The Belfast murals – a photo walk through recent history

Belfast mural

Cat, my 10-year-old, has been completely enamoured with everything Titanic the past few months, so I’ve promised her a visit to the Titanic Belfast Experience this summer. We’ll have a closer look at the rest of Belfast as well, of course. However, I’m undecided as to whether she’s old enough for a walk through the city’s violent history, the Troubles.

Belfast’s political murals are disturbing. Walking along Shankill Road eleven years ago, just a few days before the now infamous 9/11, these images left me feeling edgy, gun-shy, paranoid even. But at the same time, I was weirdly drawn in. I had to forcefully withdraw my eyes.

Belfast mural

Belfast mural

The Unionist – “Protestant” – murals are mainly along Shankill Road, while the Republican – “Catholic” – ones can be found in the Falls Road area. I write Protestant and Catholic in quotes. The Troubles have often been defined as a religious fight, at least from the outside. But this is very much a political struggle, and one still not resolved.

The Belfast murals are often found on the gable walls of houses and clearly show feelings still run deep in Northern Ireland. This is an especially famous one, painted so the UFF man is aiming the gun at you no matter from which direction you look at it. A clear message to intruders.

Belfast mural

Belfast mural

Belfast mural

This one is in memory of the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July 1690, where King William of Orange (Protestant) defeated James II (Catholic). It’s still celebrated every year.

Mural, Belfast

Both sides remember their martyrs.

Belfast mural

Bobby Sands mural, Falls road, Belfast

There has been talk of replacing the political Belfast murals with more peaceful, pleasant images. While there’s no doubt these pictures challenge the viewer, they’re also a very visual history book. They bring in tourist Euros … they continue to feed hostility. Lest we forget… they incite the younger generation. Both sides have compelling arguments. Tough call…

Have you seen the Belfast murals? What are your thoughts on removing them?

Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for this week’s edition of Travel Photo Thursday.

Sophie’s World will return to Belfast this year, in search of other curious and quirky (and more child-friendly) aspects of the Titanic city. To get updates, go to our Facebook page.

65 Responses to “The Belfast murals – a photo walk through recent history”

  1. Denise 24 May 2012 0107 #

    They are indeed, disturbing, but as a form of art, they are valuable in their own right.
    Denise recently posted..My 7 super shots

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1631 #

      Agreed.

  2. Lisa 24 May 2012 0405 #

    They are definitely disturbing images yet painting over history perhaps isn’t the right solution – very difficult to know really what the right thing is to do with murals such as these.

    My almost 9 year old has also become fascinated with the Titanic in the last few months. We are going to be on the east coast of Canada this summer and have promised her a visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax which has a Titanic exhibit and to The Rooms in St. John’s, Newfoundland which has a temporary Titanic exhibit this summer. She has already decided that she wants to do her school speech next year on the Titanic.
    Lisa recently posted..Cruising on the Seine: A Photo Essay

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1632 #

      We were at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic a few years ago. Very interesting. I would recommend a visit to the Titanic graves at Fairview cemetery in Halifax as well.

  3. I saw a TV news special on these murals awhile back and found them fascinating. I would love to see them someday. They shouldn’t be replaced since they’re such poignant reminders of this country’s history. I’m sure they can find other areas to paint peaceful and pleasant murals. I guess Titanic is in for the tweens. My almost 10 year old has shown interest in seeing the Titanic exhibits too.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..Dominica: Nature Isle of the Caribbean

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1633 #

      What is it with these pre-teens and the Titanic? The romance of it all, perhaps…?

  4. Easy Hiker 24 May 2012 0747 #

    Great murals. These should be somehow protected because they are historical reminders of the Troubles. And it could well be a main tourist attraction too.
    Easy Hiker recently posted..Thalassa…Thalassa… Or Safely Getting Home After A Hike

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1634 #

      Agree they should be protected – just not sure to what degree.

  5. Anne Mackle 24 May 2012 0752 #

    I’ve seen the murals and yes they are very chilling but done by very talented people. I don’t think there’s any way they will be painted over toi much blood has been spilled and I think the murals would be a sensitive subject.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1635 #

      They are quite good, as far as the artwork is concerned.

