24 Belfast Murals You Need to See

Irish Nationalism Mural | © Iker Merodio / Flickr
Irish Nationalism Mural | © Iker Merodio / Flickr
Throughout the 20th century, Northern Ireland has had a complicated political history. While the region is vibrant and peaceful today, just over 40 years ago, Belfast was a city in civil war. To learn more about this period of history, wander the streets to take in the sights of colourful murals depicting this time.

With unrest between Nationalist and Unionist citizens over the partition of Northern Ireland, which named the Republic of Ireland an independent state in 1921, with Northern Ireland under British control, violence erupted between some citizens who wanted to reunite with Ireland and citizens who preferred to remain under Britain. This violence continued until the 1980s. During the conflict, paramilitary groups, both Republicans (Nationalist) and Loyalists (Unionist), emerged, spreading violence across Northern Ireland, with almost 2,000 murals erected depicting these conflicts. Here is a look at some of the best murals in Belfast that illustrate this complicated history, and culture in this city.

Nationalist and Republican

Irish Language Mural

The painting below is a Nationalist mural supporting Irish language teachings, inscribed with the title of the famous song ‘Labhair an teanga Gaeilge liom’ (meaning ‘Speak the Irish Language’).

Mural © Iker Merodio/ Flickr

Irish Nationalism Mural

A tribute that reads: ‘This mural is dedicated to the memory of those local Republican activists who devoted their lives to the cause of Irish freedom.’ The portraits of Hunger Strikers create a border around an American and Irish flag, with lilies used to symbolise the 1916 Rising in Dublin.

Irish Nationalism Mural © Iker Merodio / Flickr

Gaelic Football Mural

The mural depicts the culture of Irish-born sports along with Liam McCarthy, the London-born member of the Irish Volunteers who persuaded men to avoid conscription of the British Army during WWI.

Gaelic Football Mural, West Belfast © Ian McWilliams/ Flickr

Irish Window Mural

The mural on the Falls Road shows Ireland symbolised in an idyllic landscape escaping through the cracks of Northern Ireland.

Republican Mural, Falls Road © Dan Merino / Flickr

Pop-Art Mural

This colourful mural depicts all the Hunger Strikers of the 1980s, including a larger image of Hunger Striker Kieran Doherty, who died in 1981.

Republican Mural © Dan Merino/ Flickr

Tribute to Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was a member of the paramilitary group the Irish Republican Army and a member of the UK parliament. He led the 1981 hunger strike and died in Prison Maze while on strike.

Bobby Sands Mural © Criag Murphy/ Flickr

1970 Falls Curfew Mural

This mural celebrates the women of Andersonstown, who protested a 36-hour curfew imposed by British troops on the Falls Road by marching through the street and bringing food to those in the area.

Republican Mural © Amanda Slater/ Flickr

Tribute to Frederick Douglas

African-American Frederick Douglas was a leader of the abolitionist movement, travelling to Ireland thereafter to become an advocate for the Irish Nationalist movement.

Tribute to Fredrick Douglas © IrishFireside/ Flickr

Nelson Mandela Mural

This mural attempts to draw a parallel between the Nationalist cause in Northern Ireland and Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, where he served as president of the country from 1994-1999. However, in recent years, the mural is understood as a symbol of peace and stability, in the aftermath of conflict.

Tribute to Nelson Mandela © Ben Kerckx/ Pixabay

Palestinian Solidarity Mural

A mural symbolising a similarity between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the British occupation of Ireland, and the solidarity between the two peoples.

Solidarity Mural © Ben Kerckx/ Pixabay

Unionist and Loyalist

Tribute to Jack Coulter

This mural is a tribute to the loyalist and member of the Ulster Defence Association Jack Coulter, who was killed by a rival loyalist group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, in 2000.

Mural © Sam Wennerlund/ Flickr

Ulster Loyalist Tribute Mural

A tribute to all branches of loyalist communities, including the UDA and UVF, together with their coat of arms.

Unionist Mural © Sam Wennerlund/ Flickr

‘Can It Change?’ Mural

This Unionist mural depicts a family being evacuated from their home by Republican paramilitary groups, with the news report on the left. The right hand side shows an empty newspaper symbolising an unknown future for Northern Ireland.

Unionist Mural © Sam Wennerlund/ Flickr

Orange Mural

A colourful mural which illustrates the modern tradition of Unionism, from marching bands to Orange banners, which symbolise the Protestant religion, a popular religion within Unionist Northern Irish populations.

Loyalist Mural, Shankill Road © Ben/ Flickr

Loyalist Entry Mural

A mural which marks the beginning of Sandy Row, a predominantly Unionist residence area in Belfast.

Loyalist Mural © William Murphy/ Flickr

King William Tribute

King William III, colloquially known as William of Orange or ‘King Billy’ in Scotland and Northern Ireland, was a Protestant ruler. He waged wars against major Catholic rulers in the 17th century, which included the famous Bally of the Boyne in 1690, which is celebrated annually by Unionist communities.

Shankill Mural © Jennifer Boyer/ Flickr

The Red Hand of Ulster

This mural depicts the Irish myth of the ‘Red Hand of Ulster’, in which the next King of Ulster would be selected by a boat race – the first winner to place his hand on the rock would be crowned. Fearing he would lose the race, the mythical figure Labraid Lámh Dhearg cut his hand off and threw it on the rock.

Red Hand of Ulster Mural © Stuart Caie/ Flickr

Freedom Mural

Freedom 2000 shows the letter ‘H’ to represent Cell Block H of Prison Maze, which upon its closure in 2000 released several Unionist prisoners from paramilitary groups.

Tribute to Stephen McKeag

This mural caused controversy when it was revealed, showing a tribute to paramilitary member Stephen McKeag, who died in 2000.

Mural © Sam Wennerlund/ Flickr

Non-sectarian Murals

Progress Mural

A solidarity mural which shows all groups within the Northern Irish community looking toward the parliament building, Stormbound, which operates on Home Rule in Northern Ireland. The word ‘progress’ is used to symbolise a journey towards peace.

Progress Mural © Chris Brooks/ Flickr

Tribute to International Struggle

The ‘solidarity wall’ includes many modern artworks, including this recreation of Picasso’s Guernica to represent global struggle in our world.

Picasso Mural © Ben/ Flickr

Belfast Linen Workers

Linen was the pinnacle of Northern Irish trade in the mid-19th century, with many women going into the trade since youth. A tribute to their contribution to Belfast trade and the Northern Irish economy, this mural in West Belfast depicts the female workers of Ross’s Mill.

Linen Mill Workers © Reflected Serendipity/ Flickr

Tribute to RMS Titanic

This collage in East Belfast pays tribute to the RMS Titanic. Built in Belfast Harbour, it set sail in 1912 on its only voyage. The ‘Ship of Dreams’ made Belfast’s dock the major trading post that it is today, improving infrastructure and the workforce in the region now named Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

Titanic Ship Tribute © Tom Bastin/ Flickr

Tribute to George Best

In 1968, George Best was named European Footballer of the Year, on behalf of Manchester United, and remains a legend in Northern Ireland. This sporting star also has a city airport named after him and a collection of limited edition £5 notes printed with his portrait.

George Best Mural © Sam Wennerland/ Flickr