Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Wall murals in Belfast

This documentation of the wall murals in Belfast started when there was the first public showing of the Belfast Kids' Guernica mural on 21st of September 2009. Both the action and the public showing was co-ordinated by Bernard Conlon.

The Northern Ireland conflict - Belfast and the path towards the Friday Peace Agreement in 1998


Memorial plate for nine people from the unionist community who were killed by a bomb exploding inside on Belfast’s Shankill Road in October 1993


Photographs in memory of people from the Falls Road in West Belfast in a memorial garden on the nationalist side of the “Peace Line”, which still separates the Falls Road from the unionist Shankill Road.




The security gate on the Upper Springfield Road

The gate is opened once a year to let the Orange parade of the Unionist community march through it and a short distance along the nationalist section of road, in order to reach their lodge. It is an annual 30 minute event but the realization requires a painstaking cross-community communication, endless negotiations, marshalling and policing – a good reflection of the day-to-day peace-building process.


                    Skankill Road

A sea of Union Jacks fly along the Unionist's Shankill Road  - hence the more ardent, working-class Unionists are referred to as Loyalists. It amounts to a nearly total loyalty to the British Crown and thus an absolute devotion to the monarch is being implied.


                 Memorial garden

Memorial gardens like the one shown above can be found thoughout Belfast. These places of 'silent commemoration' show the areas in the city which were most affected by all the “troubles” (now referred to by both sides as the “conflict”).  The one shown above in the photo is located in the district of the Nationalists on the  New Lodge Road. It lies within a district of North Belfast and is dedicated to Republican “volunteers” (members of the Irish Republican Army/IRA) who were killed while participating in the IRA’s 25 year (approximately) “armed struggle” - referred to by the British governments of the time and unionists as a “terrorist campaign.”  A peace process evolved in the early 1990s leading to the Republican and Loyalist ceasefires of 1995.  A stalemate had been the reality for a long time and the ceasefire was an effective recognition of this.

In 1998 a complex agreement between Unionists, Nationalists, the British and Irish governments with input from the United States and European Union (EU) support, led to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It has provided since then something best described as a “transitional” peace. It is an interim step towards the British and the Irish resolving their 800 year relationship. For that to happen, it requires that the British and Irish identities within Ireland learn to appreciate and accommodate each other.

It is a tentative and template process veering towards an uneasy partnership. The two identities, or traditions as they are called, seemed by 2009 to be slowly able to let go of hurt and suspicion.  A weaning off “the physical force tradition” on one hand and away from triumphalism and supremacy on the other is still a work in progress.

Writing on the walls - the Wall murals of Belfast

Until 1998 all murals were an integral aspect of the "troubles", or conflict which brought pain. These wall murals were declarations of loyalities, and equally memorials of those killed. Nowadays they are conveying increasingly broader and less volatile messages, but they still retain their distinct (and separate) identity and tone.


                     Memories of the Famine 1845 - 1852

This mural invokes memories of Ireland’s tragic past: remembering the Potato famine of the 1840’s. (1) The painting on a house wall can be found on 'The New Lodge Road' in Belfast. The image lends to a bleak urban setting more pathos and expresses at the same time a self-conscious folk memory. It is a bit surreal, but then what happened can hardly be described well in words. Certainly the mural is a measure of artistic merit.

International Wall: Falls Road, Belfast





                    Portrait of B. Hughes (on the left)


                           Che Guevera


Portrait of Frederick Douglas



                       Protest against Israeli Aggression "This is a war crime"

                       and appeal not to forget the Maghaberry prisoners

      Boris Tissot in front of replica of Picasso's Guernica

                                                on International Wall, Belfast

Along this international wall, there are depicted heroes, villans, romantic or legendary figures. It is painted in terms of political mythology, but with such a sarcastic humour because it was difficult to make out any human solidarity. Rather everything seems over shadowed by the need of endless commemorations for those who had been killed on both sides during the time of violent conflicts till cease fire led to the Friday agreement. Mixed in with these murals are all kinds of celebration rituals and yes, propaganda as well. Indeed, the International Wall has it all…

