State Art vs Graffiti On The West Belfast “Peace” Line

This page discusses the attempt to put state-sponsored art on one of the sites most heavily trafficked by tourists, the Cupar Way section of the so-called “peace” line separating PUL and CNR west Belfast (roughly, the Shankill and the Falls).

The attempt to put state-sponsored community art on the Cupar Way wall seems to have stalled, overcome not by sectarian murals but (ironically) by the signatures and messages of “peace, love, and understanding” from well-meaning tourists, along with wild-style writing. In what follows, we present a brief history of the peace line and in particular of the Cupar Way section and its “art”.

History Of The “Peace” Line

The rioting in the summer of 1969 (which is usually taken to mark the beginning of the modern Troubles in Belfast) also involved barriers erected by local people using whatever materials – including vehicles – that were to hand. In this image, an over-turned lorry is used to block the CNR end of Northumberland Street in 1969)

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(Unattributed X09257)

(Here is a good AP image of a makeshift barrier on Cupar Street (part of which will later be incorporated into Cupar Way), in 1969.)

The British Army was deployed to separate the warring factions and this included taking down the locally-erected barricades and replacing them with a barbed wire “peace line” running (then, as now) from the city centre to the Springfield Road. As can be seen in the map below, much of the area was taken up by mills and other industry (and schools) which served as ready-made barriers. The main thoroughfares in need of attention were Coates Street between Hastings Street and Townsend Street (the small gap between non residential areas on the far right), Beverley Street where Percy Street and Dover Street descended onto Divis Street (on the middle right, above the bend in the road) and Clonard where a number of streets descended onto Cupar Street (middle left; Bombay Street is roughly where the word “Cupar” is printed).

Boal 1969 Territoriality Fig 2
(Fig. 2 of Fred Boal’s 1969 article “Territoriality On The Shankill-Falls Divide, Belfast” in Irish Geography 6 [reprinted 2008 41.3])

Initially, the barricade was a series of 5 ft high barbed wire fences, blocking off the streets running north-south that connected Clonard/Falls/Divis with Shankill/Peter’s Hill. Here is Cupar Street (now part of Cupar Way) in 1969 as British Army soldiers prepare to erect wire barricades on trestles being transported in the backs of lorries.

1969 Cupar St peace line
(From the Irish Independent 1969-09-12)

Metal fence-posts were also erected and barbed wire strung between them, and in some places the Army used 10 ft high corrugated iron sheeting. This was not only stronger but blocked the view of snipers who might fire upon soldiers (Peacewall Archive’s Timeline citing The [London] Times of 1969-09-11).

(For discussion and images of the first British Army barricades, see Treason Felony and the documentary ‘The Army In Ulster‘.)

At the time, the barricades were supposed to be temporary; on the 9th of September, a government committee authorising the peace line added that “there should be no question of the peace line becoming permanent” (CAIN) and on the next day Lieutenant–General Sir Ian Freeland said “We will not have a Berlin Wall or anything like that in this city” (Guardian).

Beginning in 1976, many of the houses on the PUL side of Cupar Street and the lower Shankill were rehabilitated. The question arose as to what to do about the derelict houses that formed part of the “peace” line which were an eyesore and also becoming so dilapidated that they risked collapse. “In 1980, the peace line at Cupar Street was a few hundred yards long and made up of bricked up rowhouses and section of corrugated iron. The iron portions were 20 feet high, topped with barbed wire … in one stretch of rowhouses every roof had caved in” (Conroy 1987 p. 110).

This image, from 1981, shows newly constructed housing in (PUL) Carlow Street, while the bricked-up houses in Beverley Street (along with the industrial yard of Andrews Feeds/Flour) act as a divider between CNR Divis (the spires of St Peter’s are visible to the left) and PUL lower Shankill. (The wall that would replace the bricked-up houses can be seen below in the ‘UDA C Coy’ mural.)