  6. ItalianNotes 24 May 2012 1015 #

    Those mural do seem to indicate a rather tense atmosphere. I understand your concern about taking a 10-year old through ‘the troubles’
    ItalianNotes recently posted..Greek ruins in a sea of flowers

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1636 #

      I remember quite clearly that it felt very tense, yes.

  7. Laurel 24 May 2012 1405 #

    Wow, I couldn’t stop looking either and am surprised to see these in Belfast. I can see that they do provide a history, but I think the hostility that they breed would not be enough to counter any of the advantages to having these.
    Laurel recently posted..Perugia, Umbria: A City of Charm, Chocolate and Scandal

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1637 #

      Definitely two sides to this issue.

  8. Renee King 24 May 2012 1503 #

    Wow….that is a tough call because I can appreciate the beauty of the artwork. However, it does reflect a part of history and if it proves to incite others to do something criminal, I say jail them but leave the art as is.
    Renee King recently posted..TRAVEL PHOTO THURSDAY

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1639 #

      I think it’s not just a question of inciting crime but also something about the attitude they might convey…

  9. Robert 24 May 2012 1509 #

    Love this post, in a weird, hard to describe way. What a fascinating photo walk. These are definitely thought-provoking murals. I think it’s important to preserve at least some of them.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1640 #

      Thanks… I think :)

  10. Leigh 24 May 2012 1546 #

    I had no idea these murals existed. They ever powerful and shouldn’t be removed! History doesn’t need to be whitewashed.
    I’d also be reluctant to take my daughter at 10 to see them – but then again I’m assuming the Irish kids walk by them all the time. Wonder what they think about them. That would be an enlightening conversation.
    Leigh recently posted..Discovering Elk Island National Park Over A Long Weekend

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1642 #

      Good point, Leigh. Belfast’s children are used to them, I suppose, but it must be unsettling all the same…

  11. Courtney Mroch 24 May 2012 1615 #

    I hope they don’t replace them. What a loss of historic art that would be. And I can appreciate you being reluctant to expose your daughter to such a violent history, but I think it’s a great learning opportunity. I remember being around 10 and learning of the United States Civil War and slavery and then later in the year learning about WWII. Most of it was presented to me through a child’s eyes (like in literature and such). Maybe if you found a movie addressing it from that perspective and watching it together you two could have an open dialogue about it?
    Courtney Mroch recently posted..When pigs….swim? – A Unique Experience in the Bahamas

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1827 #

      Thanks for your input, Courtney :)

  12. Nick 24 May 2012 1758 #

    These murals are amazing. I have been to Ireland, not Belfast, though I was unaware of these nonetheless. I would love to see it for myself while also surveying the surrounding areas. Is Belfast deemed as a bad area and if so, are these murals placed in symbolic areas or are they just everywhere? I am a history Minor and this art you would not be able to see in a museum.

    Check out urbanadventurer.com!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1644 #

      Belfast was a hot spot for decades, but as far as I know it has been relatively calm the last few years. The murals are mainly in Shankill Road and Falls Road.

  13. Bob R 24 May 2012 1908 #

    They definitely need to stay. Whitewashing them and covering the walls with flowers or cat pictures won’t do anyone any good.

    By the way, the fourth one down isn’t showing for me, covered instead with a flickr ‘this picture is not currently available’ note. I clicked through to flickr and it is showing there.
    Bob R recently posted..The Devil’s Sonata – A Piran Portrait in 19 Pics, Part I

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1645 #

      Thanks for letting me know, Bob. Should be fixed now.

  14. Dick Jordan 24 May 2012 1921 #

    Interesting! I had no ideas that these existed.
    Dick Jordan recently posted..A Virtual Visit to Yosemite National Park

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1646 #

      They are indeed interesting.

  15. Very interesting!I can see how they could unnerve you but I found them very intriguing.

    They should stay. A little paint can not wash away history!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Honoring Heroes in Budapest

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1647 #

      They do draw you in – whether you like it or not.

