Visual History 08 – The Peace Process (1996-2001)


The end of the (first) ceasefire in 1996 was followed by some high-profile bombings – the bombing of the London Docklands on the day the ceasefire’s end was announced, the bombing of Manchester city centre in June, 1996 – and by a year and a half of continued wrangling over the relationship between talks and decommissioning. In the UK, Labour came to power in May 1997, with Sinn Féin taking 16% of first-preference votes in Northern Ireland. The IRA resumed its ceasefire in July and Sinn Féin were admitted to talks in October, 1997. The 1998 Belfast Agreement, more commonly known as the Good Friday Agreement after the day of its announcement, established a Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive independent of Westminster; it sputtered to life in 2000 and 2001 as the issue of decommissioning allowed, before being suspended in 2002 over allegations of IRA intelligence-gathering by Sinn Féin officials.

Despite the importance of the issues described on the previous page – disbanding the RUC, the release of political prisoners, the allegation of collusion – the issue of greatest practical concern to republicans  at this time was parading. An Orange Order march in Portadown from the (Protestant) church at Drumcree went down the (Catholic) Garvaghy Road. In July 1995, local residents had blocked the march, leading to a standoff between police and loyalists which ended with a silent procession down in the road. In 1996, the initial decision to prevent the march was reversed without consultation with residents, who were forced off the road. In 1997, the march was permitted on the grounds that it would be more dangerous to block it and residents were again hemmed into their homes. By the summer of 1998, the Parades Commission had been established and its decision to ban the march led to stand-offs in subsequent years between security forces and loyalists, but the march did not proceed. (Similar protests were happening in the lower Ormeau area of south Belfast).

Although the IRA was on ceasefire, some factions rejected the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and carried on the armed struggle. The Continuity IRA (CIRA) injured 17 in a car bomb in July 1996. The Real IRA (RIRA) killed 29 people in Omagh on August 15th, 1998. The group called a ceasefire, which lasted from October 1998 to February 2000, when a bombing campaign resumed.


“No consent, no parade”. This mural demands that Orange Order marches have the consent of local residents,  in Derry, Garvaghy [Portadown], and lower Ormeau [Belfast].

(1996 M01266 See also 1996 M01269)

“No sectarian marches” spelled out on the balcony walls of the flats in Joseph Place, Derry.

(1996 M01273 See also ‘Trimble Calls The Shots, RUC Fires’ 1996 M01262)

In this mural, the “approved Orange route” goes over Catholics. “IRA scum” has been graffitied over the supine figure. Justice – in the form of Labour’s new (May 1997) NI Secretary Mo Mowlam – washes her hands in a bowl of water offered by the “Parades Commission Chairman” absolving herself of her decision on June 20th to let the march go ahead (Independent).

(1997 M01338 See also 1997 M01339)

This image shows a mural in the style of a ‘wanted’ poster for Mowlam – “Have you seen this person? Wanted! For fraud and deception, for GBH [Grievous Bodily Harm] on Garvaghy Road.”

(1997 M01336)

Catholic Robert Hamill was beaten to death by loyalists in Portadown in 1997 while RUC officers in a land rover looked on. His story is placed in parallel with that of Stephen Lawrence, stabbed to death in 1993. A 1998 public inquiry found that the Metropolitan (London) Police Service was “institutionally racist”.
(1998 M02087; a similar board appeared in Ardoyne 2002 M01792)

Loyalist graffiti in Londonderry: “One faith, one crown – we will walk Portadown.”

(1998 M01401 See C01432 for the same slogan in Belfast.)

“A Postcard From The Edge” – the “nationalist community” in lower Ormeau (Belfast) is locked in the dark while Orange marches proceed.

(2001 dating to 1998 M01430)

“Support the people of the Garvaghy Road” on the Whiterock Road, Belfast.

(1999 M02062)

The days of the “Garvaghy Road Siege” are counted in the style of the hunger strikes (32 Days | Day 55Dessie Ellis).

