Visual History 02 – The Catholic Insurgency


The civil rights movement began in the mid-1960s. The civil rights movement was protesting the oppression and discrimination experienced by Catholics in Northern Ireland.

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 previously-existing “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”.

Internment without trial was introduced in 1971. 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, 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  …

Despite all of this cultural, political, and 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 clear that the Act was primarily directed at Catholics.

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?


Frequent Imagery:
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 – The Penal Laws and the Great Hunger/Famine – 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.

In the wake of the rioting in Derry in August (The Battle Of The Bogside) and October 1968, UUP leader and NI prime minister Terence O’Neill introduced a five-point reform plan which was perceived as too generous by hard-line Protestants and not enough by young Catholics, who in response formed  the People’s Democracy (PD). After a PD march from Belfast to Derry was attacked at Burntollet without police intervention in January 1969, O’Neill called a snap election, causing a split in the UUP. Ian Paisley ran against O’Neill in Bannside. O’Neill won his own seat narrowly but overall he and his supporters controlled only 26 of the 52 seats. After UVF attacks on water and electricity infrastructure in April (Balaclava Street), O’Neill resigned. This graffiti – “O’Neill must go” – is on the British Portland Cement building outside Magheramorne, possibly dating to 1969. (2008 perhaps dating to 1969 X00288 See also 1971? “God bless Paisley – Fitt never” X02530)

“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.)

(1972 M00075)

Easter Rising anniversary and Tricolour, on an otherwise bare wall, with “Provisionals for freedom” on the right. The same was painted in the Brandywell.(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.

(1973 M00024)

“Join your local IRA” and other graffiti in Shantallow, Derry.

(1974 M00028)

Bloody Sunday Memorial, erected 1974. “NICRA” stands for “Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association”.

(1974 M01541)

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”
(1975 M00004)

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”.
(1974 M00139)

The letter “P” appears in parentheses ahead of “IRA”. Also visible are a volunteer, Tricolours and Starry Ploughs, and the Easter lily.
(1975 M00009)

Cuman[n] na gCailini (youth division of Cumann na mBan) graffiti in Frederick Street, Derry.
(1978 M00051)

“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”

(1980 M00373)

“Fight for jobs, fight for socialism” in Moyard, Belfast.

(1981 M00006)

The Tricolour and the Starry Plough are used to represent the IRA and INLA, but they are also more generally symbols of Irish nationalism and of socialism. This mural features socialist leader James Connolly and is “sponsored by Trade Union Group”.(1981 M00135)

Jeff Perks’s linotype “The Training Ground” is reproduced in paint. It depicts a history of English involvement in Ireland, from Cromwell to the present day.

(1981 M00123)

The person arrested at the end of Perks’s piece is used as a segue to the Conveyor Belt: the process of interrogation by the police and Army, trial and sentencing by the Diplock (non-jury) courts, and incarceration and joining the blanket protest in the H Blocks of Long Kesh.

(1981 M00126)

At the end of the Conveyor Belt are four panels, possibly by Jack Clafferty, famous for the Troops Out Now! poster, upon which the next image is based.

(1981 M00122)

Sasanach [Sasanaigh] Amach, with the symbol of the Troops Out Movement
(1981 M00156)

The use of rubber bullets and then plastic bullets (1975) by both the RUC and the British Army would be a contentious issue. (1981 M00148) (See also Sean Downes 1985 M00285, Stephen McConomy 1989 M00631)

“Resistance” on the Falls Road was full size, with the elements (three female activists and a Tricolour) slightly overlapping. However, the chimney is unpainted and the mural uses a solid black background.(1981 M00100)

On to Visual History 03 – The Prison Protests

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

  • 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 “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 St (Jarman 1995 p. 330)
  • Early 1970s An Ardoyne mural of James Connolly (Rolston 1991, p. 73)

    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)
  • 1972 “Easter 1916-72” Howard St, Derry (see above)
  • 1972 “Easter 1916-72” Lecky Rd, Derry
  • 1972 “Internment out”
  • 1972 “Army Keep Out – Keep your children indoors, British marauders on the loose!” Stanley’s Walk, Derry (see above)
  • 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 (see above)
  • 1973 Conrad Atkinson has an image of crossed Tricolours and Easter lily.
  • 1973 Loftus 1982 p. 121 mentions crossed Tricolour and Starry Plough with the word “Ireland” in the Brandywell
  • 1973 Le Garsmeur “A Nation Once Again“, featuring the Sunburst and Starry Plough flags, an Easter lily, and “IRA”.
  • 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)
  • 1975 “Easter 1916-75 (P)IRA” (see above)
  • 1975 “PIRA Provos” and “Easter 1975” Westland St, Derry (see above)
  • c. 1974 Conrad Atkinson “SS RUC Out” in Upper Meadow St.
  • c. 1975 Conrad Atkinson image of “IRA 75”
  • c. 1975 Conrad Atkinson “Easter 75”
  • c. 1975 Conrad Atkinson Easter 1916-1975
  • c. 1975 Conrad Atkinson “British” pig
  • 1976 “Murdered by paratroopers” Rossville St, Derry (see above)
  • c. 1978 Conrad Atkinson “Free Derry” and “Join the IRA”
  • c. 1978 Conrad Atkinson “Go home” pig
  • c. 1978 Conrad Atkinson “Dad’s Army”
  • late 1970s “Easter 1916” with volunteer standing at ease, Westland St, Derry (see above)
  • 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)
  • 1981 “Let us rise” James Connolly, Beechmount Ave, Belfast (see above)
  • 1981 The Training Ground, Beechmount Ave, Belfast (see above)
  • 1981 ‘The Conveyor Belt’, Beechmount Ave, Belfast (see above)
  • 1981 Four panels of British oppression, Beechmount Ave, Belfast (see above)
  • 1981 “Resistance” Falls Road, Belfast (see above)
  • 1981 “Civil Order, Plastic Death” Linden St, Belfast (see above)
  • 1981 Sasanach [Sasanaigh] Amach, Belfast (see above)

On to Visual History 03 – The Prison Protests


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