State intervention in re-imaging Northern Ireland's political murals: implications for tourism and the communities

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Murals have long occupied a unique place in Northern Ireland’s cultural landscape. Mural painting in the Loyalist community dates back to a century ago when the first mural representing William of Orange or "King Billy" as he was popularly known, was painted in 1908, celebrating his defeat of the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It was not until the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which gave Dublin an input into Northern Irish affairs and legalised the tricolour flag as well as the Irish language that murals became increasingly filled with paramilitary emblems and imagery (White, 2011). For many years Republicans did not paint murals partly due to legislation, which prevented any ostensible representations of Nationalist politics and culture. This, however, changed with the hunger strike of 1981, when many images appeared on walls in Nationalist areas in support of the hunger strikers’ demand for political status. Republican mural painting later expanded to address a wide range of political issues and themes including Ireland’s Celtic heritage and comparisons with other divided societies such as the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa (White, 2011). According to Jarman (1997; 1998), murals have been and continue to be used by the two main communities, Unionist and Republican, forming the Northern Ireland society as self-reinforcing layers of identity and declarations of territoriality. This view is supported by White (2011), who argues that murals are instrumentalised by political and paramilitary groups as propaganda tools with the aim of gaining legitimacy and winning support by expressing aspirations in a way that resonates with the communities thus becoming markers of cultural identity. Numerous murals are deeply embedded within communities. This allows for a degree of control over the image and its meaning, with access to murals being of a restricted spatial nature, indicating they were primarily aimed at a local audience (White, 2011). A prime example of a mural painted for local consumption is a King Billy mural found on the Fountain Estate, the last Protestant working class area on the city side of the River Foyle in L/Derry. The wall painting is a replica of Bobby Jackson’s mural originally painted in the 1920s. The mural is kept behind closed gates and is only accessible to visitors on request (Derry Visitor, 2013). Murals have become popular with the media, which use them to convey a sense of distinctiveness, place and authenticity. However, they have become even more popular with tourists especially since Simon Calder (a well recognised travel writer), in writing in The Independent back in 2007, referred to them as the UK’s top attraction (Simone-Charteris and Boyd, 2010). Lisle argues that murals in Northern Ireland have become part of a global tourist circuit that “creates the greatest scope for disrupting the notion that the murals simply reinforce an ‘ideological struggle’ between two homogeneous communities” (2006, p.43). Indeed the fact that tourists constitute a third audience for murals in Northern Ireland and that tourists transcend the local territoriality that murals have been used for in the past is particularly relevant with regard to the cross-community potential of tourism in the Province (Wiedenhoft Murphy, 2010). Through an analysis of the most popular murals in working-class estates in Belfast and L/Derry, the proposed chapter aims to investigate the transition of political murals in Northern Ireland from markers of identity and propaganda tools aimed at a local audience to tourist attractions aimed at global visitors with potential for cross-community collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMurals and tourism: heritage, politics and identity
EditorsJonathan Skinner, Lee Jolliffe
Place of PublicationOxon
ISBN (Print)978-1-4724-6143-8
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 May 2017


  • Murals
  • Politics
  • Tourism
  • Comminities
  • Propaganda
  • Tools
  • Markers of Identity
  • Northern Ireland


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