(1999 M02052) (See also 2001 M01531 and 2001 M01535)

“Shankill Rd Supports Drumcree”

(2005 dating to 2000 M02471)

Part of a sign from the dispute, spelling out PUL principles of support, abandoned in Edenderry/Watson St, Portadown.D02190 edenderry (15)+

Loyalist paramilitary murals continued throughout the peace process and after the Belfast Agreement of 1998. The continued inclusion of hooded gunmen and their weapons reflects the rejection of the Belfast Agreement among a large part of the Protestant community (perhaps as much as 40%) and the fact that the IRA retained its weapons until 2001 and did not completely disarm until 2005; the situation in 2000 is reminiscent of the Covenant against Home Rule in 1912 – psychologically, loyalist paramilitaries were “ready for war” as much as they were “prepared for peace”.

(2006 dating to at least 2001, with an earlier version on a demolished house going back to 1995 M03027)

Other contributing factors are that many walls were controlled by the local loyalist paramilitaries and removal of murals might be perceived as a reduction in power; also that in various place the UDA and UVF were in competition with one another, and so the murals serve as a statement of power of this organisation (Rolston, quoted in Amoric). Rolston also suggests that loyalist muraling was also hampered by a lack of other themes to use in murals (2012 p. 452) – a survey of additional themes appears in Visual History 10.

The most striking new imagery was that of the Iron Maiden character ‘Eddie The Head’, who appeared on the cover of the single ‘The Trooper’ as a British Crimean War soldier. The image was subsequently used by the UDA/UFF. He appears first in Londonderry, perhaps because the skeleton is included in the the city’s coat-of-arms. 
(1997 M01326)

In Carrickfergus, Eddie strides over the graves of Adams, McGuinness, and Maskey. All three held elected office at the time. Maskey would become the first Sinn Féin mayor of Belfast in 2002.
(2001 M03319)

When Jarman writes, “After the loyalist ceasefire in October 1994 the iconography became more belligerent” (Jarman, 1996) and Rolston writes, “If anything, the quantity of paramilitary murals and the starkness of their militarism increased in the second half of the 1990s” (Rolston 2003), they are probably referring to Eddie. (Eddie has his own Visual History page.)

Here are few “traditional” hooded gunmen murals from south Belfast during this period.

The famous Sandy Row version of Free Derry Corner, at Linfield Road/Sandy Row.
(2001 M01519)

And in Albion Street (Sandy Row)
(2001 M01516)

In response to the peace and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, there is some slight movement in loyalist muraling. Ulster-Scots heritage became a loyalist theme. The Ulster-Scots were Scots (and English borderers) who emigrated first to Ireland and then to America. They are also called the Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish, but as the depiction of Ireland in the lower left shows, they settled mainly in what would later become Northern Ireland. (Templemore Ave, east Belfast)

(2005 dating to 1999 M02321)

It is worth noting that the east Belfast mural (above) does not concern the connection between the Ulster-Scots and the USA. The “Pioneers To Presidents” series extended the connection from Scotland to Ireland onward to the United States. It featured three murals in Londonderry, of George WashingtonTheodore Roosevelt, and James Buchanan, one in Newtownabbey of Roosevelt, and one in Belfast of Buchanan (shown just below). The latter was sponsored by the Shankill Ulster-Scots Cultural Society and funded by Belfast City Council and Making Belfast Work, an initiative of the NI Department Of Environment, established in 1988 to promote skills development and small business development. In the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement the Ulster-Scots language was included s deserving respect under the principle of “linguistic diversity” and support for it (from both the UK and Ireland) was written into the Agreement’s implementation documents. The Ulster Scots Agency was established in December 1999, a month after this mural was launched.

