A new image started to emerge this week as the Kilcooley estate outside Bangor began to wipe out its trappings of loyalist paramilitarism with the start of its £10,000 facelift.
Three large gable walls covered with UVF and UDA murals were painted out, as were some lampposts, railings and kerbs in a historic move for the loyalist heartland.
The new look marked part of Tuesday's (January 29) launch of the Arts Council funded project ‘Re-imaging Kilcooley Toward a Shared Future' — a first-of-its-kind scheme for North Down.
The pilot project is being driven by Kilcooley Intra-Community Cohesion Project (ICCP) and facilitated by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), North Down IMPACT Project, Kilcooley Community Forum and the North Down Local Strategy Partnership (NDLSP).
The start of the re-imaging was broadly welcomed and there are hopes the pilot scheme will be used as an example and rolled out throughout the borough.
Chairman of Kilcooley Community Forum Cecil Wilson said: “This is a big achievement for the whole community and the culmination of years of work behind the scenes. It is about realising times have changed and it's time to move on. The four main remaining murals are being talked about in the next phrase. Times have changed and there is no need for them now. This is about the whole community working together. The community is more than happy to see them go.”
The now blank canvas walls will be replaced with community based artwork celebrating the contribution of various well-known locals from the general area.
“This is now a fresh look, as a community that is moving forward rather than looking back at the dark old days of paramilitarism,” added Mr Wilson.
Chairman of the Housing Executive Brian Rowntree also welcomed the removal of the loyalist murals. He said: “I am delighted that the process of regeneration is now including initiatives such as this re-imaging project which will do much to create a neutral and welcoming environment for all residents.
“I encourage the residents of Kilcooley to participate in the meetings and consultations that are planned as part of the re-imaging project. I hope that this project is a success and that this initiative can be expanded to other estates in North Down and to communities throughout Northern Ireland.”
The project will also involve widespread consultation with residents and community organisations to seek their views on the design and location of a new planned community garden and sculpture.
Frankie Gallagher of the UPRG, who facilitated consultation with the UDA on the makeover, said: “This is part of our overall strategy in Northern Ireland, buying in to the re-imaging of our loyalist communities.
“But we are doing it in a way that allows those who have put them up are those who are now taking the down. It empowers the community that way. Kilcooley is a fantastic example were those who have suffered the legacy of paramilitarism and the problems it brings with it — feuds, etc — now see a Kilcooley loyalist community working as one developing social capital which is going to fuel a positive future for the whole of North Down.”