(Klaus Fröhlich 1981_0201, used by permission)

Various proposals were put forward for Cupar Street: knock down the houses and leave a green space; widen Cupar Street and turn it into a major thoroughfare without many intersecting streets; build a wall. A wall 6 feet tall was originally proposed but “the police, estimating the range of the local stone throwers, asked for something closer to 20 feet” (Conroy 1980).

In 1984, the buildings came down and the wall went up, made of concrete slabs rather than the proposed brick but the wall and its sheet-metal extension reached the previously proposed height of 20 feet (Conroy 1987 p. 206).


The following image overlays a modern map of the area onto an old one. Cupar Way comprises (i) a new section of road from Lanark Way to the bottom of Lawnbrook – out of picture to the left; (ii) part of the old Cupar Street; (iii) a section linking the old Cupar Street with the old First Street (here where the words “Cupar Way” appear); and (iv) the old First Street, which runs into North Howard Street just out of picture to the right. The western and eastern ends of the old Cupar Street remained on the CNR side of the “peace” line and are now called “Cupar Street” and “Cupar Street Lower”.

Screenshot 2021-07-22 at 17.51.52
(Image made possible by the PRONI Historical Maps Viewer)

And in its entirety, the west Belfast “peace” line would eventually run from the Upper Springfield Road (on the far left of the image below) to Townsend Street (on the right, next to the motorway) – about a mile and a quarter/2 kilometres. In many places, the line is the exterior wall of industrial yards, with barbed wire on top. Near residential areas, however, more substantial barriers are required. Most famous is the Cupar Way portion of the line (which is in the middle of the image below) as it is a long, tall, unbroken wall with the sole purpose of separating the two communities and protecting the CNR houses in Bombay Street, St Gall’s Avenue, and Conway Place.

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(Screenshot from the Murals Map.)


A 1986 image by Martin Nangle from Divided Cities: Belfast, Berlin, Jerusalem, Nicosia shows the Cupar Way section of the wall overlooking the old St Gall’s primary, made of concrete topped with metal. (For more images from the late 80s and early 90s, see also Frankie Quinn’s 1994 book Interface Images.)

A 2000 image at CAIN likewise shows the wall as concrete topped with metal.

At various points in time various part of the Cupar Way wall were extended upward even further. At present (2021), the Cupar Way barrier is the same height along its entire length, with fencing on top of the corrugated metal (or, as can be seen in this image, in some places the third “storey” is additional metal) – in all, the “wall” is 14 metres/46 feet tall (IFI).


(Unattributed X09258)

Art On The Wall

The west Belfast “peace” line and in particular the tall concrete and metal wall on Cupar Way, was and is a stark reminder of the Troubles and of the imperfect peace that has prevailed since the Agreement in 1998. As Conroy puts it, with the 1984 barrier, “the notion of the peaceline as a temporary structure vanished” (1987 p. 206). And there is likewise no mistaking the wall as the wall of a house or industrial yard; this wall’s sole purpose is to separate one community from another, it bespeaks the opposite of its euphemistic name: if the wall is standing the two communities are not at peace.

As such, however, the wall has drawn the attention of visitors who come to see and feel the division. The image just above shows the concrete part of the wall muddied by graffiti and tourists’ signatures (see e.g. these images from 2000 | 2005?) but – for the first 25 years – no art.

(Or, not much: there were a few religious pieces on the wall, as this 2004 image shows; a third, between them, would be added by 2008)

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There was also a series of ‘life on the Shankill’ boards (dating back to at least 2001) – see e.g. J0971 and this Frankie Quinn image of one of those boards being defaced with a signature.)

In 2009 both the state and the graffitists took to the wall in earnest.

For the graffitists, the expressed motivation was that the concrete part of the barrier presented a tempting campus. In this ILG article, writer RASK describes negotiations with the Shankill ex-prisoners group EPIC (led by Plum Smith, with writer Driser as a local liaison) to get access to the “peace” line going back as far as 2004; the initial project they agreed upon was to replace a Johnny Adair-era C company mural on Beverley Street with a group piece of writing on the theme of ‘Hidden Treasure’. He then got permission to move to the main wall, on Cupar Way, and in April 2009 put together a festival involving 18 (individual) writers. (The ILG article includes, after the text, images of the pieces produced from left/east to right/left.)

