King Billy's return an artistic bid to regenerate Belfast's Sandy Row
King Billy has returned to Sandy Row — and this time he means business, albeit of a more peaceful nature than his last visit in 1690.
A new mural featuring the loyalist hero has been unveiled just in time for the Twelfth, when King William III won his most famous battle on the banks of the River Boyne.
The £60,000 mural — which replaces a notorious depiction of an Ulster Freedom Fighters gunman — is a tribute to William of Orange, who passed through the Belfast area on his way to the Boyne.
The old paramilitary mural, one of the most photographed of the Troubles, was branded by local business people as “bad for investment”.
Its replacement is an ambitious bid to attract more visitors and business into the area. Appropriately, it includes a quote from King Billy — “Let ambition fire thy mind” — now the new motto for the loyalist heartland.
UDA leader Jackie McDonald admitted that the previous mural could have been regarded as “intimidating”.
After talks lasting around a year between residents and local businesses, work began in June to replace the UFF mural. Artist Ross Wilson explained: “The mural is a portrait of William III when he was 40 years old on the eve of the battle of the Boyne.”
Mr McDonald said he hoped the change would help regenerate the area.
“I see this as a new dawn, whether they come over the Boyne bridge and saw the mural, they might have felt intimidated,” he told the BBC.
“Hopefully that will encourage people to come into Sandy Row.
“What we need now is for somewhere in Sandy Row to spend their money, because there is very little there.”
The mural, funded by the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Belfast City Council and the Housing Executive, was officially unveiled by DSD Minister Nelson McCausland.
“The Sandy Row area has suffered a lot during the Troubles,” Mr McCausland said.
“There is a new sense of urgency, energy, enthusiasm, a more positive attitude. I think that’s part of this process that we are looking at today.
“This is the culmination of a lot of soul-searching and tentative steps and marks a new chapter in the long and proud history of Sandy Row,” he said.
“This is a new and innovative approach to the delivery of neighbourhood renewal.
“They are sending out a loud and clear message that Sandy Row is an inclusive and progressive community, and I have no doubt this will help to stimulate not just social, but much-needed economic investment in the area.”
The new mural is part of a major project to give loyalist and republican communities in Belfast a new image.