Photo Essay: Belfast’s Murals and Street Art

October 28, 2012

Destinations, Great Britain

There is one main reason why Belfast attracts visitors and tourists. People come because they are fascinated by the decades-long sectarian conflict between the city’s Protestants and Catholics. Belfast’s many walls, murals, and street art are probably the best visible reminder of this conflict and history. Before coming to Belfast, I was a bit critical about all of it. I’m not usually into art and even history can sometimes put me to sleep. But then I saw my first mural, and I was hooked.

I started out the day walking around Shankill, a notoriously Protestant neighborhood in Belfast. Nearly everywhere, I could spot “the Union Jack,” also known as the British flag. That’s because many Protestants are unionists, meaning they believe that Northern Ireland should remain separate from the rest of Ireland and part of the UK. Many unionists feel an affinity with the UK and say that their ancestry comes from England and Scotland.

Belfast protestant mural


Belfast graffiti

Walking a bit further, I came to one of the many walls located throughout Belfast. This particular wall divides the heavily Protestant neighborhood of Shankill and the heavily Catholic neighborhood of the Falls. This section of the wall had become a place of peace on which many people had grafittied and written messages calling for the walls to be torn down and calling for peace between the two sides.

Belfast wall

Belfast street art

Peace for Belfast graffiti

Bring down the walls

As I made my way into the Falls, the British flags suddenly disappeared and were replaced by flags from the Republic of Ireland. I also noticed that suddenly all of the street signs were bilingual in Irish Gaelic and English. These were all signs that I was now in nationalist territory, where many people feel that Northern Ireland should join up with the rest of Ireland. Interestingly, many of the murals weren’t about Ireland at all. Many of the murals made political statements about other groups around the world whom the artists feel are fighting for their rights in a similar way to Northern Ireland.

Ireland Palestinian solidarity

Palestinian political prisoners

In the end, I felt that Belfast is still divided in many ways. The walls are proof of that. But I also felt a sense of hope, and the messages of peace were evidence of that. I would have to say that Belfast is one of the most interesting cities I’ve visited in the UK.  It reminded me that the West isn’t immune to conflict, violence, and sectarianism. It can happen anywhere.

a future without sectarianism

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About Hannah

As a self-professed travel junkie, I have found that the only remedy to my addiction is travel itself. I am in the stages of launching an indefinite journey around the world with no goal other than to explore this small planet called Earth.

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5 Responses to “Photo Essay: Belfast’s Murals and Street Art”

  1. Brenda Says:

    Those are the Irish and Palestinian flags on the sleeves of the prisoners in the “Solidarity POWs” mural, right? Did you see any murals when you were in Palestine last year? Murals seem to be an artform of choice for people in conflict. I remember looking at the murals inside Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes and thinking, “What a bunch of angry artists!”


    • Hannah Says:

      Yes, those are the Irish and Palestinian flags. I didn’t see many murals on my visit to Palestine last year. I’m sure they exist, but I didn’t get the chance to visit the Apartheid Wall while I was there. I suppose art is a frequent outlet for oppressed people and those who find themselves in conflict. It’s a good way to get a message out to people who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention.


  2. Beth Davidson Says:

    I never thought of Northern Ireland as a hotspot for graffiti, but reading this article and seeing these images – it makes sense. I didn’t spend long in Belfast when I was in Ireland so missed all of this.. Will definitely have to go back to see it though.


    • Hannah Says:

      Northern Ireland seems to be one of those less-traveled places that few people (including me before this trip!) know much about. I found the history to be fascinating and complex; I was reminded of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in many ways. I would definitely recommend a visit to Belfast again if you can!


  3. Brenda Says:

    That picture of the road with walls on either side made me think of Nanci Griffith’s song, It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go:

    I am a backseat driver from America
    They drive to the left on Falls Road
    The man at the wheel’s name is Seamus
    We pass a child on the corner he knows
    And Seamus says, “Now, what chance has that kid got?”
    And I say from the back, “I don’t know.”
    He says, “There’s barbed wire at all of these exits
    And there ain’t no place in Belfast for that kid to go.”


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