When I visited Derry and Belfast, I was struck by the prominence of murals in the two cities. It is said that there are accounts of about 2,000 murals in Derry and Belfast; murals were both a unique form of expression and a mirror of the political developments in an area of deep political separation. From the murals, I not only better understood the history of Northern Ireland, but I also felt the sense of the pain and suffering of both sides of the conflict.
One of the first murals I saw was the Free Derry sign, which read: “You Are Now Entering Free Derry.” The sign was painted shortly after the Battle of the Bogside, which sparked widespread violence in Northern Ireland. Thus, the mural is indicative of the beginning of The Troubles. The Death of Innocence was another mural that stuck me; it depicted Annette McGavigan, who was shot in a crossfire between British soldiers and the IRA in 1971. Annette was the first child to be killed during The Troubles; the portrayal of her in a school uniform was heart wrenching because it emphasized how young she was, and how senseless her murder was. In Belfast, we were taken to see the mural of Bobby Sands. Sands was a member of the Provisional IRA who died on hunger strike. His mural was more than a commemoration; it also expressed how the people viewed him as a martyr. Some of the last murals we saw were in the loyalist part of Belfast; they were dominated by the images of masked men with guns. Our tour guide criticized these murals as he believed that they glorified war. He explained that most of the violence in Belfast was the fault of the terrorist groups and this glorification; the majority of people simply wanted the killings to stop.
The murals allowed me to peak into the world of Northern Ireland, but I could never begin to understand the loss and suffering that its people went through. I can only hope that the country’s transition continues to progress, and that the people never have to experience such tragedy again.