Belfast West Belfast And The Murals
- The Mural Symbols Of West Belfast.
- PROTESTANT MURALS. Blue, White, and Red: The colors of the British flag; often painted on curbs and signposts to demarcate Unionist murals and neighborhoods. The Red Hand: The crest of Ulster Province, the central symbol of the Ulster flag, which includes a red cross on a white background, used by Unionists to emphasize the separation of Ulster from the Republic. Symbolizes the hand of the first Norse King, which he supposedly cut off and threw on a Northern beach to establish his primacy. (The crest also appears on Catholic murals which depict the 4 ancient provinces—evidence of the overlap in heritage.) King Billy/William of Orange: Sometimes depicted on a white horse, crossing the Boyne to defeat the Catholic King James II at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. Ironically, his campaign was funded by the Pope, who opposed James’ creation of the Church of England. The Orange Order was later founded in his honor. The Apprentice Boys: A group of young men who shut the gates of Derry to keep out the troops of James II, beginning the great siege of 1689. They have become Protestant folk heroes, inspiring a sect of the Orange order in their name. The slogan “No Surrender,” also from the siege, has been appropriated by radical Unionists, most notably Rev. Ian Paisley. Lundy: The Derry leader who advocated surrender during the siege; now a term for anyone who wants to give in to Catholic demands. Scottish Flag: Blue with a white cross; recalls the Scottish-Presbyterian roots of many Protestants whose ancestors were part of the Ulster Plantation (see Cromwell).
- CATHOLIC MURALS. Orange and Green: Colors of the Irish Republic’s flag; often painted on curbs, mailboxes, and signposts in Republican neighborhoods. The Irish Volunteers: Republican tie to the earlier (nonsectarian) Nationalists. Saoirse: Irish for “Freedom”; the most common term found on murals. Éireann go bráth: (erin-go-BRAH) “Ireland forever”; a popular IRA slogan. Tiocfaidh ár lá: (CHOCK-ee-ar-LA) “Our day will come.” Slan Abhaile: (Slawn ah-WAH-lya) “Safe home”; directed at the primarily Protestant RUC police force. Phoenix: Symbolizes united Ireland rising from the ashes of British persecution. Lug: Celtic god, seen as the protector of the “native Irish” (Catholics). Green Ribbon: IRA symbol for “free our POWs.” Bulldog: Britain. Bowler Hats: A symbol for Orangemen.
West Belfast has historically been at the heart of political tensions in the North. The Catholic area (centered on Falls Road) and the Protestant neighborhood (centered on the Shankill) are separated by the peace line, a grim, gray wall with a number of gates that close at nightfall. Along the wall, abandoned buildings and barricaded homes testify to a tumultuous history and an uneasy future. One bit of the peace line, near Lanark Way, connecting the Falls and Springfield roads, contains peace paintings and signatures—left mostly by tourists—promoting hope for a brighter future. The Falls and Shankill exude both the raw sentiment that drives the Northern Irish conflict and the casual calm with which those closest to the Troubles approach daily life. West Belfast is not a tourist site in the traditional sense, though the walls and houses along the area’s streets display political murals which speak to Belfast’s religious and political divide. These murals are the city’s most striking and popular attraction.
Those traveling to these sectarian neighborhoods often take black taxis, or open top tour buses transporting passengers along their set routes. Some black taxis and black cabs can also be booked for tours of the Falls or Shankill.
New murals in the Falls and Shankill are constantly produced. The Falls. This Catholic and Republican neighborhood is larger than Shankill, following Castle St. west from the city center. As Castle St. continues across A12/Westlink, it becomes Divis Street. A high-rise apartment building marks Divis Tower, an ill-fated housing development built by optimistic social planners in the 1960s. The project soon became an IRA stronghold and saw some of the worst of Belfast’s Troubles in the 1970s. The British Army still occupies the top floors.
Continuing west, Divis St. turns into Falls Road. The Sinn Féin office is easily spotted: one side of it is covered with an enormous portrait of Bobby Sands (see The Troubles) and an advertisement for the Sinn Féin newspaper, An Phoblacht. Continuing down Falls Rd. reveals a number of murals, most of which are on side streets. In the past both the Falls and the Shankill contained many representations of paramilitaries (the IRA in the Falls, UVF and UDA in the Shankill) with armed men in balaclavas; this and commemorative murals were the main subjects in the past, but both communities have focused on historical and cultural representations for the newest murals, even replacing many older works. The newest Falls murals recall the ancient Celtic heritage of myths and legends, and depict The Great Hunger, the phrase Northern Catholics use to refer to the Famine. Earlier militant murals certainly still exist including a few that depict the Republican armed struggle.
Falls Rd. soon splits into Andersonstown Road and Glen Road, one of the few urban areas with a predominately Irish-speaking population. On the left are the Celtic crosses of Milltown Cemetery, the resting place of many fallen Republicans. Inside the entrance, a memorial to Republican casualties is bordered by a low, green fence on the right; the grave of Bobby Sands lies here. Nearby, Bombay Street was the first street to be burned down during the Troubles. Another mile along Andersontown Rd. lies a housing project that was formerly a wealthy Catholic neighborhood—and more murals. The Springfield Rd. Police Service of Northern Ireland station, previously named the RUC station, was the most attacked police station in Ireland and the UK. It was recently demolished, perhaps as a sacrifice to the peace process. Its defenses were formidable, and the Andersonstown Barracks, at the corner of Glen and Andersonstown Rd., are still heavily fortified.
Shankill. The Shankill Rd. begins at the Westlink and turns into Woodvale Rd. as it crosses Cambrai St. The Woodvale Rd. intersects the Crumlin Road at the Ardoyne roundabout and can be taken back into the city center. The Shankill Memorial Garden honors 10 people who died in a bomb attack on Fizzel’s Fish Shop in October 1993; the garden is on the Shankill Rd., facing Berlin St. On the Shankill Rd., farther toward the city center, is a mural of James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States (1857-1861), who was a descendant of Ulster Scots (known in the US as the “Scots-Irish”). Other cultural murals depict the 50th Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1952 and the death of the Queen Mother in 2002. These are at the beginning of the Shankill near the Rex Bar. Historical murals include a memorial to the UVF who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 during WWI also near the Rex Bar. In the Shankill Estate, some murals represent Cromwell suppressing the 1741 Rebellion against the Protestant plantation owners. The densely decorated Orange Hall sits on the left at Brookmount St. McClean’s Wallpaper; on the right was where Fizzel’s Fish Shop stood before being demolished. Through the estate, Crumlin Rd. heads back to the city center, passing an army base, the courthouse, and the jail.
Sandy Row And Newtownards Road. This area’s Protestant population is growing steadily, partly due to the redevelopment of the Sandy Row area, and also because many working-class residents are leaving the Shankill. This stretch is a turn off Donegall Rd. at Shaftesbury Sq. An orange arch topped with King William once marked its start. Nearby murals show the Red Hand of Ulster, a bulldog, and William crossing the Boyne. East Belfast is a secure and growing Protestant enclave, but as in other areas use caution when traveling in this area around Marching Season. A number of murals line Newtownards Rd. One mural depicts the economic importance of the shipyard to the city’s industrial history. On the Ballymacart road, which runs parallel to Newtownards Rd., is a mural of local son C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.