Some things change … at least visually

Sandy Row 1

Since my last visit, one of the most famous paramilitary murals in all of Northern Ireland was replaced with something … less paramilitary. Gone is the old Ulster Freedom Fighters mural (seen above) that for years welcomed visitors to the Loyalist stronghold of Sandy Row. In its place is a new mural (seen below) that still marks the neighborhood as Loyalist territory but does so through a less-menacing, more acceptable historical reference, King Billy, who passed through the area on his way to fight the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Sandy Row 2

In the nearly 20 years since the Belfast Agreement most of the paramilitary murals in Republican areas have been replaced with ones celebrating culture and heritage, or less problematic aspects of local history. Loyalist areas have been much slower to follow suit. East Belfast, in particular, continues to boast more than its share of menacing imagery.  Some traces still remain in Sandy Row, but they are fading, the paint chipping of the wall, and in some places splashed with graffiti.

The repainting of murals was part of a concerted effort at neighborhood renewal, an effort to rebrand Republican and Loyalist communities alike as progressive and inclusive. Unfortunately, like plastic surgery, changes like this generally only skin deep.

Back to Belfast

Pipes and mandolin in Kelly's Cellars.
Pipes and mandolin in Kelly’s Cellars, Belfast.

Tomorrow afternoon I board a plane bound for Dublin, and from there a bus north to Belfast.  I’m spending the next four and a half weeks, part of my sabbatical from Oakland University, continuing my research on the maintenance and stability of the Northern Ireland peace process.  This will be my sixth trip since 2008 but the first time I’ve been able to stay for an extended period.

My hope is that having more time in the country will make it possible for me to make more contacts, talk to more people, to follow up on issues that I haven’t had the time to before, and to immerse myself in an environment that I’ve spent a large part of my professional life reading and occasionally teaching about.

I’ll be using this blog initially to comment on my travels and the research I am conducting.  So stay tuned for future developments.