After spending a week with Patrick Radden Keefe‘s powerful book Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, recounting The Troubles, I am left thinking of the horrors the Irish people in the North had to contend with during those trying times. My thoughts sent me on a mission to look for the murals that represented the suffering.
Living in a warzone is tragic, no matter where on the globe. People do their best to try and get by, to make it out alive. Art can be a reverberating gift of solace during times of strife. Asserting a silent yet resonant voice through pictures is a way for humanity to share its grief while creating something new and beautiful, even as things are falling down and dying around them. The murals that one could find on the buildings in the North during this conflict spanning thirty years – some of which are still there today – were one such outlet.
Paramilitary murals for either side of the religious and territorial divide were menacing reminders that violence could be around any corner, especially if you were caught on the wrong block.
Funerals were one of the things you could count on during The Troubles, in fact, some would say it was the only time they got to socialise with friends and family if things were too heated to venture out.
A brilliant irony amidst this powder keg of religious conflict between the warring Christian factions in Ireland was the solidarity found between the Catholic Republicans and the Palestinian followers of Islam. Palestinian flags were erected proudly in the Republican neighbourhoods to show reverence to the commonality of their struggle.
Artistic tributes meant to lionize the heroes of the cause are tangible proof and validation of the bloodshed. Political prisoners who gave their life for the freedom of Ireland, as noble or destructive as they might have been, are immortalised on these walls for the younger generations to venerate.
With the mark of a new century, Ireland is more peaceful than she’s ever been comparatively. In the North, however, troubled waters receded could return in a flash. With the UK’s Brexit from the European Union threatening to explode smoldering battlefields, and as walls and militarised checkpoints jeopardise harmony, one can only pray that the streets will remain calm.
The Greater Village Regeneration Trust introduced this commemorative painting to mark the centenary (1921-2021) whilst covering a paramilitary mural that remained. A less intrusive demarcation as a sign of the times, lest we forget how bad things were for so long.
I was inspired to make some art of my own after spending an afternoon sifting through these paintings of pain and remembrance. I am saddened to think that a simple bookmark such as this, hanging out of a child’s storybook as they trotted home from school, could have caused an uproar decades ago. I’m hopeful that the Irish lay to rest the tired sectarian battles of their past to live for the health and regeneration of her future.