Politics, Pride & Paintwork – a Photo Essay of The Belfast Murals
Written by Jaillan Yehia
* Disclaimer* This post tackles a sensitive subject so I want to be clear about the fact that I’m not on the side of anything here, except peace.*
I went to Belfast to enjoy the city, to shop at the Christmas Market, drink in the bars, see the Titanic exhibition and explore the Antrim Coast – not just to dwell on The Troubles. But I don’t want to be ignorant of the truth behind any city, so just as I couldn’t visit Johannesburg without seeing Soweto I wasn’t spending time in Belfast without taking a Black Taxi tour of the Belfast murals, memorials and peace lines.
So much has been written about the murals and the political history of Northern Ireland itself that I’m not even going to to attempt to give you a potted history or my own shallow and relatively uneducated views here.
Take a look for yourself at this photo essay and make up your own mind if the tour is for you. All I’ll say is that I understand things a little more clearly than I did before going, the tour has prompted me to look into the issues in more depth – and I’m certainly glad I went to see this part of the city with my own eyes.
This mural is known as the Belfast Mona Lisa, because no matter where you stand in relation to the gunman, he appears to be aiming directly at you. It marked a sobering start to the tour, and was one of the five original murals in this part of Belfast.
This shows King William of Orange, after which the Orangemen were named.
The scene on a frosty December morning when I visited the murals – for some reason there were ducks everywhere, and I soon realised why as people emerged with bags of bread to feed them. While we photographed the infamous political side of the city local women with prams walked past going about their normal business, a salient reminder that as harsh are the realities of the troubles have been here, life goes on.
You’ll see a recurring theme of the The Red Hand of Ulster – this is an Irish Gaelic symbol derived from a legend that two Kings (or giants, depending on which version you go for) held a boat race to win the Kingdom of Ulster, vowing that whoever’s hand touched the land first would be crowned. Realising that he was losing the race one King cuts off his own hand and throws it onto the land in order to make it his.
The Shankhill Road and The Falls Road are the most infamous streets in West Belfast, having been perpetually in the news for decades for being the flashpoint where the two opposing communities in Northern Ireland live in close proximity.
Probably the single most famous mural, this commemorates Bobby Sands the leader of a group of 10 political prisoners who died while on hunger strike during the early 1980’s. If your mind is challenged by what you see in West Belfast’s murals, dividing walls and memorials, it is likely to be this man’s story which shocks and resonates with you the most.
This is one of the sets of gates which closes at night to keep both sides apart. It’s hard to believe that people who may work together and socialise in the same places in the city centre have metal walls to keep them safe come nightfall.
There are apparently 99 so-called Peace Walls in Belfast totalling 13 miles in length and this one at Cupar Way is the longest, and has become a key part of the tourist trail.
Brand new houses sit empty opposite the peace wall, meanwhile people from all over the world including famous dignitaries like Bill Clinton inscribe their messages for peace on the wall.
The international wall depicts political murals representing issues from outside Northern Ireland, and the black and white mural in the centre is the most famous of these, a cross-community mural version of Picasso’s Guernica.
SavoirThere was a guest of the Belfast Taxi Tour with NI Black Taxi Tours
The tours start at £30 for two people. Each additional passenger costs £10.
The average duration of each tour is around 1 hour 30 minutes, but can be tailored to your needs.
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call 0800 980 7991 or Jim on 07860 793799 or Mark on 07521 621103
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