Background to the Murals

Many of the most significant events in Northern Ireland’s Troubles were played out in Derry and indeed right here in the Bogside.

Throughout the Troubles the creation of sectarian murals by both the Catholic (nationalist) and Protestant (unionist) sides, particularly though not exclusively in Belfast and Derry, was seen as a key strategy in each side’s propaganda campaign. These building sized murals, often not for the faint hearted, told it as it was (from the creators perspective, of course) and added a bit – often a big bit for good measure.

Three Derry artists, brothers William and Tom Kelly and Kevin Hassin who collectively became known as the Bogside Artists got together in 1993 to create a series of commemorative and curative murals depicting key events from the Troubles since 1969.

In all 12 murals were created and like the more blatant and exaggerated sectarian murals I have referred to above, the intent was also to tell it as it was – and from the personal recollection of the artists who grew up in the Bogside and thus experienced the worst of the conflict therein. As the artists have said “This is our story”. Their story is, as one might expect, from a socialist, nationalist republican perspective and as such incomplete, but unashamedly so, as this is their story and not necessarily one that you will agree with. That is not the point.

Viewing the murals for me, who also grew up in the Troubles, though not in Derry, was not only a journey back in time and a reminder of the events and physical aspects of the day but it was also an emotional and spiritual journey through things and times one can never forget.

Memory is good and these murals are good. They record and indeed are part of Derry’s history, sadly for the most part, a traumatic history but its history nonetheless.

The murals run the entire length of Rossville Street in the Bogside and are a must see if you visit Derry. The artists, who have exhibited internationally, no longer run a gallery but will occasionally do tours of the murals. They can be contacted via their website –

Rather than just post a few pictures without comment I feel that the murals individually deserve some comment. The murals are presented chronologically based on the date of their creation as opposed to the date of the topic they depict. This also means that they are not displayed in the order you will encounter them should you take a walk along Rossville Street, as you should.

The Murals – 1- 2 (pictured above)

Both these murals relate to the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ which took place in August 1969 and was thus one of the first major confrontations in the Troubles.

The Battle started when young nationalists threw stones and nails at a traditional Apprentice Boys parade on 12 August 1969. Police intervened to stop the fierce rioting which broke out between loyalists and nationalists. While the loyalists were quickly dispersed fighting between nationalists and police continued in the Bogside for three days.

On the afternoon of the 14th of August, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Chichester-Clark, asked British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to send troops to Derry. Nationalists, in the main, welcomed the troops and the situation was quelled as troops took the place of the Royal Ulster Constabulary ( RUC – the police) which was rather despised by the local residents.

Mural 1 – The Petrol Bomber

This mural depicts a young boy in front of Rossville flats (since demolished) in an old World War II gas mask – which he is using to try and protect himself from the CS gas used by the police to disperse rioters in the August 1969 Battle of the Bogside. In his hand he holds a petrol bomb – an easily made and favourite weapon of rioters throughout the Troubles. The mural was based on a photograph (as many of the murals are) taken by Clive Limpkin and was painted in 1994.

Mural 2 – Bernadette

This 1996 mural, essentially a tribute to the role played by women in the civil rights struggle, depicts a young civil rights activist, Bernadette McAliskey (Devlin at the time) addressing rioters in the Battle of the Bogside. She later received a prison sentence for taking part in, and inciting, a riot.

An interesting and perhaps less obvious depiction in this mural is the young woman with a bin lid. The act of banging of a metal bin lid on the ground was typically used by women and children in Catholic areas throughout Northern Ireland to alert people of an impending raid by the British Army.

Readers of my separate review on the Free Derry Wall will immediately recognise the famous gable wall in the background which gives the mural a sense of location.

Murals 3 and 4 (above)

Both these murals relate to Bloody Sunday – 30 January 1972 – when 13 civil rights protesters were killed by British Paratroppers in the Bogside. A 14th protester died a few months later from injuries sustained on Bloody Sunday. In my review on the Bloody Sunday Memorial I have provided extensive background on Bloody Sunday so will not repeat that information here.

Mural 3 – Bloody Sunday

This mural was completed in 1997 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972.

