The meaning behind the political murals of Northern Ireland
The art of the political statement
© Wikimedia/Creative Commons
LIFESTYLE The Troubles
The conflict in Northern Ireland, commonly referred to as the Troubles, lasted three decades and claimed over 3,500 lives.
Primarily driven by political and nationalistic interests, but fueled by historical events, this 30-year bout of sectarian violence, low-intensity armed conflict, and political deadlock between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists), who desired the province to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the mostly Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans), who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland, impacted the lives of a generation from both sides of the divide.
The conflict was principally waged by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), though it also included other republican factions and a range of state forces—the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
As the Troubles deepened, loyalist and republican communities in Belfast and Derry began depicting the region's past and present political and religious divisions by creating huge wall murals, often using the gable ends of houses and apartment blocks as a canvas.
Murals commemorate, communicate, and display aspects of culture and history. The murals that appeared in Northern Ireland during the Troubles also expressed the major issues and events of the day. They were designed to promote the various paramilitary groups operating in the province, and themes frequently paid tribute to civilian victims of the conflict.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 effectively brought an end to the Troubles, and Northern Ireland currently enjoys a fragile peace. Fifty years on since riots in 1969 sparked the conflict, around 300 murals can still be admired, with Belfast and Derry boasting arguably the most famous political murals in Europe. They remain as a powerful and symbolic reminder of one of the darkest chapters in the history of the province... and what could happen again if violence returns to the streets of Northern Ireland.
Browse this gallery for a fascinating visual history of the Troubles and its wider context.
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