Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland has long been known for it's murals, often on the gable walls of terrace houses and unmissable if you are passing by. When I lived in Belfast in the 1970's and early 80's these were entirely "tribal" depicting terrorist activity and political dogma, historical events glorifying one or other political view, "martyrs for the Cause" (whchever cause it might be) and so on. I must say that no matter what I thought about the political messages being promoted I was always very impressed by the standard of the artwork. Bizarrely, in all the years I lived there and all the people I knew, I never knew anyone who painted them or even anyone who knew anyone who painted them. I never saw one being constructed, they just always seemed to be there.
Times move on and much of the politically motivated stuff has gone, although some still remains, but it appears the Northern Ireland love of slapping a bit of paint on any available wall endures. On a recent trip back to Belfast I was walking along Commercial Court in the centre of the City. commercial Court is a small pedestrianised street and home to the excellent Duke of York Bar (see seperate tip) and my eye was drawn into a small passageway which appeared to lead to a small carpark. Yes, I know. Only in Northern Ireland could you have a carpark in a pedestrianised street but there it is. What drew my attention was the very well executed mural you see pictured featuring all sorts of famous Irish people. I'll let you guess who the rest of them are but I shall explain one of them to you.
The long-haired guy wearing the checked shirt is none other than the late, great and much missed Rory Gallagher. Not only had Rory a great affection for Belfast, his was the first live gig I ever saw in the nearby Ulster Hall in 1974. I watched him and decided I wanted to play like he did. Nearly 40 years later I am still trying to play like he did. He really was one of the blues greats and I even managed to have a pint with him one night in another Belfast pub before a different gig. I was old enough to drink then! Rory has always had a sepcial place in my musical heart and indeed has featured on my homepage here just about since I joined VT. Apart from the various musicians depicted, there are actors, comedians, sports people and many many more. It really is worth a look if you are passing and you can see if you can guess who they all are.
On the catholic side the murals are not as militaristic and intimidating. There is a mural of Bobby Sands the first hunger striker to die in 1981 after 66 days without food only 27 years old. This mural marks the Sinn Fein building. I was suprised that included on some of the murals is Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela together on the picture of all the hunger strikers.
The newest murals are of the celtic heritage of myths and legends. The Orange, green and white colours used to be painted on the kerbs but on this side most of the kerbs have been repainted.
The Loyalist murals are more militaristic showing UDA (Ulster Defence Association) gunmen dressed in black the gun on one particular mural is pointing straight at you no matter which side you stand. The kerbstones are painted red white and blue and the battle cry of the loyalist "No surrender" can be seen in the murals.
King William of Orange (King Billy) a dutchman claimed a Prostentant victory of Catholic King James 11 in the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 he is usually depicted on a prancing white horse.
The red hand of ulster has a legend behind it that the O'Neills was racing a rival chief for possession of of Ireland and that Ulster would belong to the first man to lay his right hand on it. He cut off his own right hand and threw it to shore claiming Ulster as his own. It is sometimes also shown as a clenched fist the symbol of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.
The motto of the UDA is We remain our faith and or nationality.
You definetly feel uneasy whilst doing the tour through this side of the peaceline. There is a lot of debris and rubble a reminder of the troubled times. The murals of the H blocks are a reminder of those loyalist who were imprissoned today they are as free as you or me.
I did a black taxi tour and would suggest that is the way forward for any tourists visiting Belfast. The tour will take you to both sides of the peaceline through the working class areas where segregation is still evident by the gates being locked every night.
The tzxi tours will pick you up at your hotel or B&B and arrange a tour suited to what you best would like to see. You are able to get out of the cab and take pictures of the murals but you are warned not to photograph people as there are some that are stil frightened of being identified.
It will cost you GBP8 if you are in a group of 4 or 5, a bit more if there are only 2.
The picture is of the peaceline constructed in the 1970's to seperate the catholic and protestant areas. These barriers were only meant to be temporary and are not constructed very well so metal cages protect these flats on the catholic side of the peaceline. The gates between the sides are closed at night. There is a really earie feeling you get driving next to the peaceline and it sent shivers up my spine
Over the past 30 years or so, the (so-called) temporary structures of the peace lines have become considerably more permanent.
Named, in somewhat Orwellian terms as 'peace lines' they seperate protestant and catholic communites throughout Belfast, with the exception of the city centre area. In some places a peace line may be no more than a white line, but in others in a large unscalable wall.
It is said by some that 'Good fences make for good neighbours', but there is little sense of that about. Most of the 13 miles or so of peace lines are no more that a few hundred meters long, often with a gate in it that is closed at night.It certainly makes managing any disturbances in the city much easier for the authorities.
Nowadays a certain amout of tourism as developed around the peace lines. Many of them are peppered with some thoughtful graffitti (e.g You are both christians, why don't you listen to your God ?) or murals, depicting sectarian themes.
The murals reflect the political loyalty and affiliation of certain areas with either the Nationalists (those who wanted Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland) or with the Loyalists (want to remain with the UK)
Whether you agree with their message or not, the artwork is usually excellent and I was surprised that most of them have been untainted by graffiti.
