Homage to gallantry of Somme replaces mural glorifying loyalist killers
First Minister Arlene Foster has unveiled a new Battle of the Somme mural that has replaced sinister loyalist imagery in east Belfast.
The new artwork on the Newtownards Road, created by Belfast artist Dee Craig, replaces a mural depicting a large Red Hand Commando (RHC) crest and two masked gunmen.
It now depicts images from the Battle of the Somme surrounded by a border of red poppies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle later this year.
It also features a quote from Captain Wilfred Spencer of the 36th (Ulster) Division's HQ staff, which says: "I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world.
"My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts that I witnessed… The Ulster Volunteer Force, from which the division was made, has won a name which equals any in history."
Until last month, the wall was dedicated to the RHC, which was closely linked to the UVF. The terror group was proscribed in 1973 and was linked to murders and bombings throughout the Troubles, including the killing of former Sinn Fein vice-president Maire Drumm in 1973. It announced a ceasefire in 2007 and decommissioned in 2009.
Mrs Foster visited the project yesterday and was cheered on by members of the local community as she revealed the new Somme artwork. She said: "The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to building a shared and better future for everyone in Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that community-led initiatives such as this allow all of us to acknowledge our shared history as part of that transformation process.
"It is particularly poignant to showcase the Somme during this decade of centenaries. It is right and proper that we remember and honour the brave young men of Northern Ireland who sacrificed so much to give us our freedom."
The mural initiative was led by a community body, the Reach project, and supported by the Housing Executive.
Jim Wilson, from Reach, helped to design the Battle of the Somme mural and also wrote the poem on the nearby 'No More' mural with his grandson who is featured in the painting.
He said: "It's with great pride that the First Minister is here today to dedicate this mural. I would also like to thank the Housing Executive for their support in this initiative and many other projects in this area."
It is the latest in a series of murals in the area that have been replaced as part of the ongoing community-led regeneration of the area.
The refurbished Titanic and 'No More' murals have already been attracting tourists to east Belfast.
Tomorrow, a mural of St Patrick is to be unveiled in a loyalist area of south Belfast this week as part of a project to replace paramilitary street art.
Painter and sculptor Ross Wilson hopes his latest mural in the Village will help overcome misconceptions about the patron saint of Ireland.