8. Murals in Contemporary Northern Ireland

By Shea Murphy

Murals have a long history in Northern Ireland of being used as a means of political vocalization and protest. Belfast and Derry city streets are lined with these artistic representations. The subject matter of these murals often centers around the sectarian divisions within these communities and they are ever changing, continually being repainted or replaced to better speak to the current moment. They are pieces of political expression and serve multiple purposes, from memorializing events or people to inciting political action.

Read more: 8. Murals in Contemporary Northern Ireland

While there is much to be said on this topic, one area of interest is the representation of women in these murals. Due to the fact that many of these Northern Ireland murals focus on paramilitary activity and groups, areas where women had significantly less involvement than men, they feature less in the artwork. This is not, however, to say they are entirely absent and the ways in which women are represented is telling of their role in recent Irish history. The image above is of a mural that appeared on Ballymurphy Road in Belfast in 2002.[1] The images along the side depict women who were killed during the Troubles, otherwise known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict, for their involvement in paramilitary activity as members of the IRA. The mural is headed by an inscription for Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the IRA, and is making a clear connection between women’s involvement and militancy. This is an uncommon occurrence, as the imagery of women wielding guns or involved in violence contradicts with ideas of women as peacemakers or beings in need of protection.[2] Such depictions of women in Northern Ireland paramilitary murals illustrate an attempt to reinsert women into a history that has long ignored them.

[1] Martin Melaugh, Cumann na mBan Mural, photograph, Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/78918694@N00/2604512110.

[2] Fidelma Ashe, “From Paramilitaries to Peacemakers: The Gender Dynamics of Community-Based Restorative

Justice in Northern Ireland,” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 11 (2009): 303.

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