The civil rights movement began in the mid-1960s. The civil rights movement protested the oppression and discrimination experienced by Catholics in Northern Ireland. At the formation of Northern Ireland in 1921, only one third of the population was Catholic and the new parliament in its capital city, Belfast, (“a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”, according to first prime minister James Craig) declared for itself “Special Powers” (1922) to control the minority element, including the power to ban marches, literature, and organisations, to prohibit the flying of the (Irish) Tricolour (updated in the Flags And Emblems Act of 1954), to impose curfews, and to intern indefinitely, all enforced by the UK’s only armed police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and reservists (B Specials). In the 1960s, the RUC was only 12% Catholic and the Specials were entirely Protestant. Housing allocation in Northern Ireland was not means tested but in the hands of local councils, which due to the Protestant majority and gerrymandering, were controlled by Unionists. Since only householders could vote in local elections, councillors had great incentive to discriminate in favour of Protestants when it came to housing. The same dynamic held for government jobs and general unemployment was three times as high for Catholic men as for Protestant – 17.3% to 6.6% in 1971 (WP).
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was officially formed in April 1967, inspired by the protests by African-Americans in the United States which led to the Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act (1965) and Fair Housing Act (1968) and buoyed by Catholic students who had benefitted from free university education, one of the social programmes introduced by the Labour government during the period of post-World War II affluence.
In August 1968, the civil rights movement had begun conducting marches, and in October 1968 and January 1969 marches in Derry were attacked by the RUC. “You are now entering Free Derry”, on the northern gable of Lecky Street – later known as “Free Derry Corner” – was first painted in January 1969 and has existed continuously since then. The Battle Of The Bogside took place in August 1969 and on the 14th, after two days of rioting, the British Army were brought into Northern Ireland.
In response to the civil rights movement the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation, formed in 1966, fearing that the protests would reactivate the Irish Republican Army (IRA). And, in response to violence against Catholics in 1968 and 1969, the Provisional IRA split from the what then became known as the “Official” IRA. Graffiti in support of the Provisionals, as opposed to the Officials, would make that clear by adding a “P” in front of “IRA”.
The power of internment without trial was used in August 1971 in Operation Demetrius. 342 people were arrested, all of them from the CNR community. On January 31, 1972 – Bloody Sunday – 13 people at an anti-internment protest were killed by British Army Paratroopers and a 14th would later die of his injuries. A memorial was raised to the victims of Bloody Sunday in 1974.
A Northern Ireland Assembly and Council of Ireland were established in 1974, sharing power between PUL and CNR representatives, but direct British rule was reinstated after a 14-day strike orchestrated by the Ulster Workers Council and Ulster Army Council.
Special Category (political prisoner) Status was suspended in March 1976 and prisoners began the “blanket” protest in September, eventually leading to the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981. (These will be discussed in Visual History 03.)
Despite all of the 60s’ cultural, political, and (into the 70s) paramilitary activity, there is little republican muraling of any type and few loyalist murals in support of the paramilitaries prior to 1980 (that we know of, though there was certainly some graffiti). Murals describing conditions under the sectarian state generally had to wait until the hunger strike before being painted. Republicans were forbidden by law (the 1954 “Flags And Emblems” act) from displaying any flags or emblems likely to cause a disturbance. The Union flag, however, was exempted, making it clear that the Act was primarily directed at nationalists. (See the reference to ‘The Tricolour Riots’ of 1964 in M04900.)
A few pieces of republican public art from partition to the 1960s are recorded below and more again from 1969 to 1976; a few from 1976 to 1981 that do not concern the prison protests are also included on this page. The Appendix attempts a list of all republican painting (up to 1981 but not including paramilitary images from 1981).
Notice that the “murals” in this chapter and the next (Visual History 03) are single emblems or figures painted on an wall that is unpainted or has a one-colour background, rather than depicting a complete scene, as the murals of King Billy do (in Visual History 01). We call these “proto-murals”, as compared with the “classic” mural described in What Is A Mural?