Others like the Sandy Row one, are meant to be intimidating.
Many buildings in the Catholic and Protestant working-class neighbourhoods of Belfast feature political murals.
In Catholic neighbourhoods, the murals are usually republican and favour Union with the Republic of Ireland. In Protestant areas, they're usually loyalist and support the existing union with the UK. These murals are Belfast's legacy from 'the troubles,' the dacedes-long period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
LIKE IT OR LIKE IT NOT BELFAST HAS A HISTORY...THE "TROUBLES" RAGED FOR THIRTY YEARS AND CLAIMED THREE THOUSAND LIVES. AT THE HEIGHT OF THE TROUBLES PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC AREA'S BECAME NO GO ZONES. THE PEOPLE OF THESE AREAS PUT UP FLAGS AND PAINTED MURALS TO MARK OUT THEIR AREA.
TODAY MOST OF THOSE MURALS ARE STILL THERE TO BE SEEN, AND NOW FORM PART OF THE BELFAST TOUR BUS ROUTE. ANOTHER WAY OF SEEING THE MURALS IS BY BLACK TAXI, THE DRIVER WILL TAKE YOU AROUND SHOWING YOU MURALS FROM BOTH LOYALIST AND REPUBLICAN AREAS...SOME OF THEM REALLY ARE WORKS OF ART AND A LOT OF WORK HAS GONE IN TO THEIR CREATION.
BOTH BUS TOURS OF THE CITY AND BLACK TAXI MURAL TOURS CAN BE TAKEN FROM BELFAST CITY CENTRE.
Well the feeling in the air here it's totally different.You can notice the zones between chactolic and orangist and the idea of the war is still strong.I really hope that people here can leave in peace togheter but..you feel,you notice,you smell,that this area is different.They are trying to live togheter but i suppose the intergration is still to come.The war is not present but i never feelt the same sensations i found here,i didn't found them in Croatia after the war.At hotel told us to not come here alone,and to not stop..not sure what can happen,so it's better you get a sighsteen bus or black cab.The bus is less expensive.
We were staying at the Europa Hotel (see our other Belfast tip). We wanted to see the murals in West Belfast, so the concierge arranged a taxi tour for us. Unfortunately, I forget the taxi driver's name and the cost of the tour, but it was well worth it and I'm sure the hotel would have the same fellow or one equally as good.
The driver took us all over West Belfast, both sides of the Peace Line. He gave running commentary as we went, providing all kinds of history and background. According to our non-local ears, he kept his stance neutral. He explained in detail many of the Loyalist Murals, the various graffiti, the Divis Tower, and the Republican Murals. He showed us houses protected with grating right up against the Peace Line wall and the Sinn Féin Headquarters.
It was an excellent tour. See more photos in the travelogue attached to our main Belfast page.
One of the things that Belfast is well known for are the extensive amount of murals all over the city. Many of the murals have sectarian ties, although the republicans seem to be doing more cultural murals in an effort to try and get away from the militaristic stuff. You can take a black taxi tour of the murals or do what I did - hike around and see the 450+ lot of them.
Murals in the Protestant and Unionist part of West Belfast.... the murals add colour to an otherwise desolate urban landscape, though globalisation is not far away, opposite the Red Hand of Ulster you can enjoy a Kentucky Fried Chicken...
I noticed that aswell as murals brightening up flank walls, there were grilles on the traffic lights, an unusual feature in the UK. Is this to protect the lights from damage during a riot?
The heart of Catholic or Republican West Belfast.... the murals on the Falls emphasize past struggles (the Hunger Strikes and Dirty protests of the late 1970s/1980s) and international solidarity (Palestinian, Catalan) and local issues (Taxis).
Road safety, the proximity of the murals to the pedestrian crossing would be a problem elsewhere in the UK and full foul of legislation on the control of advertising. Elsewhere in the UK this type of political 'advertising' is less common but would be less substantial more likely fly posting or sporadic slogans.
The well-known fact that people tend to live in certain areas - according to their political orientation and their attitude towards history and the troubles - is pretty obvious in a city like Belfast. Everywhere there are markers indicating where you are - flags, graffiti, painted curbstone and of course the big wall paintings called murals. These murals are now even a part of guided tourist tours, especially the ones displayed in the famous Falls and Shankill road.
Falls Road is traditionally a place where Catholics, Republicans, Nationalists or pro-Irish people - whatever term seems appropriate - are living, whereas Protestants, Unionists, Loyalists or the pro-British live around Shankill road. The murals are quite distinct from each other: the ones in Shankill road very clear and straigtforward with fierce slogans and pictures of gunmen, the ones with Catholic origin often referring to Celtic iconography.
However big the differences between those two groups are or are perceived as, in each area there are the same signs of patriotism and political expression. Murals are a very colourful and creative form of this kind of expression.
Belfast has a singular atraction: The Politicals murals. They are colorful, photogenic and very interesting althought the visitor thinks in their origin. In these murals,each group displays its fears and hopes , its struggles and aspirations. Sometimes the murals are long lived,while some are re-painted each year or distroyed. The loyalist murals are in Shankill Road.