This mural, based on countless photo’s and television footage, depicts the demise of Jackie Duddy the first of the 14 protesters to die on Bloody Sunday. Fr Edward Daly, later Bishop Daly, is present waving a white handkerchief thus seeking safe passage from the scene for the body of Duddy while a soldier stands on the bloodied Civil Rights banner – symbolic to activists of the Authorities position on civil rights. This scene (on television), perhaps more than any other, drew the world’s attention to what was going on in Northern Ireland on that fateful day.

Mural 4 – Bloody Sunday Monument
This 1997 mural, commissioned by the Bloody Sunday Campaign for Justice committee, contains the portraits of the 14 people who were killed by the British Army on Bloody Sunday. Portraits of the youngest victims are in the centre of the circle.

Encircling the portraits are 14 oak leaves with each leaf representing a victim. Derry takes its name from the Irish word Doire meaning oak-grove.

The blood of the victims is represented in the background colour – which is not blood red, which would have detracted from the portraits, but rather a more mellow or sadder red, appropriate to the occasion.


Mural 5 – Death of Innocence

This 1999 mural depicts 14-year old Annette McGavigan allegedly caught in cross-fire between IRA and British Army on 7 September 1971. She was the 100th victim of the ‘Troubles’.

This is a particularly important mural as it faces directly onto the city walls and can be clearly seen should you walk along the walls. It had been originally intended to use this wall for an Operation Motorman picture (see mural 7 below) but it was decided that something more supportive of the peace process that was then in a delicate state would be more appropriate.

The young innocent girl is depicted in front of a bombed out building with the silhouette of an, albeit downward pointing, gun and a butterfly on the left. A crucifix can be seen in the top right hand corner.

Interestingly, when the mural was originally painted in 1999 the gun was grey and in one piece and the butterfly was totally grey and lacking in any detail. The artists said that to have added colour and detail to the butterfly would have suggested peace and wisdom neither of which prevailed in 1999. In 2006 the artists returned and the gun was broken in two and painted red while colour and detail depicting peace and wisdom were added to the butterfly. Innocence, in the form of Annette, remains standing out boldly in front of the drabness of the bombed out building behind it.


Mural 6 – Hunger Strike

This 2000 mural, while symbolic of the both the 1980 and 1981 republican prisoner hunger strikes in HM Prison Maze just outside Belfast, actually depicts a scene from the 1980 hunger strike as that one involved a local Bogside inmate Raymond McCartney. McCartney is the main subject in the mural.

I have provided detail on both hunger strikes in my review of the Hunger Strike Memorial so will not repeat that detail here. Suffice to say here that republican prisoners began a campaign in 1976 to be recognised as political prisoners as opposed to common criminals. Following the failure of a “blanket protest” and a “dirty protest” two hunger strikes were carried out. The first in 1981 lasted 53 days with no deaths. The second, in 1981, lasted over 200 days and 10 prisoners died before it was called off.

Three women from Armagh Prision joined the first hunger strike, hence the inclusion of a woman in this mural.

86Mural 7 – Operation Motorman

As I have indicated on my Free Derry Wall review, in 1969 Bogside residents and paramilitaries built barricades to seal-off and protect their neighbourhoods from incursions by “the other side” and/or the British security forces. For the next three years the self declared autonomous nationalist area of “Free Derry” encompassing the Bogside and Creggan areas became an intermittent “no-go” area for British authorities.

This “no-go” area and similar ones in Belfast became somewhat of a worry to the authorities who surmised that they were being used to harbour criminals and launch attacks from.

On 21 July 1972, in the space of 75 minutes, the IRA detonated 22 bombs in Belfast in which 9 people were killed and 130 were injured, in addition to the major property damage sustained. This attack was the final straw and prompted the British Government to implement Operation Motorman to rid the province of no-go areas once and for all.

Operation Motorman, Britain’s biggest military operation since the 1956 Suez crisis and involving some 28,000 military personnel and a raft of equipment including bulldozers, commenced at 4am on 30 July, 1972 and finished by the end of the day with the removal of no-go areas across the country.

In Derry two people, a civilian and an unarmed IRA member were killed in the operation.

This 2001 mural depicts a soldier smashing his way into a Bogside home and is thus symbolic of the events that occurred during Operation Motorman on 31 July 1972.