Another festival was organised in August 2009, again with the imprimatur of Plum Smith and the ex-prisoners but this time directed by Manuel Gerullis (BelTel) as one of his Meeting Of Styles events. The August pieces ended where the April pieces had begun, meaning that a huge expanse of the Cupar Way part of the “peace” line was now covered in graffiti writing.

(The ILG images from April and small versions of the August images from Philip Ray’s Flickr page are included in this folder, which contains an early history (prior to Google Street View) of the art on Cupar Way; the initial numbers are of the concrete panels, from 001 to 233, from east to west.)

The motivation for the state bodies, on the other hand, was the desire to tone down the air of division between the two communities, with a view to the wall itself eventually being removed. The most visible target of the re-imaging programme – as described in Visual History 10 – was the PUL paramilitary murals throughout Belfast but the “peace” line didn’t have any art (to speak of) on it. So why put art on the line? The Cupar Way section of the wall was perhaps the ultimate symbol of the divided communities, both in the minds of the communities who lived next to it and of the tourists who came to visit it. Its job was to separate, it did nothing but separate, and it had been doing that job for a quarter century. As a physical and psychological separator it was more potent than any political mural in a CNR or PUL neighbourhood and as such it reinforced to the local communities that the people on the other side could not be trusted and indicated to tourists that the two sides were enemies. The aim of the artwork would thus be to show the communities and the broader world that the locals were more than just antagonists – but, to be clear, the art would not show that the people on the other side were ordinary, multi-faceted, humans with lives to lead, rather that the people on this side (and indeed, just the PUL side) were people with a history and culture. In other words, like the re-imaging of PUL paramilitary murals, the art on the “peace” line shows the PUL community a vision of itself that is different from the one defined by separation from the CNR community.

In 2009, the Re-Imaging Communities programme, working with the Greater Shankill Partnership, mounted three large pieces on the PUL side of wall (On The Shankill | Your Neighbour | Only A Fool Would Fight) and three more in later 2009 and 2010 (Hewitt In The Frame | Changing FacesThe Face). Five of these six pieces are firmly in the “community art” category described at the top of this page: On The Shankill, Your Neighbour, Hewitt In The Frame, and Changing Faces describe life on the Shankill past and present, while The Face is concerned with industry. Only A Fool Would Fight concerns the Ulster Volunteers and WWI. One of the pieces – Hewitt In The Frame – was placed on top of some of the April writing.

(Also in 2009, a board for International Peace Day appeared on Northumberland Street between the two sets of gates, and c. 2010 the spray-paint cartoon kids (themselves a re-imaging of the original red and white stripes) on the Lanark Way gates were repainted with “inspirational” slogans: Today’s Riots Are Tomorrow’s History, There Was Never A Good War Or A Bad Peace, The More We Sweat In Peace The Less We Bleed In War, The Best Way To Destroy An Enemy Is To Make Them Your Friend.)

The state-sponsored pieces were mounted on wooden frames so that they could be removed if the wall itself were demolished, suggesting both optimism about the wall and that the artworks were intended to outlive the wall but – despite signs asking people to “Please respect artwork” – they (like the writing) were subject to tags and ordinary graffiti and the longstanding practice of visitors signing the wall in black marker (and perhaps adding a patronising message). The presence of art – whether wild-style writing or community art – did nothing to deter this practice and presumably increased the number of visitors to the wall (estimates suggest 500,000 people per annum).

The black marker on the art makes all of it disposable and temporary, whatever the pretensions of its creators might have been.