The Rebellions of 1798 and 1903 and the Easter Rising of 1916 provide historical precedents for armed republican resistance. From the Rebellions come the figures of Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet (among others) and imagery of pikemen and pikes, and of the distinctive emblem – a ‘Maid Of Erin’ harp with a ‘liberty cap’ (a Phrygian cap) on a ‘liberty pole’ – used by the Society of United Irishmen.
From the Rising come the figures and words of Pearse and Connolly, as well as the imagery of the GPO, the Easter lily, the Tricolour, and the Starry Plough.
(The War Of Independence and Civil War are rarely seen.)
(Two other historical events of British oppression and maltreatment – The Penal Laws and the Great Hunger – would appear in later murals.)
A variety of pre-historic symbols is also available:
the Celtic cross (and, much less frequently, the shamrock M00236 M00310),
Celtic knotwork (but not immediately Celtic mythology and heroes such as Cú Chulainn),
the Irish language – there are a few examples of the old style of Gaelic lettering
(but not immediately Gaelic football/hurling/camogie, fleadh, and féile)
the four provinces, the harp, the island of Ireland.
“You are now entering Free Derry” was originally painted free-hand in January 1969. It was redone in August of that year in block lettering when Home Secretary James Callaghan visited the city two weeks after the Battle Of The Bogside. This is a 1972 image. (Free Derry Corner has its own Visual History page.)
Easter Rising anniversary and Tricolour with “Provisionals for freedom” on the right. The same was painted in the Brandywell. Notice that the mural here is simply an emblem (in this case the Tricolour) painted onto a bare wall.(1982 dating to 1972 M00031)
“Army Keep Out – Keep your children indoors, British marauders on the loose!”(1972 M00033)
“Support the Provisionals” with a Tricolour, in Derry’s Bogside.
“Join your local IRA” and other graffiti in Shantallow, Derry.
Bloody Sunday Memorial, erected 1974. “NICRA” stands for “Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association”.
A list of the Bloody Sunday victims with a Christian cross, below Rossville flats.
(1982 dating to 1976 M00176)
The scene outside the Bogside Inn (at the junction of Westland Street and Lecky Road, Derry): Tricolours, Starry Plough, and Sunburst flags, “PIRA Provos” and “Easter 1975”
Easter Lily and Tricolour in Stanley’s Walk, Derry. Below these are a crude depiction of a soldier or RUC man with shield and the words “resist oppression”.
The letter “P” appears in parentheses ahead of “IRA”. Also visible are a volunteer, Tricolours and Starry Ploughs, and the Easter lily.
Cumann na gCailíní (youth division of Cumann na mBan) graffiti in Frederick Street, Derry. “If you think that can beat us we’d like to tell [you] that you are wrong cause we’re the fighters and we are strong we are the 1st Batt. of the Cuman Na gCailini girls!”
“Easter 1916” with volunteer standing at ease. Westland St, Derry.
(1990 dating to late 1970s M00919)
“RUC bastards keep out” in Abercorn Street, Derry.(1980 M00372)
“Brits beware of the M60”
“Fight for jobs, fight for socialism” in Moyard, Belfast.
This chapter (and the previous) gathers together all of the references to early murals. Republican murals (and graffiti) are listed on this page. If you know of, or have images of, additional murals (and graffiti), please e-mail email@example.com. Dates should generally be understood as ‘floruit’ rather than precise dates of creation.
- 1920 Irish and USA flags “Ireland Over All” with a poem “Little Tin Of Tar”, concluding “Bun eaters lie down – Up Dublin 1916, Up Derry 1920” on the wall of Watt’s Distillery in Abbey Street, Derry (for image, see Cooper 2015 p. 35 | for the story of the mural and the poem, see witness statement by Liam Brady at BMH).
