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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
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.
Catholic Belfast Murals
The Catholic murals usually portray more recent events, meaning the last century.
This mural represents Bobby Sands, he was the first of the hunger strikers to die in 1981, creating worldwide publicity for IRA prisoners.
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:
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?
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?
NOTE: The best way to see the murals is to take a tour with a private driver. Several companies offer this service–they generally have some version of “Black Cab” or “Black Taxi” in their name. (Google them or check TripAdvisor to find one that suits your needs.) The cost is approximately £30 for up to 3 passengers, with an extra charge for additional passengers. Tours last approximately 90 minutes.
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Click on the link to view a post about the dividing walls of Belfast.