Humanities: Interdisciplinary Studies in Culture (Scripps)
Arts and Humanities
The online archive Murals of Northern Ireland, held in Claremont Colleges Digital Library and covering the period from the late 1970s to the recent past, shows how the nature and function of murals in Northern Ireland have changed. In Derry and Belfast, they are the focal point of a tourist trail that has been established in the decade or so since the official end of the conflict following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Now figured as 'heritage' and commodified in various forms -- postcards, posters, books and guided taxi tours (Fig. 1) -- the murals have become a source of revenue and profit for a number of organizations: ex‑prisoners' associations, artists' collectives, local community groups, and traditional commercial projects. The impulse behind some of the tours appears to be genuinely educative; in others, crassly exploitative. One West Belfast tour, for example, exhorts its customers to 'touch the peace wall, or write your name on it, like millions of others, famous and otherwise, after all it is longer than the Berlin wall!', while another offers a 'welcome to the biggest outdoor art gallery in the world', and yet another promises to 'get into the heart of the areas that bore the brunt of the conflict' while guaranteeing 'the opportunity to take photographs and a brief stop at the souvenir shop'. While it is easy to sneer at the blatant selling of 'history' at £8 per head for an hour and a half's tour, it should be remembered that the locally based organizations provide employment and wages in some of the most economically deprived areas of Western Europe. Although this commodification is a long way from the directly war-related function of the earliest murals (Fig. 2), it is by no means the only change that deserves attention. Two others are: the attempt by the state to influence the development of murals in both republican and loyalist areas; and the shift in the nature of republican murals, particularly in Belfast, and the political difficulties that this poses for the republican movement — or at least that part of the republican movement that signed up to the peace process and is now involved in the political administration of Northern Ireland.
© 2011 Field Day Publications
Crowley, Tony. "The Art of Memory: The Murals of Northern Ireland and the Management of History." Field Day Review 7 (2011): 22-49. Print.