More Ulster-Scots murals would be produced in the mid-2000s – see Visual History 10all but one of them making the connection to the USA. It is not clear why it was thought necessary or beneficial to focus almost exclusively on the influence of the Ulster-Scots in the USA, rather than also illustrating the role played by Scots in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

(2005 dating to 1999 M02429)

Another theme that began to emerge during this period, used as an alternative to UVF gunmen (but not UDA), was the Ulster Volunteers. The organisation was formed in 1912 to resist Home Rule but it went on to join the 36 (Ulster) Brigade of the British Army in WWI and suffer greatly on the first day of the Battle Of The Somme. This mural is an early 36th (Ulster) Division mural but it includes a (post-partition) Ulster Banner and an aggressive quotation from Deuteronomy, bringing it firmly into the time-period of the modern UVF.

(2001 M01515)

There was an example of what will become the standard 36th Division mural (without reference to the modern UVF) in Apsley Street. The theme will rise to prominence in the years to follow, both in place of and alongside the UVF.

(2001 M01524 See also 2001 M01530)

Regimental flags are used in this flute band mural from Donegall Pass (south Belfast). 
(2009 dating to 2001 M04968)

In contrast to gunmen in loyalist paramilitary murals, Provisional IRA gunmen were no longer appearing in republican murals … with (at least) one exception. This hooded gunman mural in the (Catholic) Markets area of south Belfast was painted in 1997 (perhaps between the ceasefires) and appears to be the last such “mainstream” republican mural to be painted. It was allowed to persist until 2001 (M01511)
(1997 M01346 Compare with the contemporary 1997 M01347)

Guns were also still included in murals of deceased volunteers, including several in a series of memorial murals was painted in Ballymurphy. The first was to Volunteers Bryson & Mulvenna. 

(2001 X00053 M01656)

Seven more were launched together (on May 26th, 2002). One was a mural honouring Tommy Tolan and three other local volunteers. The mural was launched with Tolan wearing an army jacket and carrying a rifle, as shown below, before being changed to show Tolan in a brown suit with his hands on his hips (see C02028).


The mural below celebrates members of Cumann na mBan and (as with the Tolan mural, above) prominently features an assault rifle.

(2002 M01660 X00065)

The ‘Ballymurphy Mural Project’ was self-described as being ‘i ndil choimhne [sic] ár gcomrádaith” and all of them show deceased volunteers carrying weaponry. For the others, see M01658 | X00042 | M01648 | M01646 | M01644 ; also, a backdrop was added around the IRA memorial plaque M01653. (Also in Ballymurphy, by a different hand, M01655 and M01652.)

These murals used a frame – typically Celtic knotwork, with isolated portraits or symbols – around a central panel. For many people this is the archetypal form of a Belfast mural, perhaps because also painted with this compositional style is what has become the classic Bobby Sands mural:

(2002 dating to 2001 M01623)

In republican murals, volunteers’ and activists’ portraits are painted whereas in loyalist memorial murals, volunteers are often anonymous (for murals with portraits of loyalists, see the list in Visual History 06; recent additions include 2001 M01527).

A notable new theme in republican muraling was gratitude towards black taxi drivers. See 2001 M01450 | 2002 M01796. Now that public transport could be depended upon, black taxi drivers diversified by giving tours (2003 M02002).

Armed campaigns were, however, still being waged by militant republicans such as the Real IRA (RIRA) and the Continuity IRA (CIRA). Graffiti and public art by their supporters begins appearing as soon as the Good Friday Agreement is approved and intensifies when the question of PIRA decommissioning returns to the limelight. The work is, however, quite primitive, consisting mostly of graffiti and painted boards, since most of the resources – military, political, and artistic – went with the main stream of republicanism. It is also limited to a few areas, as most of the support also went with the PIRA ceasefire. There are gunmen depicted in these works, indicating the continuation of the armed struggle, and also calls for political status, reminiscent of the 1980s.

“PIRA Surrender”

(2001 M01580)

“Peace Or War?” in Shantallow, Derry.

(2001 M01586)

“Not an ounce [of Semtex], not a bullet”. Graffiti in Lenadoon, Belfast.
(2002 M01935)

Perhaps the first post-peace militant republican board, on Eastway, Derry, representing a small step up in sophistication; however, the Irish is particularly bad here.