  16. InsideJourneys 24 May 2012 2103 #

    Sounds like removing them won’t remove the bitterness that has been there for generations. I’m sure the stories that are handed down through generations are just as strong as the images
    InsideJourneys recently posted..#TPThursday: A Colorful Jamaican House

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1647 #

      I’m sure you’re right.

  17. jade 24 May 2012 2133 #

    Wow- these are incredible. We have a few areas near LA that several of the buildings have murals that tell a long story. I love those. Especially when I’m visiting from out of town. Like a history lessons while driving around!
    jade recently posted..Perfect Day at Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1648 #

      Interesting! I’ll have to look out for those next time I’m in LA.

  18. Sabrina 25 May 2012 0056 #

    Those are pretty disturbing. I saw some of this on a travel cooking show. Don’t remember which one. I do remember that they showed murals from both sides and they were distinctly different.
    Sabrina recently posted..Lakes in Germany: Aggertalsperre

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1652 #

      There are so many political murals in Belfast, and I didn’t see them all, but of those I saw, the ones in Shankill seemed more threatening. There are murals in other towns as well, especially in Derry. It might be a different story there.

  19. Raymond @ Man On The Lam 25 May 2012 0121 #

    I saw the Belfast murals back in 1995, but many of them are still the same.
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Travel Photo (and Poll) of the Week: Child on a Leash

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1656 #

      It’s been a few years since I saw these, too. But they’re still there, many of them.

  20. Cathy Sweeney 25 May 2012 0606 #

    I can only imagine what it would have been like to live in Ireland during the “Troubles” — and as you said, those political issues aren’t completely resolved. I think the murals should stay because they do tell such an important, albeit disturbing, history. I would like to visit Belfast sometime and see them.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Remembrance in Washington D.C.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1657 #

      I look forward to returning to Belfast this summer.

  21. Becca@R We There Yet Mom? 25 May 2012 1524 #

    Do you go on an organized tour to see them, or did you happen upon them? They are fascinating – as an outsider, I would say to keep them, as they are a powerful remembrance of history, but if I lived there, I may feel differently.
    Becca@R We There Yet Mom? recently posted..Friday Daydreamin: School’s Out!!!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 May 2012 1711 #

      I knew about them and had a Black Cab take me about. Back then, it wasn’t safe to walk around on one’s own in these districts (or so I was told). Recommended! Lots of local, quirky information provided and interesting conversation – just me and the driver/guide. Wish I had taken notes…

      I’ve been wondering about that, too. If I lived there, would I like to have those murals in my neighbourhood to see (and for my kids to see) every day? Ultimately, I suppose the people of Belfast are the ones who should decide the fate of the murals.

  22. Christy @ Technosyncratic 26 May 2012 0236 #

    Oh my… that rifle that always looks like it’s pointing right at you is way creepier than Mona Lisa’s eyes… =/
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Angkor Wat in Photos

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 27 May 2012 1938 #

      Way creepier!

  23. Jenna 26 May 2012 0727 #

    Interesting. I guess I would agree with you and Denise…they are disturbing but still art. The people who live there should decide.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 27 May 2012 1939 #

      Definitely up to the locals.

  24. Andrea 26 May 2012 1056 #

    These are really awesome! We missed out on Northern Ireland when we went but I’m really interested in what went (and still goes on) there.
    Andrea recently posted..What If You Could Travel the World? Would You?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 27 May 2012 1940 #

      You’re just a whip across the North Sea away now.

  25. Nancie 27 May 2012 1652 #

    Very unsettling, but a part of history. Personally, I think they should stay. Memories become short when there are no reminders.
    Nancie recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday — May 24th, 2012 — Daecheon Beach — White Sand Beach on the ROK!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 27 May 2012 1941 #

      Very true.

  26. Jarmo 28 May 2012 2239 #

    I can understand people who live there wanting them to be removed, but it would be a shame to loose such a part of history. But like some of the other commentators have said, it should be up to the locals!
    Jarmo recently posted..The 39th Cambridge Beer Festival

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0850 #

      Yes, though various generations of locals might have differing views.

