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Chilling Belfast terror mural gives way to artwork remembering Somme

By Rebecca Black

A sinister loyalist mural in east Belfast has been removed to make way for a new image to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, it can be revealed.

A large Red Hand Commando crest featuring two masked gunmen adorned the gable wall on the lower Newtownards Road until this week.

It has now been painted white and work is ongoing at the site.

So far two poppies have been painted, but it is not known exactly what sort of scene the new mural will depict.

A smaller Red Hand Commando crest beside the main mural appears to have been left untouched.

A spokesman for East Belfast ACT confirmed the mural replaced a Red Hand Commando image.

They said they understand the new mural will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, adding that there will be further murals and exhibitions happening throughout east Belfast in the coming months.

The Red Hand Commando is understood to have been formed in 1972 and was closely linked to the UVF.

It was proscribed in 1973 and was linked to a number of murders and bombings during the 1970s, '80s and '90s, including the killing of former Sinn Fein vice-president Maire Drumm in 1973.

The RHC announced a ceasefire in 2007 and decommissioned in 2009.

DUP MLA Robin Newton welcomed the latest reimaging work and said he would encourage the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Housing Executive to continue supporting the local community in their work with the murals. PUP councillor John Kyle also welcomed the transformation of the mural.

"There has been a programme of work under way in east Belfast, where murals are being expanded to cover a broader subject matter," he said.

"I would welcome this latest mural transformation, if it is going to feature the Battle of the Somme, it is very timely with this being the centenary of the battle.

"The Battle of the Somme is very important in terms of the history of the unionist community here."

Work continues to replace a number of murals in east Belfast. Last year, nine murals on Lord Street were transformed from paramilitary to cultural images, including one of the Belfast Giants.

In total, 23 murals across east Belfast are being - or have already been - reimaged, including the freshening up of a Titanic mural. However, a series of UDA murals known as Freedom Corner were repainted as they were, and another sinister black and white UVF mural depicting hooded gunmen proclaiming the right to defend themselves remains on a gable wall on the Newtownards Road.

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