(2001 dating to 2000 M01579 See also 2002 M01598)

Sniper (back) at work in Shantallow, Derry.
(2001 M01585)

“RIRA” lettering in Derry.

(2001 M01409) (See also M01575 | M01576 | M01577 | M01579 | M01614 | M01616 | 2003 M01920 and compare to 2001 M01739)

“Still no surrender” in Gobnascale, Derry.

(2001 M01424)

Gunman on a IRPWA flag in Derry. Printed materials have the advantage of being more easily correctable than painted matter.

(2001 M01593)

“England do you really think its over” with the “R” in front of “RIRA” removed.
(2001 M01578)

“RSF Demands Political Status For All Republican POWs Now” with vintage images of blanket men and the armed IRA trio from 1981.

(2001 M01620 Other political status pieces: 2002 M03958 | 2002 M01663 | 2001 M01740 | 2001 M01600 | 2002 M01661 & M01662 | 2002 M01735 | 2003 M02041 | 2003 M02035 | 2004 M02014 | 2004 M02201). See also the RSF recruitment board for the Fianna 2002 M01619)

The CIRA’s split from the PIRA was mirrored politically, with the formation of Republican Sinn Féin (RSF). CIRA leader Tommy Crossan stood from Maghaberry Prison as a RSF candidate for West Belfast in 2001, urging voters to spoil their ballots.
(2001 M01501)

An old IRA (“Óglaigh na hÉireann” M01896, DS2 plate 37) mural in Carnagat Road, Newry was repainted almost as it was before. It probably serves as an RIRA mural rather than as a historical PIRA mural.
(2001 M01743 See also 2001 M01432)

The first full mural from the IRPWA in the Collection, using the barbed wire but not the lark.
(2002 M01758)

1998 was the 200th anniversary of the 1798 Society Of United Irishmen.

(2004 M02183)

And 1999 was the 30th anniversary of the Battle Of [The] Bogside.
(1999 M02055)

2001 sees lots of boards and murals for the 20th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike.

(2002 dating to 2001 M01628)
See also M01977 | M01434 | M01478 | M01482 | M01483 | M01488 which includes 1980 | M01458 includes 1980 and Armagh | M01480M01484 | M01589 | M01569 | M01537 | M02096 | M01640| M01631 | M03966 | M01447 is by RSF.

The Hunger Strikers memorial in Derry is launched:

(2001 M01549)

Community Theatre
Community theatre developed during the 1990s. The Community Arts Forum was formed in 1993 to lobby for funds for groups such as Derry’s Playhouse, Ardoyne’s Tonge’n’Cheek and Ballybeen community theatre (A Coming Of Age). West Belfast saw the formation of JustUs – a group of female former prisoners and prisoners’ partners – who worked with Pam Brighton and Dubbeljoint theatre company to put on plays in the assembly hall of the former St Thomas’s School on the Whiterock Road which had been taken over by the Education Board. A series of notable plays included Just A Prisoner’s Wife (1996), Binlids (1997), A Mother’s Heart (1998), Forced Upon Us (1999), and Des (2000). 

(1999 M02063)

Holy Cross Dispute
Holy Cross primary school is a Catholic school which finds itself in Protestant Glenbryn due to shifts in population. In 2001, Glenbryn residents expressed their frustration at attacks on their neighbourhood by blocking the passage of children going to school, first in June and again when the new school year started in September. Dramatic scenes of crying children running the gauntlet of police in riot gear were broadcast worldwide (WP). The mural below compares the situation to desegregation in the southern United States in the wake of Brown v. Board Of Education in 1957 (WP). The local experience is shown on the right while the left panel is a rendition of an iconic image of Hazel Bryan hectoring Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine (WP), in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. The orange sweaters of the central children echo that of the child in the red coat in the (almost entirely black-and-white) Steven Spielberg movie Schindler’s List

(2002 dating to 2001 M01783 See also M01595 and M01599)

On to Visual History 09 – Winning The Peace (2001-2003)

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