  27. Bohemian Trails 30 May 2012 2220 #

    I’m loving all these murals – never been to Northern Ireland myself but it looks amazing.
    Bohemian Trails recently posted..Historical Highlights from Israel

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 30 May 2012 2328 #

      They’re certainly a sight not soon forgotten.

  28. David Bennett 1 June 2012 2132 #

    Great photos. I would hope the residents would want to tear them all down.

    I remember a quote from the playwright Brendan Behan – “Mother Ireland – get off my back.”

    I don’t know what to think. I believe in self-determination for a country and equally, I believe in the fair treatment of minorities. So there was an argument both ways in the Troubles.

    I also believe that sometimes the ‘idea’ is just a convenient peg on which to hang a desire to be violent and that some ‘freedom-fighters’ or ‘terrorists’ were probably horrible little kids in the playground at school and grew up to be horrible adults.
    David Bennett recently posted..Good Golly Miss Molly, It’s Sunny Here In Edinburgh!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 June 2012 0122 #

      Looking around the world, I fear you might be right, David…

  29. Marie 5 June 2012 2321 #

    This is a very interesting and thought-provoking article. On the one hand, I think it’s important to preserve even the darker sides of history, on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see this every day if I lived there. Some of them look very threatening.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0851 #

      Especially the Mona Lisa eyes in a balaclava.

  30. Liam 7 June 2012 0923 #

    I posted a similar article on my own blog a few weeks back and posed the same question about removing them.
    I really believe the murals should stay. I agree that they probably do incite the youth on both sides but believe that the solution to Northern Irelands troubles wont be found by removing them. On the other hand if removing them proved to help save just 1 life Id volunteer to help paint over them.
    Thankfully we have seen great progress in recent years in attaining peace and hopefully that trend can continue.
    If interested you can see my post here http://gotireland.com/2012/05/17/you-are-now-entering-free-derry-northern-irelands-wall-murals/

    Best wishes
    Liam
    Liam recently posted..The Skelligs Project, by Eoghan Kavanagh and Evan Payne

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 June 2012 0857 #

      Thank you, Liam. Appreciate a local view on things. You’re right; even though it’s still unresolved, we must be optimistic.

  31. Mary @ Green Global Travel 18 July 2012 2307 #

    Fascinating as well as unnerving images. I hope the locals find a way to preserve some of their history, but I can understand not wanting to look at them everyday. I wonder if a large photography exhibit could retain the power of the images & bring in Euros while allowing the locals to move on.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..A MUSICAL PASSPORT: 40 World Music Artists From Green Global Travel’s 1st Year

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 July 2012 2353 #

      Interesting idea, Mary. Maybe that solution could work.

  32. Catherine Mack 18 July 2012 2319 #

    Great article Sophie. I grew up in Belfast and left when I was eighteen. For the following twenty years I had nightmares about being stopped at gunpoint by a man wearing a balaclava, demanding to know whether I was Protestant or Catholic, and never knowing which to reply. The old joke in Belfast was, of course, to say that you were Jewish. But this was no joke. This was a silent fear for many growing up there during the Troubles, and the reason why many of us left. When I return home to Belfast, now as a tourist, with tourist ‘dollars’ as one of your contributors put it, I shudder each time I see these murals as they whisk me back to those times of extreme segregation and silent fear. Sadly, I feel these times are not totally behind us, and I think it would be a healing step to remove these violent images – on both sides of course. Let the nightmares be put to rest once and for all. With handshakes, diplomacy and oratory we have moved on, thank God. These images, and the voyeuristic tourism associated with them, are only holding us back, I feel.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 19 July 2012 0006 #

      Catherine: Thank you so much for your thought-provoking and interesting comment.

      When I was growing up, the name Belfast was synonymous with everything scary – and I lived in Norway. Can’t imagine how it must have been, growing up in the middle of it. And although things have moved on, when I’ve been in Ireland lately (even in the republic), I do get the impression people feel the Troubles aren’t over. From my outsider eyes, though, your country is first and foremost fascinating and beautiful.

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