St Patrick's Day 'too Gaelicised', says Arlene Foster as she unveils new mural of saint in loyalist Belfast
First Minister Arlene Foster said that unionist and loyalist communities feel "alienated" from celebrating St Patrick's Day because it has been "Gaelicised".
The DUP leader was speaking after she unveiled a mural of the Patron Saint of Ireland in the Village area of south Belfast as part of a campaign to replace paramilitary images.
The artwork was created by painter and sculptor Ross Wilson, who hopes the mural will help overcome misconceptions about St Patrick.
The artwork was unveiled on Tate's Avenue yesterday, and is on a 12ft by 8ft aluminium panel alongside another featuring local children's interpretations of the saint. A third panel explains why the Red Hand of Ulster is a symbol of both loyalist and nationalist cultures.
Mrs Foster visited the project and was joined by members of the local community. She stressed the importance of the project, saying that its genesis came from within the community.
"They have discovered new things about St Patrick and I think that's good and hopefully they will embrace the idea and the vision that he had," she said. "The difficulty for a lot of unionists and loyalist communities has been the fact that it has been very Gaelicised in terms of celebrating St Patrick. In particular, the use of tricolours and things like that really turn unionists off from the different parades, and I regret that because St Patrick is a Patron Saint of everybody in Northern Ireland and it's regrettable we don't feel that we can enjoy that day and we feel alienated from it, so I would welcome steps to embrace it.
"This community has taken the first step themselves to celebrate St Patrick and I would like to see more civic leadership, particularly here in Belfast, so that people who live in the city don't feel alienated from the Patron Saint."
Ross' previous mural commissions include the Ship Of Dreams image dedicated to the Titanic and Belfast's shipbuilding legacy, as well as King Billy. The painter worked alongside pupils from the Donegall Road Primary School who created images of their interpretation of St Patrick.
"The inspiration for this comes from within the community and it's a joint poignant inspiration with St Patrick's owns words from his Confessio and his history in Ireland," he said.
"He was here for 45 years and a starting point for the project was his own words, which are on the artwork. They are very humble. St Patrick is not for loyalists or nationalists, he's a saint, a man of God, a messenger. He was an outsider and was brought here as a slave and he escaped and returned with a message.
"St Patrick's message has been lost in the whole St Patrick celebration thing and the leprechaun has taken over."
Angela Johnston from the Greater Village Regeneration Trust, who conceived the project alongside South Belfast Action for Community Transformation, said: "We were shocked at how little our Protestant working class community knew about Irish history and figures who can be seen to be controversial, such as St Patrick.
"People always ask the same question: was St Patrick a Catholic, was he Irish? These are the types of questions asked.
"People are now saying 'I didn't realise he was part of our culture'."