For the wild-style writing this is not a problem: writing never lasts long. The 2010 Meeting Of Styles (third and final Belfast MOS) – again held with the imprimatur of EPIC – painted over the initial pieces from the August festival and for the first time some of the work covered the full height of the concrete. One of these was the well-known “Peace By Piece” work by Stylo and Mear of south London’s Vopstars krew (Solo1), and part of it was quickly written over by local artist NOTA, as well as regular graffiti. And since then sprayers have come from Belfast and beyond come to the wall knowing their work will soon be covered by other writers and by signatures. (Belfast itself has many graffiti writers and they are unafraid to write over any other writing or street art. See, for example, A Short Treatise On The Ephemerality Of Art and The Short-Timers.

For the community art, however, there has been no repair or replacement. Instead, the six pieces soldier on, some more egregiously defaced than others but none of them unscathed. There has not been a state-sponsored work on the wall since 2013.

The state-sponsored art seems to have lost the competition to represent the post-Agreement attitude to the wall.

It is possible that the state agencies are content with this outcome and to let their works disappear into the wall under a swarm of graffiti: the message is alike – the longing for peace, the removal of the wall. There is always talk of “shared space” accompanying these projects, meaning shared by both CNR and PUL, but perhaps having tourists and writers inhabit the space is close enough for now.


The following images from the west Belfast “peace” line are presented sequentially, from east (Townsend Street) to west (Springfield Road). Some are from later than 2009-2010.

Townsend Street

“Irish forget the past” from a Continental visitor calling themselves “Banksy” (in 2013) prompts the reply (in 2018) “Da war is not over yet”. This is the furthest east portion of the wall, next to the motorway, in Townsend Street.


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A 2012 mural celebrating Mickey Marley’s roundabout is painted next to the Townsend Street gates.

X00781 2012-12-14 MMarleyMidV+(X00781)

Beverley St

The UDA C Company on Beverley St, replaced in 2004 by ‘Hidden Treasure’ graffiti art.

In 2021, the portraits painted (by emic, a street artist) for an exhibition in the Shankill graveyard commemorating local men who died as British soldiers in WWI were moved onto Beverley St, overlapping some of the Hidden Treasure graffiti art. This move contradicts/updates the claim that there has been no state-sponsored art on the “peace” line since 2013. Like Banquet in 2012 (see below), these portraits were moved from a more prominent location in PUL west Belfast to the “peace” line. We shall have to see if they meet the same fate as Banquet – this part of the “peace” line is not visited as much as Cupar Way and there have not been tourists’ signatures on Beverley Street; however, the portraits are painted on fairly rough boards that are already starting to deteriorate and might not last long anyway.

Northumberland St

(Northumberland St has its own Visual History page.)

The “peace” line dips down into Northumberland Street as the security gates – two pairs of them, 3.5m-high – are a little way down from Beverley St. This area has typically been a neutral one with the state and non-aligned entities putting up pieces.

Amnesty International painted two pieces, one on each side of the gates; this (below) is from the upper/PUL side, at the corner of Beverley St and Northumberland Rd; it was painted by a cross-community trio of muralists.

This 2009 piece of street art by Blaze FX (a duo that specialises in working with schools and community groups to produce community art, as well as commercial art) is on Northumberland Street, just above the gates.

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(M05710)

Both sets of gates were themselves painted in 2017. Here are the upper gates from the Shankill side; again the theme is non-aligned: Ambassadors For Peace. (A4P were also behind the inspirational slogans on the Lanark Way gates – see below.)

The “no man’s land” between the two sets of gates on Northumberland Street has been strictly the site of non-aligned or cross-community art. This large ‘Imagine’ peace-day piece was erected in 2011, (replacing a much smaller such piece for 2009’s Peace Day – see C02020) with photos from both communities on their respective sides – PUL Shankill to the left, CNR Falls to the right.

New Life City Church is an Elim Pentecostal church, founded in 1993, that sits just above the upper gates. “CRF” is “Catholic Reaction Force” an infrequently-used name for break-away groups of armed republicans.

