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‘superficial images’ or ‘a significant part of the political process’?

What are murals?
‘Painting large murals on the ends of the terraces of houses has become a way by which both sides in the conflict can have a say about what is happening. They are also a form of urban art and a means of propaganda. These paintings are very large,
sometimes beautiful, and take a great deal of time and effort to complete.’ Thus one school textbook dealing with the conflict in Northern Ireland introduces a selection of murals.

What function do they serve?
Are murals simply good to look at or do they have something significant to say about and contribute to the political process in Northern Ireland?

In the first place, they can be simply good to look at and used to illustrate a point.

Secondly, they can be used as probes to explore what people think or believe. The symbolic content is important.

Thirdly, murals can be objects or symbols in their own right, making their own individual statements and contributions to the political process.

For example, you can look at the two above murals in each of these ways:
  • they graphically illustrate a point - political division and conflict in Derry;
  • different elements in each mural say something about republican and loyalist ideas - the (green) ribbon indicating republican support for the hunger strikers;
    the Union Jack symbolising loyalist determination to remain part of the United Kingdom; and
  • the murals make statements in their own right and perform a specific function in the conflict - helping to transform ‘areas where loyalists lived’ into ‘loyalist areas’ and ‘areas where republicans lived’ into ‘republican areas’.

How far do loyalist & republican murals differ?


Mural painting has been a feature of unionist popular culture since the early years of the twentieth century. Then images of King William III and other Orange symbols began to adorn
the gable walls of the working-class areas of Belfast. They appeared as part of an assertion of the Protestant people’s sense of identity during an extended period of political crisis, marking out ‘Protestant areas’.

Republican murals are of a more recent origin. The 1969 ‘Free Derry’ mural was an ‘early example of the transformation of public space by

nationalists’, but not until the early 1980s did murals become ‘a prominent form of street display in nationalist areas and the brush joined the armalite and the ballot box as a facet of political strategy.’



Militarism remains, on the whole, the predominant theme in loyalist murals, despite the loyalist cease-fire of late 1994. One such exception is the handful of murals calling for the release of loyalist prisoners, such as the mural in Lord Street, East Belfast, painted in 1997 and demanding the release of Ulster Freedom Fighters’ (UFF) prisoners.

Republican strategy changed with the hunger strikes. Although the military campaign continued, a more political movement began which tried to emphasise the distinctive cultural basis of nationalism. Images were used as ‘a means of conveying political ideas, or displaying political heroes and role models, and for extending the parameters of the movement.’



Resources - murals in Northern Ireland
1. Symbols3. Republican            
2. Loyalist                   4. Sorting exercise                      

DEC Citizenship Exercise

  1. Tasks & Murals  2. Slideshow of Murals (Ppt)

Constructing Five Murals: Techniques of the Bogside Artists

  1.Pdf Booklet   2. PowerPoint Version

Murals on CAIN

Murals & marches 1916 to present

Kathryn Conrad's Northern Ireland Photo Gallery: murals, graffiti, marches, & protests

Gables’ end: Murals to be replaced


This page draws heavily on the CAIN website and Bill Rolston's Drawing Support and Drawing Support 2, Beyond the Pale Publications, 1992-8, 0-95142-293-6/297-9