara. Somehow there’s a message in that, we’re just not sure what it is.

The future message?

Belfast peace mural

There is a movement in Belfast to replace the violent images of the murals with more peaceful ones like the children portrayed above. However, as these replace the old ones, new images of violence continue to go up elsewhere in the troubled city.

What are your feelings about taking down the murals?

Click on the link to view a post about the dividing walls of Belfast.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

jerry March 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Is it possible that the people who live in Belfast don’t even notice them that much? Sort of like when you pass by the same old “Slow Children” sign every day on your way to work.

Besides, the murals are a great tourist attraction. They must bring a lot of money into the local economy.

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Us March 14, 2012 at 2:09 am

They are a tourist attraction and that is one of the arguements for keeping them. I grew up in a house with a “Slow Children” sign in front of it. I used to think it referred to me.

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Barbara March 14, 2012 at 1:05 am

As violent as some Belfast murals may seem , it is still a popular depiction of Belfast’s past. It is almost like a lesson in History in each mural. I know that one day if I go there, the murals are a must see…

Maybe the future needs new images too in order to evolve. But, evolution is a long road to travel, it seems.

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Michael August 2, 2012 at 4:16 am

They are starting to paint over some of them with peaceful messages but I don’t see them all going away anytime soon.

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owen O'Neill December 23, 2012 at 3:08 am

It pisses me off to see Catholics allowing halfwits to paint pro Communist and PLO messages,I am 100% Catholic and do not accept this.

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Mar March 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

All over the world, people are still fighting grievances that are hundreds of years old. While the murals are a tourist attraction, do they not continue the memorialization of hate that existed and perhaps it is time to forgive and forget. We fought a terrible war against Japan and Germany, yet we are now friendly with those nations. Shouldn’t the Serbians and the Kososvans forget/ Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestineians, Iran, and Israel also should learn to forgive and forget.

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owen O'Neill December 23, 2012 at 3:09 am

Prayers are the answer.

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Joanne March 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

Put them in a museum to remember, paint them over and move on. These people have been fighting forever. They need to get over it.

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Michael October 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm

The murals do make that difficult.

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Cat of Sunshine and Siestas June 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Fitting to read today, as Obama was just in Belfast this morning, talking about the importance of peace while still remembering the past. In so many countries that have seen war, it’s easier to cover up the past (Spain is a great example – speaking about Franco before the economic crisis was like saying Lord Voldemort’s name). I personally think the murals are too important to paint over.

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Micki June 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Cat makes such a good point. It may be an old saying, but it’s so true… “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

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Steve June 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

It’s a pity they can’t easily be moved to a museum – it would be a shame to lose them all

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Sandra Foyt June 17, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I can well imagine wanting to move on, but seems like painting over history might do more harm than good.

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wanderingeducators June 18, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I agree – history is important, and we don’t want to make the same mistakes. I wish peace for this area, for sure.

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Dale June 19, 2013 at 7:41 am

I think it would be a terrible shame to cover these up because as long as these stand they act as a reminder of the past and that we should stop, look and learn from it, rather than allowing it to fill the history books and perhaps happen again.

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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family June 22, 2013 at 1:50 am

It’s a shame to remove them but I can totally understand not wanting a daily reminder of strife in your neighbourhood.

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Gabi (The Nomadic Family) June 25, 2013 at 1:08 am

Cat does make a good point. How can we find the balance between remembering our history, with the violence portrayed, and still take it as a place to learn from, to be inspired and reminded of a better future? Tough call for the art is just so graphic and raw. Thank you for bringing up these real issues. Gabi

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Jenna July 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Interesting thoughts–I agree, it seems hard to find a balance. How can you move past something that is always there, but at the same time I think it is an interesting part of history and can be looked upon as a lesson. We are visiting Belfast this fall and are planning on visiting the murals–it will be interesting to see what is happening.

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Noonan April 19, 2014 at 10:08 am

The murals should remain.

“These people have been fighting forever. They need to get over it.”

I doubt you are in a position to even understand how rude that statement was.

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