When arriving in Northern Ireland for a weekend in Belfast, the first thing I noticed was the prominence of murals and street art throughout the city. This longstanding tradition reflects the history, culture, and political views of this incredible, vibrant city. In the past, the use of murals was to reflect the views of the two groups residing in Belfast: the republicans and nationalists who were mainly Catholics and the loyalists who were mainly Protestants. The loyalists wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, but the republicans and nationalists wanted to become a part of the Republic of Ireland. Because of differing political views, these two groups lived in separate areas of the city and fought for many years, with the tensions hitting their peak during the 30 year period between 1968 and 1998 which became known as the Troubles. The violence became common, with over 3,600 people being killed and many more being seriously injured. Through the use of murals, the history of the struggle between the two groups is still evident throughout the city, which is still largely divided into Protestant and Catholic areas. By exploring Belfast through its murals and other forms of street art, one can take a visual journey through the past, learn about issues of the present, and contemplate the future of this captivating place.
Murals are also located throughout the city which give a visual, constantly changing representation of its citizens’ views on political and social issues, not only in their country but around the world.
In addition to these visual protests, murals celebrating noted world leaders such as Martin Luther King Junior and Barrack Obama were present.
These murals may be a popular way to make a statement for many Belfordians, but a less traditional, more subtle form of this public art can be seen around every corner. Street art done by locals commentates on personal views, acts as a form of personal expression, and adds beauty and life to the city.
A macabre image I found while exploring the city.
Though I was only in Belfast for a weekend, I quickly and deeply gained knowledge and appreciation for the interesting, tumultuous past of the city and the progress and culture which can be found there. Whether you are a history buff, an activist, or a lover of art, Belfast is the perfect place to explore the creations people have left behind for others to admire and contemplate.
Photos courtesy of Danielle Beam.
Danielle Beam is a junior at the University of Kentucky studying Psychology. Danielle participated in the Celtic Blue program at Arcadia University and National University of Ireland Galway during the 2014-2015 academic year.