Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Designs on a different future

It may seem strange in this age of instant communication by a variety of electronic means that what is written on our walls is often the best indicator of the mood of a community.

During the Troubles murals were used to mark out territory and show which paramilitary groups were the dominant forces in any particular area. They were also an implicit warning for opponents or those of differing views to stay out.

With the growth of the peace process the more warlike images - those showing hooded gunmen and lauding terrorist atrocities - have begun to disappear. And now in the loyalist heartland of Belfast's Sandy Row the 40 foot painting of a hooded gunman is to be painted over as part of a community project. Themes denoting the heritage of the area rather than its violent immediate past will become the new images.

That is a welcome development. While the existing mural drew plenty of attention from camera-wielding visitors few felt any desire to remain in the area after taking their snaps. A community that seemingly gloried in violence was hardly a welcoming one. And it was also bad for the image of the city since the mural was quite close to the city centre and readily visible to those visiting the so-called Golden Mile entertainment strip.

However not all murals are off-putting as experience in west Belfast has shown. There the images are more cultural and political than terrorist inclined and have proved a huge tourist attraction with a small cottage industry having grown up around them. Tourist taxis and buses now have well-defined routes around the wall drawings on the Falls and Shankill Roads bringing in much needed revenue to the operators. There is a fine line between heralding the heritage of an area and sending out the wrong message. The Sandy Row community is now trying to get on the right side of that line and its efforts are to be applauded.

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