(X04125)

Cupar Way (old First St)

This is the “new” (2010) New Life mural, painted at the North Howard St gates after the original on the Cupar Way portion of the wall was painted over.

D01937 Belfast bangor trip Magda Jude Kathy (10)+
(D01937 Used by permission)

Part of the first state-sponsored piece on the Cupar Way barrier, in 2009, celebrating “11th night” (when bonfires are set alight) and the abundant fast-food shops.

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Rita Duffy’s Banquet was moved from the Shankill Road to the “peace” line in 2012 and installed on top of some writing.

Here is a close-up of some tourists’ signatures on the piece.

(2021 X08475)

Two installations of state-sponsored art from 2013. On the left, four metal-works celebrating industry; on the right, two boards encouraging restorative justice.

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(For close-ups see X01300 | X01288 | X01289 | X01286 | X01283 | X01284)

Cupar Way (section bridging old First Street with old Cupar Street)

A 2010 piece on Cupar Way, painted on top of some of the 2009 writing, that was widely photographed.

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“Fuck You & Your Patronising Slogans”. In this image above alone you can read “Build legacies, not walls”; “It is easier to take a life than protect a life – decide you for peace!”; “A wish for peace, a hope for understanding, a belief in love”; “Don’t let the darkness consume you”; “Love lives longer than hate”.

(2015 X03202)

Cupar Way (old Cupar Street)

Here (below) is half of one of the re-imaging pieces from a 2010 youth project ‘Changing Faces’ on Cupar Way. Part of the text reads  “Murals have been something that has been prevalent in the community for many years. Times change, opinions soften and people can begin to build a changing face.” Thus on the left-hand ‘house’ the piece features a gallery murals and on the right-hand house, (shown below) two of the panels feature art from Cupar Way: the blonde-haired head on the left (above the two soccer players) is from one of the August 2009 ‘Meeting Of Styles’ pieces – see image ’15 mid’ from Philip Ray’s collection; and “It’s All Good” on the right is a piece by Dublin artist Maser on the north side of the street (see All Good and It’s All Bad!). In other words, the ‘Changing Faces’ piece is a state-sponsored piece about (in part) replacing the political murals, which has been placed over the wild-style writing of Cupar Way. But, as described above, the state-sponsored art on Cupar Way has succumbed to the graffiti art (and the political murals – for better or worse – live on in other sites).

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(2011 dating to 2010 M06495)

This page focuses on the PUL side of the Cupar Way “peace” line because that is the side that is accessible to foot and motor traffic. On most of the CNR side, houses back up to the wall. Here are two images, first a shot of the houses in Bombay Street, with cages over the second-storey windows to protect from stones and other missiles, and second the wall at Waterville St/St Gall’s Ave.

“Please Respect Artwork” beside Kevin Killen’s (untouched! though somewhat worn) The Face. In 2019, the piece proved tempting to thieves who stole it from a works yard off Lanark Way, perhaps thinking it might be valuable for its metal; it was found abandoned near the Sliabh Dubh car park (Belfast Live | Jersey Evening Post).)

(2018 dating to X04770)

The UVF’s Plum Smith is mentioned in the main text, above, as a leader in the EPIC (ex-prisoners) group that helped put graffiti art on the “peace” line. He died in June, 2016.

“Only a fool would fight” by local artists John Johnston and Dee Craig – one of the original state-sponsored pieces – at the top end of the Cupar Way section of the wall.

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(2011 dating to 2009 M06505)

Lanark Way/Springfield Rd

Both gates in Lanark Way were given inspirational slogans in 2010, and on both sides. This is the south side of the gate on the south-bound side of the road. “The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.”

(2011 X00530)

The security gates at Workman Avenue were toned down in 2015 with the installation of new, see-through, gates. For comparison, see Google Street View’s 2014 image of the location.

Visual History 11 includes street art as distinct from writing.

This material copyright © Extramural Activity 2020-2021. Copyright to images is held by their respective photographers.