87Mural 8 – Saturday Matinee

This 2001 Mural (in need of a touch up!) depicts a typical Bogside riot scene from the late 1960s or 1970s. It is the archetypical David v Goliath situation with authority represented by the armoured tank while the poor defenceless resident stands on the middle of the street, stone in hand, and protected only by a flimsy wire screen. Readers familiar with the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 may be able to draw a parallel between this mural and the famous images of the protester in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square.

Why is this mural entitled – Saturday Matinee? Simple really – on Saturday afternoons youths that worked had the day off and kids were not in school. What do bored kids and youths do? Naturally, they go out and riot – stone a tank or throw bricks and rocks at a British soldier – your typical Saturday afternoon entertainment in the Bogside of the 1970s, hence the title. I have seen it written but doubt its authenticity that “At precisely 6:00pm, the rioters and soldiers would break for tea. At 7:00pm sharp, the battle would continue”.

88Mural 9 – The Civil Rights Mural

This 2004 mural commemorates the beginning of Derry’s struggle for democratic rights – a struggle that certainly started out seeking rights for both Protestants and Catholics and one inspired by the civil disobedience campaigns of Martin Luther King.

What may have started out in the early 1960s as peaceful and indeed jovial demonstrations were far from this by the end of the 1960s.

89Mural 10 – The Peace Mural

This colourful 2004 addition to the mural landscape moved away from the traditional real life pictorial murals generally found in Northern Ireland. Here is depicted a symbolic representation of the dove of peace (also the symbol of Derry’s patron, Saint Columba). Look carefully and you will see the oakleaf – which is also depicted on the Bloody Sunday Remembrance mural and is, as I have mentioned elsewhere, the symbol of Derry whose Irish name Doire means Oakgrove. Note how the dove is flying from the sad and depressing blue of the past toward the bright yellow of a peaceful future.

Such was the optimism in 2004.

90Mural 11 – The Runner

This 2006 mural again depicts a common sight from the Troubles, that of youths fleeing the scene to avoid the impact of CS gas which was used extensively in Northern Ireland at the time to quell riot situations.

Artist William Kelly noted that the mural was painted with the intent of being “a cautionary reminder to the young of the dangers inherent in civil conflict”. To emphasise this point the artist has included, as an insert, the images of Manus Deery and Charles Love, two young boys (15 and 16) who both lost their lives in the Troubles. Deery was killed when hit by the fragments of a ricochet bullet fired by a British Army sniper while Lowe was equally inadvertently killed when the IRA exploded a bomb on the city walls.

91Mural 12 – A Tribute to John Hume

The 12th and final mural on display was created in 2008 as a tribute to John Hume and depicts John Hume, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa, all four recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

John Hume in his political life was a founding member of the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party – a party which he then went on to lead from 1979 to 2001. His more moderate stance was ridiculed by both sides of politics for much of his career – clearly for diametrically opposed reasons. In 1998 he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble who was leader of the more moderate Unionist party at the time. The award was for their contribution to peace in Northern Ireland.

Bogside artist Tom Kelly referred to John Hume thus:
“In art as in life, there are the contenders and the pretenders. John Hume is a contender. There is genuine achievement and mere celebrity. John Hume belongs to the former and his legacy will live long after him.”

The other three persons were all major influences on John Hume as he outlined at the mural’s opening:

King was Hume’s greatest influence as he battled for the rights of oppressed Catholics within Northern Ireland, Mother Teresa was educated in Dublin and involved herself in the northern peace process and Nelson Mandela’s fight for justice in South Africa ran parallel to Hume’s crusade in Northern Ireland.

I trust you have borne with me and enjoyed this tour of the Bogside Murals.

Address: Rossville Street, Bogside

This entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Londonderry/Derry. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Hunger Strike Memorial – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The City on the Foyle.

2 thoughts on “The People’s Gallery

  1. One of the best blog entries I have read from you or anyone – so much interesting detail and carefully presented. Although I lived in England rather than N Ireland, I too grew up to the background of the Troubles, as the main news story for much of the time. I remember the Hunger Strikes, Bernadette Devlin, Bloody Sunday – you are bringing it all back for me


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