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Murals fuel & memorialize Irish conflict

By Carol / May 31, 2016 / 8 Comments

Murals as a form of political, social, and cultural expression rose in importance during “The Troubles” – a 30-year conflict that began in 1968 and divided Northern Ireland. Though The Troubles more or less ended with the Belfast “Good Friday” agreement of 1998, murals continue to be a powerful method of communication. Often called the Belfast Murals, these graphic messages are also prominent in Derry where conflict was also heated.

Here are a few I saw on my recent visit to Northern Ireland.

A Protestant, King William of Orange and his victory at the Battle of the Boyne are still celebrated by Irish Protestants.

Protestant, King William of Orange and his victory at the Battle of the Boyne are still celebrated by Irish Protestants.

The republican prisoners commemorated in this mural sought prisoner of war status. Rather than wear prison garb, they opted for blankets; their action became known as "the blanket protest." The prisoners also initiated a hunger strike. Some died before the protest ended.

The republican prisoners commemorated in this mural sought prisoner of war status. Rather than wear prison garb, they opted for blankets; their action became known as “the blanket protest.” The prisoners also initiated a hunger strike, with some dying before the protest ended.

This mural commemorates a a young girl killed during The Troubles. The girl's father continues to visit the mural regularly.

A young girl was one of the thousands of civilians killed during The Troubles. The girl’s father  visits the mural regularly.

Some believe the British Army must be held accountable for the deaths they caused during The Troubles.

The campaign continues to hold the British Army accountable for the predominately Catholic deaths they perpetrated during The Troubles.

The fight for a united Ireland continues.

Arguing for a united Ireland.

Murals take on new causes as well as old.

Artists take on new causes as well as old.

An artist works on a new mural.

New murals are created, as artists take up current events and new causes.

The history of Northern Ireland is complicated. Loyalists – Unionists – Republicans – Nationalists – Catholics – Protestants. Even with repeated explanations by our guides, I am confident I don’t have it all straight.

What these murals did for me was convey the tremendous emotion surrounding all of the issues. More than words, these murals told me the issues remain, even though, thankfully, people aren’t still killing each other.

On Memorial Day, we remember those who fought and died for our country. With these visual reminders, every day is Memorial Day in Northern Ireland.

Readers: Have you seen murals used in a similar way in other parts of the world? If you have, please share.

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Carol

8 Comments

  1. Shirley Hershey Showalter on May 31, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for sharing these photos of the murals, Carol, and for troubling our minds about the limits of memory if we value peace. I too find the history of Irish conflict challenging to understand. Makes me wonder if any conflict can be contained in narrative. At least in a single narrative.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on May 31, 2016 at 10:48 am

      You raise an interesting question, Shirley – For peace to persist, do we need to put the conflict behind us? Forgive and move on? Do the murals keep the conflict alive? I don’t feel qualified to do more than share the murals and their impact on me. I would love to hear from the Irish what these murals do for them.

      As a writer, I have to continually remind myself that I’m not trying to tell the whole story, (if such a thing were even possible), just one story. The mural of the young girl told one person’s story and that story broke my heart.

  2. Merril Smith on May 31, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Thank you for sharing, Carol. These murals certainly are food for thought. I, also, find it challenging to understand the various threads of Irish history and conflict. I agree the mural of the young girl is heart-breaking, but just one tale of a long conflict, but also one tale that meant more to her parents than any other story.

    It also makes me think of wall murals elsewhere–or even less formal wall art. I think about conflicts throughout the world and throughout the ages that have been commemorated or decried through drawings on walls.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on May 31, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      I think this shows the power of the individual story to move hearts. I have seen messages and graffiti used in lots of conflicts and many places; it was the full graphic story of each of these murals that seemed different. Do you know if this kind of mural art is or has been used elsewhere?

      • Merril Smith on May 31, 2016 at 2:38 pm

        Perhaps the range and extent there is unique. I was thinking more of scattered messages or a mural or two.
        I did find this, which is not exactly a theme or the same type of thing, but it’s interesting. You might enjoy it. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/may/17/art-usa

        • Carol Bodensteiner on May 31, 2016 at 2:57 pm

          Thanks for sharing the link, Merril. These murals are interesting. More of the artist’s need to be creative rather than to convey a political message – for the most part. Now I’m thinking that part of what struck me about the Belfast murals was the number of them and the persistence of the makers in keeping them refreshed.

  3. Paulette Mahurin on June 1, 2016 at 9:25 am

    This really shows the power of murals. The one of the girl with the notation that her father visits it is so sad but extremely powerful. It really brings home all the conflict. And I’m with you on not fully understanding all the various conflicts/warring factions in Ireland’s history. I wish more would share their pain with art, instead of hateful words and battle. Thank you, Carol.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 1, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      I agree with you, Paulette. Art not hate. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?

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