Murals are common in both nationalist and loyalist areas painted onto walls and gable ends (such as below).
The themes and subjects of these murals vary but many are of a distinct political nature, either supporting a united Ireland or opposing it and celebrating various paramilitary groups that have dominance and allegiance in specific geographical areas.
The tradition of mural painting in the North of Ireland is almost a century old. It is thought it started in with loyalist artisans, such as coach painters and house painters, around the early 1900s when they paint large murals to celebrate loyalist celebrations in July to mark the Protestant victory of King William at the Battle of the Boyne over Catholic King James in 1690.
The significance of the celebration increased with the establishment of the Northern Ireland state following partition in 1920. This had a self-governing parliament and Northern Ireland prime minster, Sir James Craig, declared it was as a ‘A Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State’, in other words government for the unionist, Protestant and pro-British majority.
In many respects, this parliament excluded the Catholic nationalist minority from participation and Protestant dominance fuelled new mural painting. Given their exclusion, Catholics and nationalists did not paint murals. Any Catholic murals they did paint were removed by the Protestant dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Catholics culture was largely was marginalised and relegated to the private spaces of Catholic church halls, Gaelic sports and private clubs.
That situation changed with the hunger strike of 1981. Irish Republican Army prisoners, along with Irish National Republican Army prisoners, or Republicans for short, protested at the loss of their political “special category status”, and eventually ten of them died.
Nationalists and republicans took to the streets in support of the prisoners; huge marches took place and young nationalists began “drawing support” for the hunger strikers on the walls. The republican and nationalist mural tradition was born.
Murals exist today in both nationalist and unionist areas. They can be of a political nature but many are not (see below).
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