Northern Ireland Travel: Tour Of The Political Murals of Belfast – A Must Do
Coming back from vacation in Belfast, there’s been one particular element of the city that I haven’t been able to forget. The entire trip was fantastic and Belfast is a gorgeous city, but the highlight of my visit there was undoubtedly the Murals of Northern Ireland. The murals have become some of the biggest symbolic elements of Belfast, depicting the country’s history, both religious and political. Although the murals exist all over the country, Belfast and Derry perhaps have the most famous murals in the region. Wikipedia claims that there are about 300 murals worth seeing in Belfast [according to the Belfast Mural Guide], and according to the history behind the murals, they were often used to express a certain ideological message from various groups of people.
The guide told us the history behind the murals in extensive detail when we were there, but one of the murals that made the biggest impression on me was one depicting the Hunger Strike of 1981, with a particular emphasis on Bobby Sands. I was already familiar with Sands thanks to the movie ‘Hunger’ starring Michael Fassbender, but if I’m being honest, the mural made a bigger impression on me than the movie – and I adored the movie. This particular mural was located on the side wall at Sinn Fein’s Falls Road Office, but the murals are spread out throughout the city – and the country.
Certain murals were also used to promote the UDA and UVF [loyalist paramilitary groups] or used to honor deceased members of such groups. Another famous mural, ‘An gorta Mor’, represents Ireland’s holocaust [1845 to 1849], where over 1,500,000 people died and which they attribute to ‘Britain’s genocide by starvation’. Some murals were made to draw attention to issues at home, whereas others dealt with larger political matters. But whatever the reasons behind the murals, they were definitely considered one of the defining movements of early Northern Irish culture, especially in cities like Belfast and Derry.
Another famous mural is the West Belfast mural depicting the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, three Irish men [and one American citizen] who were falsely accused, and hung on November 24th, 1867 in Manchester, England. The murals called for the return of their bodies to Ireland, with the main phrase ‘Bring Them Home To Irish Soil’ strewn across the mural with the faces and names of the Irishmen.
Now, some don’t focus on politics at all, instead preferring to focus on Irish mythology or even popular culture [a few murals depict scenes from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe].
Although there has been attempts to remove and discourage some of the ‘harder-edged’ murals depicting the struggles from the early 19th century onwards, murals with an emphasis on peace and equality have increased in schools, and murals are still used to express cultural, religious, and political views of the citizens in the country.
Of course, if you’re going as a tourist to the country, you’re most likely going to come across the historical murals as part of your tour. I would encourage anybody visiting Belfast to make a stop at each of the aforementioned murals, but even if you don’t get the chance to see all of them, try and see some of them. Trust me, it’s worth your time.
[CLICK ON THE IMAGES BELOW TO MAKE LARGER]