Helping you discover the world & share your experience.
Login    Sign Up

Learning Belfast history through murals

  • Bobby Sands MP - A mural of political activist Bobby Sands on the Falls Road in west Belfast, Northern Ireland.
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
  • Falls Road mural  - A mural from the Falls Road in west Belfast, Northern Ireland.
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
  • Falls Road murals - Two more murals from the Falls Road in west Belfast, Northern Ireland. 
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
  • Peace wall - Part of an art installation on the peace wall in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
  • Peace wall unity - A mural on the peace wall uniting those who are in search of peace in the world.
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
  • Shankill Road mural  - A mural on the Shankill Road in east Belfast, Northern Ireland.
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
  • Shankill Road memorial - The simple memorial on the Shankill Road commemorating the bombing of Frizzel's fish and chip shop. 
photo: Waheeda Harris (Photo by Waheeda Harris)
by Waheeda Harris
From Culture Experiences
June 16, 2011

When I arrived in Belfast, I knew I would go to the pub, shop on the high street and meet friendly locals - but I didn't think I would learn about its history through public art. 

I have several friends who were born in this city and moved because of the Troubles. I remember their stories, snapshots of childhood spent with family in this Northern Ireland capital - the raucous dinners filled with stories, precious moments spent with grandparents as well as soldiers on the streets and the security checkpoints.

I had heard about the murals and graffiti of Belfast, but I wasn't prepared for its impact on my view of the city and that it would be the first lessons in learning about its history. 

Early on a Sunday morning, I was taken by my guide to the Falls Road in west Belfast, not far from the downtown. After passing several new buildings and developments, the beginning of the Falls Road murals are painted on a brick wall, found along the main road of the residential neighbourhood.

This group was a mix of images: memories of the Troubles, advertisements for local businesses, commentary about racism and political activism. The boldness of the images are hard to ignore - male figures with balaclavas covering their faces and holding automatic weapons are displayed with pride alongside images of locals and other freedom fighters like Che Guevara. 

But not all the murals portrayed an aggressive stance or combative element. The next mural was in memory of Bobby Sands, a local man who went on hunger strike in the Belfast jail to protest the treatment of his fellow political prisoners. His young smiling face painted on the brick wall is a daily reminder for locals and visitors of his sacrifice for his community.

Since it was Sunday morning, most businesses were closed and the streets empty of traffic and pedestrians, which added to the solitary experience of seeing these stark images. My guide, who survived the Troubles, let me see the images and then would tell me about each mural, and what had happened in history. 

The next stop was one of the peace walls; these are three storey walls were erected by British military to divide the people and keep the peace. No longer needed, the walls are now community billboards for graffiti, art and commentary. 

The wall's lower half are covered in graffiti tags, personal messages, oversized murals and art installations. From signs of peace, protest and solidarity to personal messages of peace, love and joy, the wall was a swirl of political opinions and community support. I realized this display was a billboard sign the residents - a place for their voice to be heard without filters. 

I headed to east Belfast's Shankill Road, where more murals - a mix of political protest and commentary as well as pride in their neighbourhood - where equally displayed on the sides of buildings and houses.

I saw the same kind of brick housing, and the same well-kept streets - the only difference was the flags, here the Union Jack reigned supreme unlike the Irish Republic flags I had seen in west Belfast.

I saw a memorial on Shankill Road, a small plaque in memory of those who had died due to a bombing during the Troubles of a local fish and chip shop. I noticed the post nearby with a cross and flowers attached, an ongoing reminder of the deaths of nine people just steps away, although over 15 years ago.

My guide explained how this bombing was a tipping point, and no matter what your political beliefs, everyone wanted the Troubles to end. 

With each piece of community art, I learned more about the history of the city, the Troubles and its effects on the city. I found the art was as informative as any article or historical document, and even more poignant for the emotional connection it made with me at every turn. 






Share and discuss this story with your friends

Waheeda Harris icon

Waheeda Harris

I'm a Toronto-based freelance journalist, writing about travel, design, cuisine and people who are passionate about what they create. I’ve written for newspaper, magazine, websites and blogs since 2000, love taking photos and happy to share what I've found wandering our planet.



Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: Pacific rim, Middle East, Caribbean, islands, pop culture, art, architecture, cuisine, photography
Website: http://about.me/waheedaharris

More stories by Waheeda Harris

Surviving the sand dunes of Colorado

Surviving the sand dunes of Colorado
For those who love the desert landscape, the state of Colorado is not a destination that comes to mind – shouldn’t a traveller be heading to the Middle East or North Africa?  In southern Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers a unique experience...

Searching for Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh

Searching for Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh
Better known by its moniker Steeltown , Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a tough city – its weathered the effects of decades of industry as well as became a haven for waves of immigration. It’s a city that has bred passionate people, especially when it comes to their Black &...

Leatherback turtles get a helping hand in Grenada

Leatherback turtles get a helping hand in Grenada
The Caribbean is more than tropical beaches and rum cocktails. Its also a place to experience some of the planet’s unique wildlife – and on the island of Grenada , the ability to witness leatherback turtles come to shore to propagate their species. From May until September,...

Calling all artists: Rockport is your destination

Calling all artists: Rockport is your destination
“Its all about the light,” said my inn hostess, “Once you walk around town, you’ll begin to understand.” I had just arrived in the coastal Massachusetts town of Rockport . Known for its artist community, I had taken the train from downtown Boston and within...

Spotting birds and blue holes in the Bahamas

Spotting birds and blue holes in the Bahamas
It all started with the call of a swallow. My guide suddenly stopped, turning his head to hear the bird call and said, let’s go! Following the rapid footsteps and explanations of Abaco Nature Tours’ Ricky Johnson, the fervour for seeing a local species quickly transfers to...

Exploring the ancient shrines of Chennai, India

Exploring the ancient shrines of Chennai, India
Chennai is a sweltering, ocean-front city - well known for its abundance of British colonial relics and its proximity to several silk factories. For visitors, the city's got much to attract, but its the numerous ancient temple areas outside the city that are worth a dusty bus ride south...

Making friends with a dolphin in the Florida Keys

Making friends with a dolphin in the Florida Keys
For visitors to the Florida Keys, the focus is on relaxing in the south Florida sunshine, spending some time on the water and finding the perfect spot to celebrate the sunset. But those in the know will want to meet one of the ocean’s most popular ambassadors, the dolphin. The...

Discover Miami's Wynwood Arts District

Discover Miami's Wynwood Arts District
For the art-obsessed, the annual Art Basel has put Miami on the international map for visual arts, but for those seeking the up and coming contemporary artists, take the streets of the Wynwood Arts District and be prepared for a unbelievable discovery of hundreds of murals and graffiti....

Snorkeling the coral reefs of Providenciales

Snorkeling the coral reefs of Providenciales
The Caribbean islands of Turks & Caicos are the perfect antidote for the 24-7 lifestyle. These isles immediately force a slower pace, encouraging any visitor to take time to get into the local rhythm. I was immediately encouraged to take time at Grace Bay , discovering the super soft white...

The three must-see houses of Palm Springs

The three must-see houses of Palm Springs
Exploring the Coachella Valley’s famous city of Palm Springs , I can imagine myself cruising from Los Angeles along Highway 60 to the desert oasis in a vintage 1960s convertible. I’d pull up in front of my mid-century house, it would be cocktail hour and we’d toast the...

Recent Activity & Recommendations