- 1953 A Robert Emmet 150th anniversary mural in Ardoyne (Loftus 1982 ill. 37 and Rolston 1991 p. 72)
- 1950s “God bless our pope” (Loftus 1982)
- 1969-01 “You are now entering free Derry” Lecky Road, Derry (see above)
- 1969 “Disarm all B-Specials” by McMonagle
- 1970 Tricolour and “Ireland unfree …” in Annadale Street, Belfast (Jarman 1995 p. 330)
- Early 1970s An Ardoyne mural of James Connolly, Fairfield Street, Belfast (Rolston 1991, p. 73 gives its location as Hopefield St)
Image from Irish Liberation Press 2.3 (1971) p. 4, retrieved from Irish Left Archive – image otherwise unattributed. Thanks to Jason McLean for the pointer.
- 1971 “Resist British bully boys” Stanley’s Walk, Derry
(unattributed image, probably Eamon Melaugh)
- 1972 “Easter 1916-72” Howard St, Derry (see above)
- 1972 “Easter 1916-72” Lecky Rd, Derry (later becomes 1916-74 and 1916-74-5 – see below, 1974)
- 1972 “Internment out” Spinner Street, Belfast (Le Garsmeur – Alamy EEB2YY)
- 1972 “Army Keep Out – Keep your children indoors, British marauders on the loose!” Stanley’s Walk, Derry (see above)
- 1972 “SAS Murderers – Cyprus, Aden, Ireland – REM 1916” Grosvenor Road, Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty)
- 1972 “Touts will be shot” and We know you so watch” lower Falls Road, Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty)
- Le Garsmeur’s collection at Alamy contains many examples of prison arts and crafts from 1972, including replica Celtic harps and crosses, the heroes of 1916, and even a few replica weapons (Thompson guns).
- 1973 “Support the Provisionals” with a Tricolour Lecky Road, Derry (see above)
- 1973 Crossed Tricolours and Easter lily, Belfast (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- 1973 Crossed Tricolour and Starry Plough with the word “Ireland” in the Brandywell, Derry (Loftus 1982 p. 121)
- 1973 “A Nation Once Again”, featuring the Sunburst and Starry Plough flags, an Easter lily, and “IRA” (Le Garsmeur – Alamy EEC7D6)
- 1974 “Join your local IRA” Drumleck Gdns, Shantallow, Derry (see above)
- 1974 “Easter 1916-74-5” with Easter Lily and Tricolour, Stanley’s Walk, Derry (see above)
- 1974 “Easter 1916” with volunteer standing at ease, Westland St, Derry (see above)
- 1975 “Easter 1916-75 (P)IRA”, Iniscarn Cr, Derry (see above)
- 1975 “PIRA Provos” and “Easter 1975” Westland St, Derry (see above)
- 1975 “REM. 98” with Tricolour, Belfast (Homer Sykes – Alamy AABH6E)
- c. 1974 “SS RUC Out” in Upper Meadow St, Belfast (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- c. 1975 “IRA 75” Lecky Road, Derry (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- c. 1975 “Easter 75” ?Lecky Road, Derry? (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- c. 1975 Easter 1916-1975 (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- c. 1975 “British” pig (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- 1976 “Murdered by paratroopers” Rossville St, Derry (see above)
- 1976 “Brits Out” with Tricolour on pike, faded “No to EEC” also Tricolour high up, Ardoyne, Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty and Getty)
- 1976 “IRA 8, British 0” Ardoyne, Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty)
- 1976 “Paras out”, “Touts will be shot dead” and “IRA” Ballyclare Street, Ardoyne, Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty)
- 1976 “Join Official IRA” Ardoyne, Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty)
- 1976 “Sectarianism kills workers” Belfast (Alex Bowie – Getty)
- c. 1978 “Free Derry” and “Join the IRA” Westland Street, Derry (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- c. 1978 “Go home” pig (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- c. 1978 “Dad’s Army” (Conrad Atkinson – Tate)
- 1980 “RUC bastards keep out” Abercorn Street, Derry (see above)
- 1980 “Brits beware of the M60” Corporation St, Derry (see above)
- 1981 “Fight for jobs, fight for socialism” Moyard, Belfast (see above)
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