Unabated violence since First World War



                      Link to First World War, 1914-1918

More than any other mural this one is most significant. It tells stories about those Loyalists who served under the British Crown in First World War. The emotions of loyalty are still evoked one hundred years later, and this without ever bothering to ask why was there such a violent conflict possible between Loyalists and the IRA / Irish Independence seekers? Already far away are films like 'Jules and Jim' or the now famous film called 'Christmas'. The latter depicts the contradiction of soldiers shooting at each other from their respective trenches but for Christmas they climb out to celebrate. Yet after three days of celebration mistrust creeps back: "you will shoot first, no you!" As Paul Klee put it, the violence of First World War destroyed all sense of beauty so that any attempt to paint beauty would have to be done out of memory of previous experiences, that is prior to that war, and this would make any expression thereof be by necessity abstract. This is mentioned to underline a deep gap between Continental Europe and what experience with violence was inherited on the British Isles and in Ireland. For the continuation of glorification of violence meant no peace dimension, never mind any outcry of people repulsed by such senseless killing, made ever the headlines, never mind the front lines. Instead violence was for the Loyalists evidence of serving the Crown and thus to silence the criticism thereof as Andre Breton had noted, it was covered up by fake heroism. At the same time, Irish Independence was gaining ground around that time, but then the liberation from the British yoke was equally violent. Hence the brilliant essay by Brendan Kennelly about 'poetry and violence'. Violence fills the myths and is continued even today by many Irish poets who seem not to get free from the need to have a good fight as if this is a part of the true Irish spirit. This wall mural may be called evidence as to why there has not been a substantial questioning of violence during First World War as has been the case with Andre Breton or Hochhuth. The latter is a playwright who departs from a quote he took from the diary of a young man who died on the battle fields of First World War. It was his last entry before death silenced him. It says simply: "I could have prevented First World War!"

Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth has here one special mural done by children of Gezoncourt under the coordination of Alexandra Zanne. They went first to the battle fields of First World War, namely Verdun, and there they had first a talk with a historian about the reasons for that war. Then they walked around and came upon a half destroyed house hidden by bushes which have grown around and over it by now. Once inside that ruin, they discovered skeletons. These images stayed with the children when they painted their mural which they called appropriately in reflection of the special German-French relationship: "The Other: Enemy or Friend?"

Old new propaganda tricks


                      Typical new mural

Already the peace process has altered the old model for murals. Instead the new ones make way for a possible Belfast version of Social Realism as was found in the past when the Soviet Union still existed. Then as now the children are happy and therefore all smiles to propagate the fact that the communities are content. The image belies not only the widespread apathy and anti-social behaviour making it difficult to see a real progress in terms of the peace process, but there is one figure which stands out, for Belfast has one of the highest youth suicide rates in Western Europe.

Hidden corners: the impact of Picasso's Guernica



                   Replica of Picasso's Guernica at entrance to pub

Is it hope for peace or a way to seek a similar way out of utmost pain? The human scream which cannot be heard, so far tucked away it is like the lonely child kneeling down in order not to be hit. Flinching, yes, but far from able to defend itself, the child gives in to the violent beatings as if this act of aggression is sealed by fate. Countless children have experienced this due to a father who could not restrain himself as he has forgotten what it was like when he was the child and his father hit him hard.

Interestingly enough, the tiny replica of Picasso's Guernica is located at the entrance to a pub. Many a times sons and daughters had to fetch their drunken father from the pub since the mother begged in vain not to go there again. It was ruining the entire family. The hardships which go along with such a dreary life cannot be really told but it cannot be lived either. No wonder that novelist Seamas Cain calls Ireland a dangerous island.

Photos were taken by Hatto Fischer in Belfast September 21, 2009

Text by Hatto Fischer

Athens 5.2.2014


1. Potato Famine - see how it entered 'folk memory' and became the divisive dividing line between the Irish and the British Crown since despite the potato failure, Ireland was still exporting enough grain which could have been used to feed the starving population. Many historians and others call it, therefore, an act of genocide. For further description, see




Documentary photos by Kevin Cooper


                                                             Received from Kevin Cooper  6.2.2014



Kevin Cooper
NUJ Press Photographer
Photoline Photographic Agency
41 Kansas Ave., Belfast, BT15 5AX.
E-mail: photoline <photoline@btinternet.com>;
OfficeTel: 02890777299 or Mobile: 07712044751
Web site: www.kevincooperphotoline.com



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